Friday, September 30, 2016. I remember it like it was yesterday. In actuality, I should be saying that. It wasn’t more than a few weeks ago. This date is of note to me because it was a moment of complete sadness coupled with self-realization. It was the eve of my 33rd birthday. I was sitting at the dining room table with my husband; we had just finished dinner. I’m not sure if it’s because of where we live, or where we are within our marriage, but we have been having deeper than normal conversations with each other out here. Normally this is not something that I particularly enjoy, but for some reason out here it just works. As the conversation progressed, we moved away from what is known as “shop talk” in our house (anything relating to the military) over to me and my world. As I began to speak, I could feel a lump the size of Texas in my throat. As I attempted to push through that tears started streaming down my face. I now look at this as a low point for myself that needed to happen. And I’m glad that it did.
When I facilitate the transition workshop for the military members out here, I always like to close it out with some pearls of wisdom. Particularly for the groups of people separating from the military. Retirees are humored by me when I talk like this because to them; I’m still a kid. Part of what I impart to them is always to be open to what life gives you. I talk to them about where I was ten years ago, where I thought I would be today if you could fast forward my life and ask me, and where I am now. While they appreciate it and get a lot out of it because of all of the twists and turns my life has taken me down, I have come to realize that this story, these memories, are adding to my eternal sadness.
When I attempt to explain this to people, they don’t ever really get it. And I can’t say I blame them. I live a very blessed life. I’m happy with who I married and had as my life partner; we are financially stable, we travel to parts of the world most people dream of every three months. Rough life, right? NO! Exactly, not a rough life! So, what gives?
I pulled out my calendar and went through it with my husband. At first glance, every box had something in it. By all accounts I was busy. And being busy, particularly when we live, is a good thing. But if you looked at each and every box you would see almost nothing that had anything to do with me. You would see lots of things about the families of the current military base we are at, town hall meetings, things for my husband’s command, and my work schedule. In my day to day, hour to hour operations my time revolves around my husband’s schedule. When he leaves for work, when he needs to be picked up from work (we have only one vehicle where we currently live), when is he traveling for a job, when does he have late nights, when does he have to work all night. The list is endless. Regardless of the list or circumstances one thing became glaringly obvious to me, and it made the lump in my throat grow coupled with a pang of nausea; my life now almost entirely revolved around my husband.
So many times I meet with women on this base who have listed very similar to mine but added on top of all of that are the schedules of their child or children. When I ask them “when was the last time you did something for you” they often will attempt to deflect the question with humor and say “1987”. So how does this happen? How do strong, intelligent, independent, capable women end up getting suffocated by day to day life? I’ve read countless books and listened to many TED Talks on this very subject and based off of that; I’ve begun to figure it all out for myself. It becomes a balancing act of support, natural nurturing as women but not forgetting about us along the way too.
Is there anything wrong with supporting your husband and his career? Especially if you’re a military spouse? No. It’s an integral part of making everything flow. But just don’t forget about you. At the end of the day, I firmly believe that without feeling some sense of purpose for your life, finding that inner balance will feel like walking a tightrope.
So what should you do if you find yourself identifying with some of this? If you feel even a quarter of what I feel and have felt? Well, I
don’t have this all figured out by any means but here are some of the things that I have found have begun to work for me in my life over the last year.
Pick up a book– I know, I know not the most sophisticated advice but I swear it works. Look, spending your days scrolling through Facebook or binge watching your favorite show on Netflix are both sometimes necessary evils for our mind and thoughts to die down. But engaging your mind in something a bit more can do wonders for yourself. In fact, I find that when I am feeling a bit bummed out about things getting on Facebook is the last thing I need to do. It can be extremely hard to see your friends and their lives moving forward. ‘Presence‘ by Amy Cuddy, “Lean In‘ by Sheryl Sandberg, ‘Who Moved My Cheese‘ by Spencer Johnson and ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’ by Malcolm Gladwell are all excellent starting points. Pick up one, or all of them, as soon as you can.
Do one thing each day with gusto– Getting up and out of bed each and every day may seem like a small achievement in and of itself depending on where you are in the world. I get it, believe me. Pick one thing each day that you will do, not just to say that it’s completed, but to be able to say that you did it with purpose and meaning. I know when I hit some of my lowest points within our move, having ownership of something each and every day was crucial to me feeling like I had a purpose for being here aside from driving my husband to work every morning. Look for whatever your version of that is.
Make a road map to your goals– Before we plan a trip or get ready to make a large purchase for our home, we plan and map things out. So why should our life be any different? If there’s one thing that should not be on autopilot, it’s our lives. Take some time to honestly ask yourself where you want to be in 6 weeks, six months, six years from where you currently are. Whatever you feel comfortable with. Write it down and hang it somewhere you will see it every single day. Don’t allow yourself not to have it staring you in the face daily. Without some sense of accountability I know I tend to get complacent with things; including my life. Complacency is devastating so set your environment up for you to be nothing but successful.
Make some moves- Writing things down or talking about them is a great first step but it isn’t enough. The action is needed if you want to elicit change. Depending on your goals this may mean you want to go back to school, you want to learn a new skill, you want to volunteer more, you want to seek the guidance of a life coach. Whatever that looks like for you will be different than what it looks like for me. And that’s ok. The point is to be like Nike and “just do it.”
I know for me the journey of realizing what it is that I need out of life has been an uphill climb. I’m still not there just yet. And yes, after being overseas for over a year I still have hard days. The difference now is that I’m actually in motion. I’m pleased to say that I am no longer operating on autopilot. I can be a meaningful area of support to my husband and vice versa. It’s the first in a series of steps I’m taking, but at least I’ve got one step under my belt.