The career landscape for military spouses changes at every stage of the game. Jacey Eckhart is an experienced navy wife and mom. She speaks around the world. She’s an author, a sociologist, a humorist. She’s been featured as an authority on military family life in the New York Times, and Washington Post, on major television and radio networks, and national magazines.
None of that prepared her for what happened when her husband, Brad, got an overseas assignment, arguably when she was at the top of her professional game.
“It was a major career hit for me,” Jacey says. “My phone fell silent. I went from 250 emails a day to a Talbots ad and an invitation to a coffee morning. None of the local companies were hiring people who did not speak fluent Norwegian. I felt like I lost myself.”
When Brad’s next assignment brought the couple back to the U.S. Jacey knew picking up where she left off in her stateside career was not an option. She’d have to do what military spouses often have to do: start again.
“I did not know what to do, so I planted a bunch of career seeds at once. Some grew, and some did not,” she says. “I started researching how other people handled significant life change and shared strategies online, and the Next Door Project was born.”
“The world gives you little hints about what you should be doing,” says Jacey. “You just have to pay attention.”
The Next Door Project is a platform for Jacey’s speaking, consulting, career coaching, and writing endeavors. True to her experience, her specialty is helping people in transition to look for, create, and recognize opportunities. Jacey offers these tips for managing career transitions:
Know your local environment.
“Get local contacts and local interests. People get jobs through contacts.”
Know what you have to offer.
“Identify what you have to sell in the marketplace.”
Know what the world needs.
“Identify what the market is willing to buy. That takes some experimenting,”
Know your priorities.
“Be honest about what you really want in your heart of hearts and soul of souls. I want to have lots of time to write, and I want live where Brad lives. I’m willing to sacrifice some career stability to get those two things.”
More training or education may be helpful, but it’s not the most important thing, Jacey says.
“One of the most common mistakes we military spouses make is to keep going back to school, hoping to make ourselves more marketable. Instead, we need to work on making ourselves more local. Unless a degree is required to get a license in your field, like law, teaching, or nursing, don’t get another degree.”
Even with goals in mind, the right training, and local contacts, career transitions are difficult. Maintaining personal balance and self-confidence is a challenge, as is determining what job will be the right fit.
Jacey says one of the hardest things she had to do in her latest transition is to redefine her expectations of what the right job would look like.
“I heard about a part-time job that would let me teach new veterans how to get jobs, but I was worried that it was not a logical step up for me. I’d be a red-shoe gal in a brown-shoe world,” she says. “Then I found out how much I had to learn about the topic, how it was an epic task for veterans, a group I care about most in the world.”
It was a challenge she couldn’t refuse. She took the job and says it’s one of the best she’s ever had. Still she admits finding the next door of opportunity is never easy, even with years of experience. For reassurance and stability, she goes back to what is most important to her.
“I’d love to tell you that I am a Mrs. Miniver, totally unruffled by the slings and arrows of military life,” Jacey says. “Really, I’m a squirrel, and I am totally ruffled and freaking out all the time about work. Brad is my rock. And, to be fair, Starbucks. The habit of writing every day at Starbucks keeps me productive, no matter what.”
Jacey Eckhart is a coauthor of Stories around the Table: Laughter, Wisdom, and Strength in Military Life, author of The Homefront Club, and the creator of the Next Door Project.