By Jaimi Erickson
Guest Blogger

I had just gone through a tough season at our duty station. When situations like that occur, I stress-clean. Anyone else like to deep clean their home as a way to deep clean their lives? It is a metaphor for me. 

When I face uncontrollable situations or excess stress, I turn it into energy. I use that energy to complete projects and clean my house. Decluttering is a stress reliever for me. 

For instance, the file cabinet was one space in the house that I had not tackled yet. I knew that cleaning it out was going to make me feel organized. What I did not know is that this stress-cleaning was going to lead me to rediscover myself.

As I went file-by-file through the drawers to look for outdated papers, I set aside all of the expired owners’ manuals and old rental agreements. File after file was just waste. Getting rid of it was an act of creating space — not just in the cabinet, but also in my mind. 

The final drawer held my professional files. The teaching portfolio I made years earlier in college was still there. It was a reminder of goals placed on the backburner long ago. Years of military spouse life, staying at home with the kids, homeschooling, and working at home had changed my trajectory.  

Setting Career Aside

Turning the pages as I reviewed those old files document-by-document, reminded me of forgotten accomplishments. As I read the letters of recommendation from supervisors and former bosses, a spark lit up inside me. 

Remember how I mentioned that I had just been working through a tough season as a military spouse? Our path and purpose as a military family was murky. Situations with many unknowns lead to stress — or an identity evaluation. We each choose which one applies as we go along. It is like a fork in the road: choose fear or choose to dig deep.

Looking through the files of paperwork that clearly explained my strengths, it awakened a part of myself that I had been ignoring. My strengths were so obvious. And, I immediately felt resentment creep in.

I questioned why I gave up my career, and who I had become, in the season of being a military spouse. I let self-doubt enter into my mind just enough for it to act as a magnifying glass to assess my weaknesses. This actually helped me see my strengths in a new light. The process of remembering what I was capable of, what I had been doing to care for my children and family, helped me refocus my mindset.

Rediscovering My Strengths

All I had set out to do was clean out a file cabinet. But, I was awakened to much more. Self-discovery is not always a completely positive process. It is more like riding a roller coaster: smooth steady track and then big upswings or steep hills. But it is also a ride worth taking.  

I spent my youth thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up. Then I grew up, earned a degree, married a Marine, and set the hat of career aside to wear one of devoted spouse. As a military spouse, I set my career goals in the file cabinet. It has been a full-time job. 

As I read the letters of recommendation telling me what those individuals thought I did well once upon a time, this fountain of realization filled me up. I still had those strengths. I still had the abilities that those supervisors saw and wrote about. I had merely set them aside; I had repurposed them. I had decided that marriage and family and service to country was more important than finding a way to pursue what those letters told me.

Yet, every year of being a military spouse has led me to create goals, pour out to others, make wonderful friendships, and build new strengths. 

I firmly believe that we never lose our aptitude. As a homeschool mom and stay at home mom who set her career on the backburner to raise a family, as I felt those papers in my hands, I knew that I was pursuing those strengths in a different manner.

Yes, I was a trained teacher. Yes, I had skills for classroom teaching, and curriculum development. But, I was teaching my children. I was volunteering and using those organizational skills and leadership traits in military spouse organizations. I was honing my talents through blogging, writing, and organizing playgroups. I was teaching when other mothers asked for advice on being a mom, being a military spouse, or homeschooling their children.

It Is All a Gain

As I begin to plan for life as the spouse of a retired Marine, I am taking stock of all the things I gave up and all the things I gained in the military lifestyle. I may have set a traditional career aside to live a life of regular PCS seasons. But, I also earned my stripes as a military spouse. We take the aptitudes, strengths and talents and compound them in this lifestyle. 

I may have given up the chance to be recognized as a great teacher in the schools; however, I am recognizing that I have learned and achieved in other ways at every opportunity. I lean into a role of service next to my servicemember. When the military tells him to follow an order, I make sure he has the time to devote to the job. That is a net-gain of skills and talents that may not be documented in my file cabinet. 

We can take steps forward every day as military spouses without realizing that they all lead to gain. That is my military spouse experience: Opportunities that I said yes to, because I was eager to participate, have translated into a “career” of growth.

Sorting the file cabinet contents reminded me that through every season of life as a military spouse, I have pushed forward. I have not sat down, backed out, or been sad about the career goals I put on the backburner. I have just taken my skills and learned lessons as I moved into each new experience.

About Jaimi Erickson

Jaimi is a mom of 4, military wife, and writer. She blogs about motherhood, kids activities and homemaking tips at The Stay-at-Home Mom Survival Guide. Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest.

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