Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I'm playing by my own career rules and you can, too...

Doesn't that post title sound like some kind of cheesy ad that pops up on your screen as you're browsing a lifestyle web page? But it made you click, right? One of the many little tricks we've shared at an IHBO meeting. Don't know what the IHBO is? You might want to... keep reading...

Little did I know at the time, but when I married my active duty military spouse, my career plans became secondary to... just about everything. Being career-minded, goal oriented, and sporting a bachelor's degree, I wrestled with the inevitable for a decade before finally realizing that I needed to find a source of income that did not require me to live somewhere any longer than three years. Sure, I worked at plenty of companies, and while I received glowing reviews from my employers, and displayed leadership skills, I was never given a promotion. Either I wasn't with the company long enough for the opportunity to present itself, or the employer would (incorrectly) assume that it would be smarter for them to invest in someone who "would be around longer." Oddly enough I outlasted every employee in my department at my last job... except for one, who was my boss. And only one other employee had an active duty spouse. The rest were "natives." Be careful about assuming, people...

Scrabooking instructor
But since most employers do assume, my career path has been less than direct. It looks like I can't hold a job because of the moves I must make for my husband's career. Or, especially when I was younger, prospective employers didn't believe how much experience I actually had. They assumed (there's that word again) that I had padded my resume. When, actually, I just asked for more work and opportunities to learn more. If you hadn't guessed by now, I don't like to be bored and if I am required to be somewhere for eight hours, I'd rather be busy.

My jobs have always been in some form of communications, from reporter and photojournalist, to advertising and marketing representatives/consultants/whatever-title-they-wanted-to-give-me-except-manager-because-then-they-would-have-to-pay-me-more. Later, I would own a crafting business I founded, only to sell it for a loss when the economy tanked in 2009 and, I yet again, had to move.

Some of this may resonate with other military spouses. Depending on their career paths and training, they may also have to get certified in different states (which can take months or years), and/or make sure they get the continued education they need to maintain their American certifications... in Japan or Europe. All while they are juggling kids, the household and the curveballs life tosses their way - like their active duty spouse being deployed for months, or sent across the country for weeks to attend one of the inevitable "trainings" that he or she has to do for either their job or their rank. But, of course, employers also assume that these military "single parents" will be less reliable because of the absence of their spouse. I find that to be hilarious. I've found that dependable people are dependable regardless of their home life. You can't get the lazy broad with an accountant husband and a mother-in-law in residence to be on time to anything if she doesn't want to. Trust me, I've witnessed it.

Marketing Rep
So, as I am sure you can sense, I have a bit of bitterness about the opportunities I would have loved to have had when it came to my career. I watched my husband get promoted four times over the past 13 years. I am so proud of him and he deserved each one. But those are HIS successes (I'll save the blog post on wives who wear their husbands' ranks for another day). Being who I am, right or wrong, I couldn't help but look at my own career and how I've never been promoted. I've changed jobs, I've been given more responsibility - without more pay, of course - but I have never been promoted and it breaks my goal-oriented heart.

Well, it DID break my goal-oriented heart - for about a decade. Which was about 10 years too long. Instead, I decided to play by my own rules... which is what I'm better at anyway.

About three years ago, I decided to change my goals. I had to readjust so that it was no longer about becoming a manger at some company that wouldn't allow me to telecommute from wherever we got stationed next. I didn't want to be at the mercy of someone else's "assumptions." I had to "think different" (sorry, Apple haters, but I love the premise of that company's story and philosophy) and think bigger. Forget about being a manger. My goal was to do something I loved, and make some money doing it. I'd lead by example.

I took stock of what I liked to do, and what I thought I was good at: scrapbooking, crafting, photography, reading, writing, teaching, problem solving, learning, organizing, leading. And, now, I'm doing them all.

Thanks to the spouse's G.I. Bill, I was able to earn a master's degree in Strategic Communication and Leadership from the University of West Florida in Pensacola, FL, for free. I did this while my husband was stationed at NAS Pensacola, graduating two months before we moved here to Japan. I took a full course load (9 graduate school credit hours a semester, which was three or four classes) worked at a marketing job, was a graduate teaching assistant (which means I taught public speaking to freshmen and sophomores) and still managed to get to most of my sons' baseball games. I even occasionally slept. Everything is a trade-off though: I also gained 50 pounds. Yikes.

I'm a master! ;)
But two years of this insanity was about to pay off. While jobs may come and go, I would always have an advanced degree on my resume, not to mention the knowledge I gained while completing the coursework.

Graduate teaching assistant
When we moved to Japan almost two years ago, that's when I really started being able to "think different." I am now able to live a life I love to wake up to.

Hours after completing my final project required for a masters degree, UWF offered me a position as an adjunct instructor online. So I now teach Global Communication to college seniors, which I love doing. I wish I could be in the classroom, and I wish I could pursue my doctoral degree, but that's just not possible right now. And instead of seeing it as a career goal unfulfilled, I am seeing it as something to maybe do later, when the time is right. The time is right for other endeavors right now.

Tenaciously Remembered
Once I settled in to the Iwakuni community, I dusted off my crafting skills, as well as my bachelor's degree in photojournalism and business. I now own two home-based businesses, Tenaciously Remembered, with which I teach crafting classes and make hand-made scrapbooks and gifts, and Jessica Guthrie Photography... which is pretty self-explanatory. I take pictures and try to make them great ones. I also teach photography classes. With both, I am able to make my own schedule (which does sometimes require me to accommodate my clients' schedules, but, again, it's my choice) so that I can have time off whenever I want to go explore Japan, volunteer as a LINKS mentor, go to my kids' baseball games, sleep in for a few more hours, etc. Oh, and I was able to focus on losing that 50 pounds. But I not only had to be self-motivated to lose weight, but to build my businesses, too. My businesses will only do as well as the effort I put in to them. Kind of like diets.

Jessica Guthrie Photography
And as a military spouse who moves around a lot, this is where I need to "think different," and I encourage other spouses to do the same. There are a lot of discouraged people coming to Iwakuni, people who are quitting good jobs to move. I had to quit two jobs when I moved. Bummer. But it was going to be awhile before I could be a manager in either place. Good point. So I became my own "manager." I made my own goals and definitions of success. And, as a military spouse, or as someone whose career plays second fiddle to a higher priority in your life, your definition of success is probably going to need to change, adapt and overcome. You may not be able to find a nursing job in Iwakuni... actually more than likely you won't. But, what are your interests and specialties? Can you train to be a doula? Can you become a nutritionist? A life coach? Can you counsel parents on disciplining their kids? (Please?) If you are a licensed teacher, you may not be able to find a job at the schools right away. There are a lot of opportunities to teach English to the Japanese. Or, maybe you can tutor students, teach painting classes or be an instructor for an online university. I hate to use a cliche', but think outside of the box. Google some phrases that pertain to your skills and interests. You may be surprised about what jobs are out there that you may not have thought of.

If you are having a hard time thinking of a business idea, then yes, there are the catalog party companies for jewelry, containers, toys, crafting, fitness, makeup... if you're female, you've probably ordered from one of these, or have already been a consultant for one. I don't advocate doing the direct sales thing to get rich, or even have a full-time-job income. The only people who get rich selling Tupperware/Avon/Princess House/whatever-other-company-has-parties-and-a-catalog are the people who started the company to begin with, and now have every single consultant beating the streets for sales providing them their paycheck. Or, the rich people are the dream story you hear from your upline and read about inside the front cover of the company catalog: the 0.5 percent of company consultants who have made parties and sales their life, are incredibly driven, and, well, let's face it, are pushing their products 24/7. They are the ones who you see at the supermarket and then you try to turn your cart down another aisle quickly. You hide before they can ask you to join their team or have a party because you haven't had one for them this month yet and there's a new hostess special she knows you're gonna love. And the reason I know this is because I sold Princess House (it's like Tupperware, only glass instead of plastic) for about two years. I learned a lot, "earned" a lot of free or half-price items that still grace my kitchen, but I never got rich. I wasn't pushy enough at the supermarket. I didn't want to be avoided. However, I do think that being a consultant for one of these companies teaches you a lot about people, sales and marketing yourself, but as a long-term career, it very rarely works, even for those with the best intentions.

I also decided that if I had to be a pushy, driven consultant, it was going to be for my own business, not someone else's.

But starting a business aboard MCAS Iwakuni wasn't as simple as creating a Facebook page and sharing the link on Iwakuni Classifieds. There's a little more that goes in to having a business here; some of it can be complicated, and very little of it is well advertised or explained. So, I set out to solve that problem and founded the Iwakuni Home-based Business Organization (IHBO) in October 2012. It's a group of active duty military, military spouses and other SOFA-status people who also happen to have some kind of business that they own. You can see some of them here. We are not affiliated with the base or the government. We are here to help other business owners navigate the SJA paperwork, follow the marketing rules the base has so they don't get in to trouble, and understand what customer service in a small community entails (Rule #1... don't bad-mouth your competition... this is a very small community and it will probably not bode well for you in the long run). We also host business expos on base a couple of times a year, and have meetings about once a month to network, share ideas (like blog post titles that are catchy) and pool resources. You can find out more about the IHBO, learn how to join the group, and get some info on starting the SJA process here.

I know this post is long and without pretty pictures, but if I have helped some spouses find inspiration and/or avoid the pitfalls I've stumbled in to at some point, then it's done its job. And if you're staring to "think different" about your career path, then perfect. I can't wait to see what you come up with. Live the life you can't wait to wake up to.

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