I don’t know how or when this happened but it did. I swear yesterday I was the starry eyed new spouse who couldn’t find the chips and bottled water at her first commissary visit (because it had been hidden behind the plastic curtain veiling the “more” store) and woke up today with 2 kids in elementary school and 15 years of deployments, PCS moves, FRG leadership, endless volunteer hours, and the force of a great village behind me.
So….does that make me a seasoned spouse now? ::::shudder::::
I remember at 21, looking up to and hanging on every word of wisdom of the spouses in their mid 30s in our circles of Army community. They were so old with kids in school. Oh wait, that IS me. I am here. So what does that mean? Do I have a legacy to live up too? Am I supposed to be officially in a role of leadership? What does it mean to be a seasoned spouse? Does my nose ring have to come out now? Maybe my china set shouldn’t still have department store stickers on it anymore?
I follow an amazing podcast by Corie Weathers (Life Giver Podcast) and in one of her episodes, The Village, she touches on the roles military spouses play in bringing up the generation behind us. I’ll admit, at first, I was defensive because for about 4 years, I completely removed myself from the spouse community. After 4 deployments, a 15 mos role as an FRG leader during the height of war time, and years of volunteering on spouse club boards, I wasn’t seasoned, I was fried. And not a delicious golden brown fried but a crispy, overdone, cranky fried. But after listening to Corie’s podcast, I realized my experience wasn’t just my own. It was part of the process and cycle and maybe it was my time to start emerging from those burnt fried crispies and support a community that for so long supported me. They didn’t leave. I left them. And just possibly, we all needed each other all along.
One of the most prominent memories I have in a “new spouse/seasoned spouse” exchange happens to be in connection with a Pampered Chef stone. I basically lived with my friend Jen and her 2 boys at our first duty station in Giebelstadt, Germany during 2 deployments in 3 years. She had this incredible cooking stone that cooked beautifully and was super versatile. I had never seen one before. But as fate (laced with home businesses booming in the spouse community) would have it, a neighbor was having a home party that next weekend and I excitedly ordered my first stone. When it arrived, I brought to Jen and said, “What’s up with this stone, it looks nothing like yours.” She laughed and said, “It’ll take many years to season it like mine but it’ll just keep getting better every time you use.” My stone was pale, porous, and a bit sterile looking. Hers was shiny, smooth, rich in color. I shrugged it off and BOOM! 15 years later, I can pull out that same stone and think of her every time. My stone looks exactly the same now. But I had to work for it. I had to use it. I had to take care of it and allow it to become what it was designed to become – seasoned and full of life and to be shared and used daily.
So here I am. Slightly seasoned and back in service to the community….but with a spin. The 4 years I “stepped out” I learned a lot of myself – how I connect, how I best serve, where I feel alive, and it doesn’t really fit the typical path but that’s ok. Because I am my best self when I am honest to my talents, my time, and my goals. And truth be told – you are too. Don’t EVER do anything in service to the community because someone told you you have too. It won’t be done in joy and you’ll never fully tap into ALL you offer. Begrudging service does no favors. But Erica, sometimes there is a “duty” aspect and someone HAS to step up and fulfill the role. I know. Trust me, I know. And in those moments, we, as spouses, will rise to the occasion and make sh!t happen everytime. But don’t let those obligations swallow you whole. Your entire identity CAN NOT be “military spouse.” Your identity has to be YOU. “Military spouse” is a truly only a label and how you define that label is up to you and best part is that it can evolve and pivot with every move. Take the time to discover where you thrive, where you find joy, what you suck at and what is probably left best to your best friend or neighbor. And launch out from there.
Looking back to all my volunteer and work experiences, I can see trends emerge regarding what I always enjoyed most. I always volunteered for the websites, the fundraising, the crisis management teams. What does that tell me now? That I love technology, the innovation, the connectivity. I love connecting people and supporting people. Goal setting. Movement. I have a level head that can work in crisis mode and I can hustle till the job is done. THESE are the skills that I have a duty to share and strengthen and teach and open up to my fellow military spouse community with because these are my mixed bag of seasonings that make me who I am.
So share. What are your seasonings? What do you offer the community? What SHINE can you bring to the community that only you can bring? Finding the niche and letting it grow will be your story to share and tell as you season. Because you will. It’s a part of the process.
Erica McMannes is an Army spouse and co-founder of MadSkills. Her career path started in 2003 working for Army MWR/CYSS in various Director and leadership positions. After 10 years, 6 moves, 2 kids, and limited traditional job opportunity, she had to get creative with a way to find fulfillment and income that meshed well with the transient and unpredictable military lifestyle. After consulting for veteran owned startups in Silicon Valley for 5 years, she launched MadSkills in 2016. For more information on hiring a military spouse through virtual DirectHire or Virtual Staffing or joining the MadSkills Military Spouse Talent Community, reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.