I think one of the best things I did during my time in the Marine Corps was chronicling my journey for family and friends. Looking back, I see so much about my personality that I’m embarrassed to admit right now and my growing frustration with people who I would not naturally pick as coworkers. I had frustrating situations both at 1st Marine Division and 3rd MarDiv when I worked with MAG-16, but I was more disgruntled with my assignment at MAG-16. We had a particularly difficult guy in our shop who grated on me for the duration of the deployment.
While I won’t say my feedback on the situation (demonstrated below) is how we should talk about work problems, I was 23 years old at the time and not skilled in communicating my work issues in an effective problem solving matter. I take ownership of this reality and share my vulnerabilities because it was a crucial point in my Marine Corps career. As I neared my end of active service (EAS) for that enlistment period, I was more critical of the personal interactions that marred my feelings about the Marine Corps.
Prior to the deployment, my husband and I discussed the possibility of me enlisting one more time to establish financial security for our family. At that point, we didn’t foresee the economic downfall in 2008. If you want to read something interesting about this time period check out The Great Recession by Robert Rich (November 22, 2013). When we were reunited in 2007, my husband and I saw the benefits of a downturned economy, not the flaws of the situation. As newlyweds, we explored the housing market in southern California (particularly the Oceanside area) that previously would have been out of our reach. I ultimately decided to not reenlist at one of the worst time periods possibly because I knew I didn’t want another four years when I might be stuck with another (or multiple) like-minded person(s) to the man I described above.
The Marine Corps is a smaller organization compared to our sister service branches. I knew in my last year with the Marine Corps my ability to find a better workgroup would ultimately be limited. My Military Occupational Specialty field (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Defense) is not a particularly large job field. I also made the bad career decision to move from 1st Marine Division to 3rd Marine Division under the assumption of re-enlisting. When I returned stateside, I don’t think an opportunity to change units again would have been available. Each unit is only permitted a certain number of personnel for each respective EAS; of additional concern, my husband and I were dual military couple. He re-enlisted during his deployment and was staying in California.
After much discussion, I had his support our family would be better served if I left the Marine Corps. My ability to attend school using the Montgomery GI Bill supplemented by additional payments from the Buy Up Program and the Marine Corps College Fund provided a means to leave the Marine Corps without much (immediate) financial regret. For a full month of school attendance, I received $1,739.89 to pay for school and living expenses. We managed our finances without a significant drop in our quality of life by my decision to also attend a community college. I supplemented our income by also working part-time where I was paid $10.50 an hour and worked approximately 30 hours a week.
I share these details of my life because personal and professional growth occurs more “behind the scenes” than upfront in a glamorous fashion. My particular transition required working with a partner. I could not feel satisfied making a decision about my professional trajectory without also communicating with him about what I wanted to do and why I wanted to make those changes in my life because those decisions ultimately affected him as well. Not all partnerships look like mine, but I also didn’t want someone to suddenly have a change a heart about our relationship because I needed a change of direction in my professional life.
A former coworker of mine once told me we spend more time with our work counterparts than we do with our own families, and it’s true. When we are able to work full-time, we devote typically 40 hours a week on tasks and work connections that takes time away from our significant other, children, parents, siblings, and friends (in no particular order of priority because these relationships vary by our situations). We have 168 hours a week to split up among our relationships, responsibilities, and self-care interests. For my most of my first deployment, I spent 84 hours a week working; half of my weekly hours were devoted to a mission and placed many burdens on my personal life. I am grateful the second deployment was not the same level of commitment, but the work environment taught me I didn’t want to serve the Marine Corps anymore.
My personal and professional lives were suffering. I was unhappy beyond belief. I had a string of unsuccessful relationships because the demands of Marine Corps life meant making unpopular decisions. Not all friends and romantic partners wanted to be on this journey with me. I also felt strained by the pressure to work on my academic goals. The Marine Corps, like other service branches, offered tuition assistance and I jumped into a short-lived journey with American Military University without fully considering my work demands. During my second deployment, I found it was unrealistic to continue my online coursework as I did not have reliably consistent access to computer time.
I don’t seek your pity in sharing these seemingly small trials. We all have them. I didn’t know who I could become in this world. My 2007 self reveals a lot of anger, frustration, confusion, and self-doubt. I am happy here in early 2018 to see how much I’ve changed, the confidence I’ve developed as a result of many mistakes. I have a better focus on financial investments I want to make over time. I challenged myself to complete a graduate degree. The 2007 me was barely confident to complete a bachelor’s degree! I no longer seek self-help materials because I think there is a flaw with me fitting in this world. Instead, I look to mentors who show how to interpret positive and negative situations. They help me see how to minimize negative consequences. They also remind me to appreciate my blessings.
I’m learning to see each day as an opportunity for “do overs” when things don’t go my way and as baby steps towards my desired goals. There is a lot of uncertainty in my future this year as to whether the VA will approve my disability claim regarding my chest pains.There is also uncertainty in my work life as we await the introduction of two new team members. There is also uncertainty as I explore the additional steps needed if my husband and I decide to bring a second child into this world next year (or even the year after). There is less uncertainty regarding my additional coursework this year for my second graduate program. There is less uncertainty for me regarding what I want in my next home. There is less uncertainty in how I feel about my public role in educating others about modern service and veteran experiences.
My life will never be 100% balanced, but I now feel more confident about my personal and professional growth. I look back on where I was and how I felt about uncontrollable circumstances and how little I invested in controllable variables. I often stepped in my own way of progress. I ignored my intuition. I let my lack of confidence encourage me to stay in unhealthy situations because I didn’t believe I deserved better. Now, I say “no” to the things that don’t require my attention or for which I am not interested. I seek help for those matters I cannot fully control on my own (like the chest pains). I ask others for their advice when I know they are stronger in an area I want to develop my skills. These are not weaknesses. They are signs I value my time, relationships, and opportunities.
2018 is waiting for all of us. Find what makes you happy, allows you to live out your purpose, and teaches you to be a better human being.