“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
The journey of a military family often resembles this unmarked path. We are sometimes greeted with familiar mile markers along the way, but each step is new and in uncharted territory. Often, the path does not resemble what we envisioned for ourselves. To make it through those tough times, we owe it to each other to talk, laugh, and leave markers along the way to guide those behind us. You are never alone in this crazy life!
For our family, February typically brings us to the mile marker we know as Assignment time! We wait anxiously to hear where our next adventure will take us. As soon as the military reveals the next location, we launch into action! There is housing to find, schools to line up, logistics of relocating our worldly possessions, and, not so long ago, the process of finding a new job for myself. It is an exciting but bittersweet time. Often, we are not ready to say goodbye to the amazing people we have been fortunate to meet. So many unknowns: will we like the new assignment, are we going to make new friends, and will we make the right decisions for our family? It’s scary and overwhelming.
As a professional, my trail has been filled with obstacles, self-doubt, and tears. The career path I envisioned as a young woman has in no way resembled the trail I followed from Oklahoma to Korea, and each place in-between. I taught music to preschoolers, was an EMT, served as President of a non-profit, worked with special needs students, and ran a multi-million dollar retail store. Each stop on the trail was unrelated, and each was an opportunity I had to create. I keep thinking it has to get easier, (i.e. we have done this 10 times in our 18 year career) but it hasn’t. I tell you this not to scare you, but instead to let you know you are not alone. I often stop, take a deep breath, and remind myself…
I have learned an incredible amount on this path. While working with young children, I learned patience and joy in the little things. As an EMT, I experienced true life or death situations. As the non-profit President, I learned about many organizations that want to help military members, their spouses, and veterans. You just have to seek them out. Special needs students taught me everyone has potential; you just have to give them the opportunity. In retail, I learned motivation is different for everyone. When you take the time to know your staff, you can truly lead and inspire them to great things. These unplanned stops along my trail, deviations from the path I had in mind, made me a better person and professional.
And so, with another February upon us, remember the path of the military family is amazing, unpredictable, and full of opportunities. Your mile markers along the way may be well outside what you envisioned, especially professionally, but soak it in for all of the invaluable lessons you will learn. Leave a trail marker for a friend; teach them that no matter how far off the path they feel, those seemingly unsurmountable obstacles are merely the beginnings of a new adventure.