Recently, our blogger friends at Our Next Life wrote about replacing gold stars in a future without promotions or awards. When I first started reading the post, I didn’t think her message applied to me. I’ve never really been concerned with external validation from supervisors or peers, mostly because my true personal goals were not necessarily aligned with work goals. However, by the time I got to the end of the post, I realized something that I’ve been wrestling with a bit, at least subconsciously.
As the traditional phase of my working career winds down, a couple recurring scenarios keep popping up in my everyday life that have unknowingly highlighted my gold star.
“So do you have a job lined up?”
“What will you be doing?”
“Do you know where you’ll be working?”
These are just a few of the questions I’m asked nearly every day. And they’re to be expected. When you tell people you’re moving to another country, they’re naturally curious. After the initial surprise and a quick mention about how lucky we are, the conversation always turns to work. My standard response up to this point seems to be puzzling my inquisitors.
“I’m actually not looking for a job. After taking some time off to get my family settled, I plan on exploring some ideas I’ve had for a while and pursuing other personal projects.”
To this, they usually respond, “Oh, you’ll be out there for a year, right? Must be nice to be able to take some time off.”
“Well, it’ll be three years. And aside from my reserve job, I don’t think I’ll be doing any other formal work for a while.” Then, sensing their bewilderment, I usually add, “Plus, I’ll be too busy planning trips across Europe.”
My responses to seemingly normal questions totally do not compute with people so, as you can probably tell, I’ve been having a bit of fun with it.
What I’ve found the most interesting, though, is that this conversation hasn’t happened just once with each individual person. In multiple instances, it has happened a handful of times with the same person. In one case, a coworker, probably in his mid-fifties, asks me about this on at least a weekly basis. Maybe his memory is going bad and I’m reading into it too much, but it’s almost as if he doesn’t believe me and is waiting for me to crack.
Either way, it seems like it is very difficult for people to comprehend that a 34-year old with three kids would just stop working. I’m not sure what else I could say besides, “Look, my wife and I have made decent money for the last eight years we’ve both been working. We’ve been pretty good savers, decent investors, and try not to waste money on crap. Money is not a big concern in our house. We’re very comfortable financially. Plus, I don’t really like going to work all that much and would rather do my own thing.”
“Are you military?”
“What branch are you in?”
“So where are you getting stationed?”
Again, I’m often asked these questions which are not terribly out of the ordinary. After all, I’ve been asked these same questions periodically for the past decade. The difference up to this point was that each time we moved I was on active duty and the answers felt much simpler.
Now, I find the need to explain myself. You see, when you are a military family, everyone always assumes the husband is the active member. In this traditional line of thinking, the wife’s job is to dutifully follow along, sacrificing her career while taking care of the kids and household.
The mental picture of someone in the military is that of a rugged soldier who’s often away from home for training or deployed to some remote or hostile location. But that’s not always the case. Military service members come from all walks of life and serve in a wide variety of roles. And of course, many are women.
Since my separation from active duty, this traditional role has been reversed, putting us in the minority of military families, but not in a completely uncommon situation. In fact, in 2014 women made up 15.1% of the active duty US armed forces. Not to mention, 6.4% of personnel were in dual-military marriages. To be honest, both of these numbers are slightly lower than I would’ve expected.
When I answer the questions above, it usually goes something like this, “Actually, my wife is active duty and has been reassigned to…”
Then again, sensing something is not quite right I add, “Well, I was active duty for almost nine years and now I’m a reservist. I’ll be working for a unit out in…”
For some reason, I keep feeling the need to qualify my initial answer. I’d like to think I’m secure with my military status and I know I’m proud to be a military spouse. Besides, my wife is a damn good officer. In addition to being proficient in the technical skills of her job, she has an uncanny knack for connecting with people and getting them to want to work with and for her. I have no reason to hold my head down.
My Gold Star
Mrs. DTG and I married while she was still a college student and I was a new graduate. In the ten years since, I’ve always viewed myself as the provider for the family. Even though she makes good money now and our salaries have been roughly the same for many years, I’ve still mentally worn the provider hat. In less than two months, I will no longer have a steady paycheck. I will no longer be a breadwinner. My role in the family will change.
I wouldn’t say I am insecure, but the societal expectation and gender stereotype of the man providing for and leading the family still feels strong. To be clear, Mrs. DTG is totally onboard with my early retirement plans. We are a team and made this decision together.
Other people who exit the workforce before their spouse must face similar feelings. How do you reconcile going from being a financial provider to being a resource consumer? For me, this new role will be defined over time. Although I’m ridiculously excited about the upcoming freedom to spend a much larger portion of my time as I choose, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t actively thinking of other ways to be a provider.