Military spouse life can often feel like taking one step forward and two steps back, both personally and professionally. Personally, our marriage ebbs and flows as we cope with deployments, reintegration, and post-deployment stress. Moving all the time adds one of life’s biggest stressors to the mix over and over. Yet, there are ways to turn that relocation into a positive PCS.
Professionally, it’s hard to move up the corporate ladder in remote locations. Plus, you may find yourself solo parenting depending on the requirements of your spouse’s job. Parenting in new locations while working full time can seem next to impossible. Overall, it can feel even harder to thrive and focus on lifestyle goals as you bounce around from one duty station to the next.
Some military spouses with portable careers do manage to find work at each duty station; some decide to become an entrepreneur. But these options are not without hiccups, so it’s important to focus forward—which can be a challenge. It’s easy to get caught up in the crisis-of-the-moment as you endure the hardships that come with so many military moves.
Seasoned military spouses say that PCS-ing does get easier, if you really plan ahead and stay focused on your longer-term life goals. Below are 11 suggestions to help you keep your eye on the prize as you face your next permanent change of station (PCS).
Your PCS plan needs to be in writing
Whether you’re using a base-provided PCS resource plan, online PCS checklists, a binder, or a planning app, your family’s customized PCS plan needs to be documented. Only then can you properly plan, work the plan, and use your after-action report to perfect the plan. A lot of spouses tell me that they’ve downloaded a PCS checklist, but downloading a list and using it are two different things. Planning is the most important step when it comes to a smooth PCS.
Capture PCS tips in one place
You’ll probably receive personal and professional information or advice here and there, so to get the most out of that guidance it’s best to capture and keep those resources all in one accessible place. Maybe even create a section in your PCS binder just for tried-and-true tips from others. It helps to always have a pen and paper handy (in your purse and/or in your car) so you can easily jot down any nuggets of wisdom. You don’t want to lose the name of the best preschool, pediatric dentist, or women’s networking group because you didn’t write it down. You could even store information on the go in the notes app on your cell phone for transfer into the tips section of your PCS binder.
Use military connections for personal and professional advancement
Once you have a solid plan in place, it feels like you can come up for air and actually think about your professional goals. In addition to your sponsor, don’t be afraid to have your spouse discuss your next duty station with peers, staff NCOs, commanding officers, etc. After all, it’s hard to make connections and get the personal and professional advice you need for your new location if you don’t spread the word that you’re going somewhere.
Stay connected with national professional organizations
If you were a member of Toastmasters International at one duty station, talk to your fellow members about joining a chapter in your new destination—or even starting your own. For example, as a life coach I’m a member of the International Coaching Federation, but different states have different local chapters. I’ve transferred chapters as I’ve moved between states during the course of my career. Attending a professional meeting after you move can really motivate those entrepreneurial juices.
Lean on the spouse community
There are a lot of military spouses and organizations in different locations that want to help other spouses advance their careers and their lives. For example, organizations like InstantTeams offer assistance for military spouses looking for work. If you live on the East Coast, you may want to attend one of Sue Hoppin’s National Military Spouse Network events, or if you’re on the West Coast, check out The Rosie Network.
Talk to other spouses
Other military spouses who are successful professionals—and who understand firsthand the stress of multiple career transitions—can offer a broader perspective than what you’ll likely receive from your own remote base. Try joining some military spouse groups online and reaching out to like-minded spouses. See if you can schedule a quick phone call with people who have a pulse on your new duty station and ask for tips about prospective employment. If they’re actually located in the place you’ll soon call home, they’ll probably have lots of suggestions for you.
Create some purposeful meet-and-greets
Once you talk to others from your new location, seek out spouses that are in a similar situation. If you’re a blogger, crowdsource blogging friends online for tips on making the move a positive PCS. If you’re a photographer, nurse, or makeup artist, look for LinkedIn groups associated with your trade (even if they aren’t just for military spouses). Once you’ve settled into your new base, create a tribe in that region who can loop you in on professional networking events. This might allow you to dive right into a field without such a big gap between your old life and your new one.
Take a virtual sneak peek
When you’re planning a trip, you often google fun places to see. Treat your next move as if you were going on vacation and pick something fun to do once you unpack. Finding a fabulous museum or park can give you something to look forward to and take some stress out of the move. Check out Blue Star Museums for the list of museums offering free admission to military families. Getting something fun on the calendar will boost your mood and motivate you to explore your new town right away.
PCSgrades Area Guides provide great insight to the city around your next military assignment. You can learn about housing, schools, local weather, things to do, where to eat, and more!
Try some pay-it-forward purging
Set some intentions of what you want to attract in your new location through selective purging. For example, walk through each room with a laundry basket and fill it up with things to donate or give away. As you drop off a pile of books to the Salvation Army, make yourself a promise to hit the library once you move. Not only will these intentions make it easier to move, but an empty bookshelf might be just what you need to get your creative juices flowing.
My husband would argue that the Marines are the best planners in the world. If that’s true, I say let’s steal their idea of SMEAC. The acronym stands for Situation, Mission, Execution, Admin/Logistics, and Command and Control.
“Situation” is knowing what you’re up against and gathering all the data you’ll need for your new location before you get there. “Mission” is your who, what, where, when, and why. This may include focusing on your personal mission and how you’ll apply your talent in the new location. “Execution” is about your intent for the move and all the details that you’re capturing along the way. “Admin/Logistics” are the practical matters of moving, like being able to access the paperwork you need and knowing where the kids’ bandages are. Finally, “Command and Control” is about family role clarity. Who is in charge of meal planning, paying the bills, etc.? Navigating a PCS is a delicate task. The more open communication, the better.
Change the channel
My mother-in-law is an inspirational Christian who raised my husband as a teenager while her husband was in Vietnam. Whenever I vent to her for too long, she advises sweetly, “Honey, you just need to change the channel, Krista.” This reminder prompts me to instantly switch from doom and gloom to gratitude. The simplicity of her suggestion convinces me that I can do this.
You’ve got this!
Military life is a tough, but rich experience. Oftentimes, the difference between noticing all the hang-ups and bang-ups versus feeling blessed is our own perspective.
I’ve talked to so many anxious spouses that say things like, “I’m terrified to live in Germany,” or “I was a lawyer, and where I’m moving has a waitlist to work at the gas station!” Though later, their updates reveal positive reflections like, “We loved living internationally,” or “I became an intern for a judge and I’ve helped other military spouse lawyers gain reciprocity.” So, while I give you plenty of permission to vent as you unpack that chipped vase, remember that you’re living a life of service for which our nation is forever grateful.
AmeriForce Media is a service-disabled, veteran-owned small business founded in 1999. The company utilizes talent from the military community to produce print and digital offerings that inform, entertain, and support today’s warfighters and their families.
Its flagship products, Military Families Magazine and Reserve & National Guard Magazine, are delivered direct to active-duty and reserve component units across the globe. In 2020, AFM partnered with the Military Influencer Conference to create a new publication called the Military Influencer Magazine.