embracing the path of vulnerability | military spouse personal branding
Have you ever reflected back on a single moment in your life because of events that have come to be in your current situation? This post has been a long-time coming, and I didn’t know it until now. Yeah, hindsight works that way. Welcome to a new series on Military Spouse Personal Branding. This is my story…
Pursing a Dream
It was winter of 2015 and I was enrolled in the Graphic Design course at Great Falls College - MSU. It was something I’d done willingly in my mid-30’s, because I thought it was necessary for the big dream I was pursing. In my art history? theory? 101 class? - I don’t even know - that’s how impactful the actual content of the course was, we were wrapping up the semester and the class instructor invited everyone to bring in a holiday treat during our final session together.
She had me at “bring!”
For the audience reading this, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I love any opportunity to share my God-given, creative gifts with people because my ultimate goal is to impact, uplift, and bring joy to those around me, so that everyone feels a sense of connection and belonging. It’s my WHY.
Here it was, my opportunity to pour a little bit of my heart out to my fellow classmates, bless them with a holiday treat that would uplift them and bring them joy and ultimately allow us to connect, and bond over. You already know it didn’t go quite as planned, otherwise my entire post would be lame.
The Red Basket
So the next week, I marched into class, a little bounce in my step and the handle of my red, Reisenthel basket resting comfortably on my arm. I was carrying a hot-chocolate extravaganza! Gingerbread and peppermint flavored marshmallows, a variety of hot cocoa flavors, cups, spoons, hot-water carafe, and the pièce de résistance, my snarky Christmas napkins that I’d collected from equally snarky friends over the last several years, were all but ready to arrange themselves on the classroom counter. I toned down my holiday-buzz, positioned myself in my usual seat, and waited for that moment.
Finally, the “let’s share our treats” time came. But at this point, the sting of over-achiever was ringing sharply in my ears as I scanned the store-brought treats that only a handful of my classmates had brought; the damn instructor didn’t even take time to buy cookies and it was her idea to have this so-called party.
I said, “screw it!” in my head and stood up with my basket. The eyes turned to stare at me and I felt like I was 17 again. I pushed through. I was going to share this treat with the class. It was going to bring them joy and spread holiday cheer. Then, quite possibly, the most ego-shattering moment of my life happened. The instructor, whom I already had a tumultuous relationship with, blurted out in a tone that was so sarcastic if you look up the word in Webster, you’ll actually hear her voice,
“Oh, isn’t she cute…with her little red basket…and her cute little treats. Look class, she looks just like Little Red Riding Hood!”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I stopped, mid-way to my destination and turned toward her. I got tunnel vision, entered into an alternate realm, and a bazillion thoughts ran through my head…
I drifted back to reality and blurted back, “Well, since you’re not a military spouse, you wouldn’t fully understand.”
I am a military spouse.
I couldn’t believe what I’d just said. That was it? That was my response? What the heck does that even mean?
I’ll tell you what it means:
It means that I’m proud to be a military spouse. It means that I get to be a part of a special, exclusive group of women (and men). It means that no matter where in the world I go, I have family that I haven’t yet met. It means that unless you’ve walked a mile in my shoes, you can’t begin to understand the community and camaraderie that I have because of the trials and triumphs we celebrate together. It means that despite what the military, the world, and life throw at us, we show up.
We have to. We get to. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Wrong Place. Right Time.
I was in the wrong place. Not just that classroom, at the moment, but in all things; I needed this moment of true vulnerability to shine the proverbial light on what was working and what wasn’t. This moment was happening, not despite being a military spouse, because I was a military spouse.
Military spouses who’ve been stationed in Europe, specifically Germany, know how coveted our Reisenthel baskets are. Military spouses who’ve been invited to coffees, buncos, or squadron/battalion events, know that a hot chocolate extravaganza would be so much fun! Military spouses who lean on humor to get through long deployments know just how welcoming a care-package with snarky napkins can be. Military spouses who put themselves out there at every new duty station, at every new social function, at the end of every day, are all just striving for the same thing: human connection.
But human connection can only come if you’re willing to BE vulnerable. If you’re willing to bear your heart and soul in new situations, to new people, over and over again. Military spouses are some of the most vulnerable people I know.
Vulnerability is Not Weakness
Vulnerability is courage. Vulnerability is taking a chance, “telling the story of who you are with your whole heart and having the courage to be imperfect.”
Brené has spent her whole life studying shame, vulnerability, courage, and authenticity. She’s heard and studied countless stories from thousands of people all over the world, I consider her an expert on human connection. She describes vulnerability as, “the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees.” Vulnerability is not just when we step up and take a chance, but when we fully invest in something that may or may not work out in the end.
Being a military spouse is hard. It’s scary. And it’s daunting.
I don’t think I’m alone when I admit that I’ve tried to resisted the vulnerability that my dependent status brings. But what my defining, red-basket-moment showed me was that once I embraced this path of vulnerability, I could move mountains.
You’re Worth Being Brave
Fast forward 3.5 years and a culmination of vulnerable moments later, I’m on a path to help other military spouses embrace their own vulnerability. There’s been some buzz lately about the military spouse unemployment rate (24%) and how it’s about six times the national average. As a result, there are movements happening, initiatives being put in place, corporations making commitments to hire spouses, and groups of spouses rallying together to support each other. (Come join me over on The Paradigm Switch - a “global movement of military spouses who are unapologetic about their ambitious career goals and commitment to their military lifestyle.”
The other fantastic benefit to spouses is that remote work is on the rise! In fact, there are predictions that remote work will surpass traditional work environments by 2025. What better pool of diverse, educated, flexible, and resilient people do you have to pull from than military spouses!
If you’re a military spouse and you’ve made it to the end of the post, this last paragraph is for you. Many of us live outside the “what-if” mentality because we get thrown into the “what’s” all the time. Between the unpredictable work hours, deployments, constant moves, and other day-to-day challenges, this lifestyle makes it difficult to make ourselves a priority.
I’m challenging you to do that now. Make yourself, your dreams, your ambitions, your gifts you have to give to the world a priority.
Don’t get to the end of your spouse’s military career, or even worse, the end of your life and start asking yourself the “what if I would have _________________?”
Have courage. Be Brave. Be Vulnerable.
Carry your little red basket with pride.
You’re worth it!