It’s Time for Military Spouses to Enter the Big Leagues

I have always had a love affair with competitive sports.

The past two years, I have enjoyed watching my daughter, who is now six, play baseball in a little league with other same-aged boys.  What was amazing to me is that there was really little difference between the ability of the children at that stage.  Everyone learned how to hit, field, and run the bases… and they all had equal confidence and basically the same abilities. I was proud that Ally hit the ball from coaches pitching and seemed to enjoy the love of the game.

After two years playing ball, and as a big kindergartner, we decided it might be time to put her in an all-girls league so she could start learning the nuances of softball versus baseball and become more acquainted with other girls her age (as there were only two girls per team in the baseball league).

Much to my chagrin, the caliber of expectations was significantly lower in the softball league.  Watching opening ceremonies and the first game alone, it was quickly evident that the emphasis was more on the hair bows and a team cheer than it was on learning the fundamentals or increasing skills.

As I sat and watched the season, I could only grumble knowing that I too, had experienced this same sort of decline in standards when my label went from “career woman” to “military spouse.”  With the new title, came a quick erasure of all previous standards and a drastic lowering of the bar in terms of what people expected of me.  I went from a demanding job where I was able to exceed in a high stress environment, to an environment where my performance or my ability to lead was irrelevant.  Expectations were reduced to just possessing a basic knowledge of social calendars and my husband’s work environment.  My old identities, and even my titles of mother and entrepreneur, were now eclipsed by the words “military spouse” and the unwritten guidelines that accompanied them.

Inside my head I remember screaming, “How is this okay?”  Shouldn’t I, even as a military spouse, still be inspired by my community to continue to strive for excellence?

There’s no question marrying a military service member comes with sacrifices. We’ve given up college degrees, specific careers and put other plans on hold. According to a recent article on Military Spouse, a recent study by the Military Officers Associate of America (MOAA) and Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Families (IVMF) revealed that 90 percent of female spouses felt that they were underemployed based on their education and/or experience. In my opinion, this statistic is pretty accurate.

Over my 14 years as a spouse, I have witnessed a majority of spouses try for their first few assignments to keep a career going. After several failed attempts and the addition of kids, they often hang up their cleats, deciding their efforts to find meaningful work are futile.  In ball, we rely on our teammates for support and encouragement to keep us steadily achieving more and more over time.  When society grants military spouses a proverbial pass to take a “timeout” on their journey to big dreams and goals, wouldn’t it be awesome if their colleagues encouraged them to strive for more?  Why would spouses play t-ball when they are capable of hanging in the big leagues?”

My point in writing this is not to say that all military spouses need to work or make a career their focus.  I know plenty of stay-at-home-moms who are also military spouses who love their role as such and would never change a thing.   Shannon at Military One Click admitted, she hasn’t always loved being a military spouse but she appreciates the community of like-minded people, “who’d married for the love of their mates and who’d make that choice over and over again no matter the difficulty.”  But, work or not, and regardless of the field on which we find ourselves, universally as spouses we can step up our level of play.

It is time military spouses’ step up to the plate.  I challenge this group to reinvigorate your big goals and dreams.  You are strong, resilient and smart individuals who can achieve more than you’ve been led to think!  We have been permitted to let our skills and talents lay dormant.  We have gifts that have been allowed to languish and important lessons that remain hidden from future generations.

Whether it’s leading the PTA, taking a class to keep former career skills current, running a marathon to remain healthy or starting a business to share your skills with the world,  it’s time military spouses start taking some swings, it’s time we elevate our game and it’s time we show the world the caliber of play of which we are capable!  

Is Giving Good For Your Health?

We all know that pleasant feeling we receive after doing a good deed; however, a recent study sheds new light on the benefits of giving. A wealth of scientific research shows that generosity can result in a ton of health benefits including decreased stress, lower chances of depression, and even longer life expectancy.

Personally I’ve found that giving makes my work more rewarding.  Apparently I’m not alone.  A study from the University of Wisconsin shows that people who help others regularly through their professions experience increased happiness.  In line with theory, two of my fellow military spouse entrepreneurs have established flourishing businesses focused on helping others and say they have never felt better! Here are their stories.

Donna Budjenska

Donna Bud

Long time Army spouse Donna Budjenska thought a satisfying, flexible, long-term career just wasn’t in the cards for her. Despite a strong education that included a Master’s Degree in English and multiple awards received for her writing and editing work, the only consistent aspect to her career was its inconsistency. Over more than 20 years, the frequent military moves ripped her from a few career positions she’d been able to find, and more recently the publishing industry itself was shrinking and changing fundamentally.

So at the time we met, she was open to new ideas, and the Skincare business surprised her by its flexibility, portability, and intriguing mission: Changing skin, changing lives.

Why did that resonate with her? Earlier that year, Donna’s oldest sister was widowed by malignant melanoma. The year before, another sister also was widowed by the same disease. “I couldn’t help but want to do something to fight this deadly skin cancer. But I really didn’t know what I could do,” Donna explains.

“The Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF) had been helpful to my sisters, so I began making modest monthly donations to that organization in appreciation and support of their research, advocacy, and education efforts,” Donna says.

When she realized a Skincare business could open up conversations about skin health and sun smarts, she was sold.

“At the time I was primarily the homestead hub for my family, and I started working my new Skincare business — which I quickly loved — on a spare-time basis,” Donna says. “Soon I found I could cover the modest costs of my Skincare business and contribute my monthly MRF tithe.”

When she found out that the MRF gives scholarships to medical students researching melanoma, Donna had an epiphany: “Maybe I could fund a memorial scholarship to honor my family members and to spur exciting new ideas and discoveries in the battle against this deadly skin cancer,” she recalls. “Here was the kicker: I didn’t want to wait until my death 40+ years in the future to will the $100,000 necessary to establish the scholarship. And I didn’t want to raid our family budget, either.” That’s when the potential of her Skincare business really sank in for her.

Donna now stockpiles her Skincare business paychecks and is looking forward to the time she has accumulated enough seed money to start the scholarship. In the meantime, she also is using her earnings to pay off the loan on the Jeep she bought her husband when he returned from deployment and to continue donating monthly to the MRF.

Micaela Brancato

Micaela 2

Micaela is another military spouse turned entrepreneur. I’ve known Micaela for over 15 years.  Our friendship began as roommates at USAF Academy.  Her story, like Donna’s, is a great one and serves as motivation for numerous military spouses.

Micaela and her husband Matt currently run a cozy retreat on their property in Minnesota that serves military families called Holbrook Farms .  Holbrook Farms serves as a way for both Matt and Micaela to give back to their dear friends they’ve lost in combat.

“I remember while in college at the USAF Academy, one of our military generals told us to look around the lecture hall because due to the nature of our profession, not everyone will make it to our 20-year reunion! About three years ago, I was sitting at a memorial service for one of our fellow classmates killed in an overseas shooting and realized, unfortunately that general was right. Shortly after that, we lost another classmate in a tragic airplane accident. In that moment we decided to turn our 47-acre maple syrup farm into a non-profit spa-themed bed & breakfast for military survivors,” says Micaela.

Micaela’s vision for Holbrook Farms was years in the making.  She’d dreamed of the day when she’d be able to offer military veterans and widows a calming place to retreat from the chaos of war.  The challenge was how to come up with the time and resources needed to make it happen.  Luckily, I’d just begun working as a skincare consultant. I immediately saw the potential and shared the opportunity with her. Although Micaela didn’t initially see the potential benefits, her husband was on board right away. “I thought we were too busy with our full-time military careers — I’m a commander of cyber intelligence analysts and my husband is an Air Force pilot,” Micaela says.  “I give a ton of credit to my husband, who saw the opportunity and blessing it could be to so many!”

Matt and Micaela are now surrounded by a team of driven leaders who helped them make Holbrook Farms what it is today. Thanks to their new found financial growth and success, Matt and Micaela opened the doors to their beloved Holbrook Farms four years ahead of schedule.

“We’re thankful to be able to provide a relaxing place for those that paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation! Our goal is to offer one or two retreats per summer and continue expanding as our business grows. When we retire from our military careers, we’ll open it year round for weddings, family reunions, and more retreats!” says Micaela.

There are many military spouses who, like Donna and Micaela, are making their dream of helping others a reality through hard work. Their businesses have not only provided them with financial independence but also with the opportunity to make a positive difference in the world.

One of my favorite quotes about giving comes from the great Winston Churchill,

“We make a living by what we get,

but we make a life by what we give.”

These women are true examples of lives worth living.  I know their selfless actions will continue to inspire military spouses hoping to blaze their own path in years to come.

The New Military Spouse

Across the United States, and many parts of the world, the days of the Stepford wife are long gone.   The modern woman is exalted for her superhuman ability to juggle motherly duties and professional careers without breaking a sweat. Military wives are no different.

While many military spouses sacrifice blossoming careers to stand by their revered husbands, there’s a new breed of military spouses who are determined to do it all by turning to entrepreneurial endeavors.  Military wives turned military entrepreneurs like myself, are highly educated and have great business skills that they are dying to put to use, however constant relocations often make it difficult for us to maintain a standard “9-5” job.  Like numerous military spouses, I  knew there was something better for me.  A former Air Force maintenance officer, I , wasn’t going to give up easy.  After failing to secure part-time work, I started a wildly successful  home staging firm, designing homes for local military families and those outside of the base.  Several years into my design firm’s lifetime, the call of duty sent my family packing to a new location.

I found my true calling after being introduced by a friend to a unique opportunity to build my own business as an Independent Skincare Consultant.  Ignited by the possibilities ahead, I committed  to give half of all my earnings to a nonprofit micro loan organization, making sure my donations were set aside for military spouses specifically.

As time progressed, I saw an even greater opportunity for my skincare consulting.  I’d always had a soft spot for military spouses and with my newfound team of entrepreneurial military wives, I set out to educate millions of military spouses on the possibilities of entrepreneurship.

My fellow military entrepreneurs, Lauren Myers and Melissa Parent who have also experienced entrepreneurial success as Independent Skincare Consultants joined me in my cause to raise awareness about the options for military entrepreneurs.

Lauren Myers is a former Air Force pilot and currently serves in the Air Force Reserves. Throughout 12 years of marriage to a Naval officer, Lauren and her family have moved eight times making it impossible for Lauren to find and keep any kind of employment.   Lauren was always on the lookout for a portable career and started with a fitness business, while simultaneously dedicating most of her time to a non-profit focused on the health and well-being of military families. These ventures were fulfilling, but still had her tied to someone else’s schedule.  Finally, Lauren found the flexibility she wanted was an Independent Skincare Consultant. Now Lauren is her own boss. Moving to new locations helps her to grow her network and she’s helping other spouses to do the same.  Her favorite part is creating the same supportive culture military spouses enjoy with each other and using that collaboration to help them grow successful businesses.

Yet another military spouse who has forged her own path, Melissa Parent, like Lauren also found success as an Independent Skincare Consultant,   “As a military spouse who left a promising career to raise my family, I always felt torn between being the mom I wanted to be and fulfilling the urge I had to maintain some of my professional life.  Until the idea of owning my own business was presented to me, I always thought it would be impossible to do both while our family had to pick up and move every three years.  Starting over and being paid less than I was worth each time we moved did not make putting my children into daycare worth it just so I could have a career.  Being an entrepreneur and working on my terms allows me to have the best of both worlds – I get to use my MBA, make my own business decisions and bring in an income for my family, all without sacrificing any time with my 4 young children as they grow up.”

Inspired by her success Melissa’s husband opened his own business, with her help of couse!  Melissa’s additional income will allow her husband to retire in four years and not have to get another stressful 9-5 job. “He’s been watching my business grow and watching my time freedom and decided he wants the same for himself.  We took my earnings and invested it into a hockey stick repair franchise that he runs out of our garage in his spare time.  I’ve given him lots of help with marketing ideas and inspiration, and in four years we’ll both be entrepreneurs, working from home and watching our kids grow up together,” says Melissa.

Each of these women has seen great success, making six figure earnings while maintaining an extremely happy family life. All four of us will have received Lexus vehicles as of this summer as a reward for exceeding expectations in their businesses.    With the rate of unemployment among military spouses three times higher than the national average, it is miraculous that we have made such a success of ourselves.  The mission of this blog and website overall is to give other military spouses looking for a way to quench their entrepreneurial thirst the resources needed to start building their success today.

Who ever thinks you can change the world?

I certainly didn’t.  I used to think my labels weren’t worth much.  Air Force veteran, mom, military spouse, and aspiring entrepreneur.  What could I offer?  Little did I know that those very labels were the beginning of something brilliant.

I found my identity in the bumpy journey to becoming an entrepreneur.  In my particular line of work, I get to help coach women to create flexible businesses around their busy (military) lives.  In doing this over the course of the past few years, my posture changed.  In giving back to women by helping them realize their potential as business owners, I saw that I could change the world a little bit every day and they were inspired to do the same.  An encouraging word here, a piece of advice there, and an occasional kick in the pants to help someone reach their full potential….I was helping people learn how to live, give, serve and grow.  And these were nothing new to me; they were the skills I had gained as a veteran, mom, military spouse and small business owner.

Now, here is the fun part.  You’re probably thinking, “oh yeah, good for you”.  But, guess what?  You have your own set of special skills that someone is waiting to receive through your entrepreneurial venture.  Yes, it’s true.  You could be the CEO of your own passion-filled business.

Today I realize, that the little things we do to give back to our families, serve our countries and communities, grow our businesses and live fully are of great value to the world.   And when we use our successful businesses to share these values and “pay it forward,” we will create an unstoppable ripple effect that reaches much farther than you would ever imagine.

So I’m on a mission.  A mission to show you that your labels are a gift.  You can take them and create a business and a life centered around your passion.  The world needs more milpreneurs who pay it forward and here is where we’ll start.

Welcome to MISSION: Milpreneur…..let’s take a journey to live.give.serve.grow together!