On Oct. 23, the OneOp Personal Finance team will host Employment Resources for Military Families, a 90-minute professional development webinar. To broaden our perspective of the employment situation for many military families, we reached out to military spouses working as FINRA Fellows with AFCPE to earn their accreditation as Accredited Financial Counselors. In this post, Christine Maxwell shares her story as a military spouse and the challenges and joys she has encountered in her personal and professional journey.
By Christine Maxwell, FINRA Fellow
My background is in corporate and government finance. I’ve worked for some great companies and I’m very proud of my work experience. I even have a Master of Aerospace Engineering Management from a career I had before I “married into the military”. Even with all this experience and education, it’s still difficult to find a new job when you’re constantly moving.
Like clockwork, every one to two years, I was re-inventing my career due to frequent Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves required by my husband’s Army career. Even though I knew what I signed up for when I married into military life (as more seasoned spouses often reminded me), it didn’t make leaving my career behind any easier each time we moved. My typical PCS related job-hunting routine went like this: Job-hunt, find a great job, work hard, get a promotion, receive PCS orders, pitch remote-work, and be turned down. Rinse, repeat.
Aside from the difficulties of constant job searching, it’s soul-crushing to feel like you are continuously starting over with your career with each move. On our fifth PCS, we moved to Fort Hood for a one year assignment when I was seven months pregnant with our son. Although I knew I was fortunate to have the choice to decide to stay at home during the rest of my pregnancy, I wasn’t happy about it.
Seven months pregnant and jobless, I didn’t know who I was if I wasn’t working. In retrospect, it sounds silly, but I realized that I had tied my self-worth and value to my career. I looked up my cohort of former co-workers from my first job out of college on LinkedIn. They were all senior managers and directors now. When I renewed my passport, I cried as I typed in “homemaker” for occupation.
I met a new friend at that duty station who brought me out of my fog. We had our babies within two weeks of each other. She taught me to sew, we worked out, and learned how to make kombucha. We learned how to be new moms together. Unknowingly, she helped me to realize that I wasn’t just “Christine and I work at….” I realized that I was actually, Christine, a wife, mother, friend, a creative, and world traveler. My time off from work helped me to realize that I’m much more than just my job.
A year after I had my son, I felt ready to return to the workforce. Luckily, I didn’t have to return to work because we needed the money or because I felt lost anymore without working. I returned willingly, knowing I was refreshed and ready to try something new.
At our new duty station, I found a great new job as a budget manager for a local university. It was new and challenging, and I loved it! Like clockwork, we received our PCS orders a few months later and I was devastated to be leaving. Surprisingly, my manager asked me to stay on and work remotely after I told her I would be leaving at the end of the year.
Rethinking the Normal
During our move to our sixth duty station, my husband deployed in route, and I moved there on my own with our toddler and my remote job. This time I was happy and challenged, but not stressed. Ten years after my first job out of college, I wasn’t a director like my corporate friends, but I was happy. I had time to meet new friends at this duty station. I volunteered and I was even social! I met other military spouses who were entrepreneurs. They inspired me to think about what I was passionate about and what skills and experiences I had to offer. Talking with other military spouses, I realized so many of us were struggling with personal finances and career issues.
I started a blog about personal finances and careers for military spouses. I started freelance writing about finance. I decided I want to know more about personal finance and help more people. I applied for the FINRA Military Spouse Scholarship and was accepted into the Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC) program.
Almost ten years of living the Army life, I wish I could go back and talk to my 22-year-old self. I would tell her she’s more than just her job. I would remind her that all her friends who climbed past her in her career never had the chance to experience all that she has. They haven’t lived all across the U.S., South Korea, or the Italian Riviera. They haven’t felt the lows of a military deployment but they also haven’t felt the highs of a redeployment ceremony. The military life has afforded me the opportunity to travel and meet new people. My friends are diverse, not just from around the country but around the world. Whether they are working outside the home or not, they are holding down the Homefront while their spouses are away.
Looking back, I wouldn’t trade my experiences with military life for any job. I may not be in the military, but as part of the military community, I’m a part of something bigger than myself. I have a passion for educating others about personal finance and I know that as a FINRA Fellow, I will be able to take my professional knowledge of personal finance to the next level. Working in the field of finance I also know that I have a portable career that will move more easily with each PCS.
We have choices in life. I could have decided to stay unhappy about the career I thought I was supposed to have. Instead, I’m happy that I was able to pivot. I finally realized that even though I’m not where I thought I would be ten years ago, I’m actually in a better place now. I’m doing what I love and helping others at the same time.
There is still much work to be done for the military spouse employment issue. Not everyone can or wants to work remotely or own their own business. There must be more solutions to this dilemma. However, I’m happy and satisfied with my portable and developing career in personal finance.