By Matthew Shanks
Flexible Work from Home. A Career You Can Take Anywhere!*
As Military Spouses, we must frequently uproot to follow our servicemember. We have kids to care for and a household to maintain. A list of other responsibilities and uncertainties in our day-to-day, and year-to-year lives make traditional employment infeasible, or at least impractical.
For these well known and understood reasons, Military Spouses often seek work they can do from anywhere, and anytime. Why not let work go with you wherever you go, and take time off as needed? This may be as a remote employee or as, I’ve chosen, starting a business (or several!).
I doubt I’ll ever go back to being tied down to an office with set work hours, having to request leave, and having to seek new employment with each PCS. However, there are some challenges to the work-from-home life, particularly as a Military Spouse and parent. I feel the weight of these realities relentlessly, yet I don’t hear people talking about them very often.
Can Work From Anywhere = Must Work From Everywhere
I laugh at marketing pictures of people sitting with their laptops at the beach, with the ultimate freedom to work from anywhere. They’re getting paid while simultaneously vacationing! I love the outdoors, the sun, the beach, and traveling… it’s all great. But have you ever tried doing anything productive on your laptop in that environment? It’s so bright you can’t see your screen, while sweating all over your keyboard. Really, it’s not where I want to work.
When you don’t have an office or workplace in which work must be done, you end up having to do work from every place you happen to be. Flexible remote work isn’t a reason to not pick up and leave on a weekend trip to the in-laws a day early, but work still needs to be done. That means in the car, on a living room couch, and sitting on a bed in a spare room are your new work places — each with interruptions galore. That, instead of a nice and peaceful, work-oriented office. Flexible, yes, but it makes it difficult to focus on your work. When you take your career seriously, that aspect isn’t a good thing.
Even when home, my “office” is full of distractions. In a corner by my son’s play space and the messy kitchen, I’m easily distracted by the many non-work chores I’m also behind on. And related to my next point about time, having my workspace embedded in our family space makes it hard to leave work behind at the end of the day, to be fully present during family time.
Can Work Anytime = Must Work All The Time
While your location gets pushed to non-ideal work environments, similarly is your time disheveled. Flexible hours means your work is the first thing to give way when another demand appears. Things such as taking kids to doctor appointments, taking care of them when they’re sick and staying home from daycare, or assisting them throughout the day with their now-virtual school. Besides parenting, there’s dealing with car and home maintenance issues, as well as some errands, cleaning, and meal prepping. All sorts of things encroach. Basically when your servicemember is at work, they’re at work. When you are “at work,” you’re on call to handle any and every need that may, and constantly does arise.
This creates a massively blurred line between work time and everything-else time. Work time is “stolen,” which creates a deficit that can potentially damage your career or business growth, or it must be reclaimed during time you did not intend to work — such as late at night, on weekends, and during vacation. The ability to “turn off,” to relax and focus on your family becomes very difficult when you’re always feeling behind and trying to catch up on work.
Flexible = The Default Lowest Priority
When work can be flexible, it’s often forced to be. It becomes the lowest priority by default. As a MilSpouse, I often feel like I’m dragged around by the circumstances of military life. I need to be flexible, and I want to be. But sometimes choosing a career that is flexible just feels like I’ve attached a handle to myself, making it even easier for circumstances to get a good grip and drag me around against my preferences.
Sure, there are many… most probably revolving around setting appropriate boundaries, and some about perspective and realizing how fortunate we really are. However, I recently read about “toxic positivity” and today I felt a need to express my frustrations, to simply put to words how it feels when my work isn’t given priority. Perhaps it’s comforting for others, too, who do have these “glamorous,” flexible, work-from-home careers to read these thoughts that they may feel, too. Once given a moment to acknowledge these frustrations, I find it much easier to return to positivity.
*Article written in the car and in the in-law’s spare bedroom, over a holiday weekend.
About Matthew Shanks
Matthew is an Army husband and dad currently stationed at West Point. He has a varied background including Aerospace Engineering, coaching and racing as a professional triathlete, and now is the founder of a tech startup with the Kovii app. He’s a passionate military spouse community leader engaged with other MilSpouse entrepreneurs, military community organizations, and a new program for military spouses to meet new friends. His work focuses on finding new and effective ways to bring people together at the level of personal, individual connections.
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