I’m a military spouse, and I’ve been that since the day I married my husband, who served 23 years in the Navy. It was a great career for him and took us to several cities in the United States and even to Naples, Italy.
But that’s the story I tell now.
At the time we were in the midst of his active-duty service, I had a different story.
I told myself that it was difficult to be a military spouse. It was difficult to get hired because sometimes companies didn’t want to hire a military spouse who might move in two or three years.
I told myself that my resume showed that my jobs lasted two to three years and it looked like I job hopped, which would reflect negatively on me during my job search.
I told myself it was challenging to move to a new town and start over again at making friends and finding a job.
I told myself that not having a paid position while we lived abroad was a negative and might make potential employers reluctant to hire me when we returned to the U.S. They would wonder what I had been doing for three years.
I made it all up
Was there a shred of truth to all these stories? Sure.
But what I didn’t realize at the time was that these were just stories I was telling myself. In the absence of other information or possibilities, these were the stories I created.
No one actually said any of those things to me.
Mostly people said, “Oh my gosh, living in Italy, that must have been amazing!” It was. We had an ancient Roman amphitheater two kilometers from our house. The art, the food, the travel. Yes, it was amazing.
But all I could see upon returning to the U.S. was that I hadn’t worked for three years. My mindset was to see it as a negative, even though I had many years of nonprofit work experience prior to our Italy stay.
I damaged my chances before I even started, and I did not see the opportunity and promise in all those situations.
The fact was that when we returned to the U.S., I had four job opportunities to choose from. Several nonprofits wanted to hire me, and I found a great position as a capital campaign fundraiser for an organization serving children with disabilities.
We make up facts
In the absence of actual data, we make up facts. It’s human nature for us to fill in the blanks when it comes to telling our story.
One of my clients had years of nonprofit experience and led her team to good performance in her field. The organization she served was incredibly worthwhile. She worked there for about a decade. Obviously, she was doing something right (lots of things right, actually).
But when she wanted to look for a new position, she filled in some details. In the story she told herself, she wasn’t fully qualified to do the job for which she was applying. She thought she didn’t have enough of the right experience, that her leadership skills were lacking, and that the reason she succeeded before was really because her boss was so talented and charismatic.
None of this was true.
She made up those facts.
Another colleague started her own business and began working for a number of clients. She completed several projects successfully, and more clients were hiring her to work for them. She had more work than she could possibly take on.
But when one client left her a somewhat vaguely worded email about needing to talk, she filled in the facts with her own story.
In her mind, the client was unhappy with her work, and she was about to be fired as their consultant.
That simply wasn’t true. It was her mind filling in the facts.
Stories are powerful
The stories we tell about our lives shape what it becomes. That’s the danger of the stories we tell ourselves, because they can trip us up, but it’s also their power.
How we think and how we approach the world affects the story of our lives as it plays out.
This means is that if we change our stories, then we change our lives.
Do you want to change your life? Then change your story.
We often have limiting beliefs before we even try, by telling ourselves that we’re not qualified, or we aren’t knowledgeable enough about a topic. We think, “that probably won’t work” when we consider a new business to launch. This kills our effort before it even begins. We’ve stopped our own growth and limited our success.
This negative self-talk is a clear indicator that you need to change your story.
Does any of this self-talk sound familiar?
- That new fundraising effort I developed might not raise much money.
- I must do this job perfectly.
- I’m too old/too young/too inexperienced to be hired.
- No one will see me as an expert.
- It’s too late in life to do that.
- I’m juggling a lot and my life is harder than other people’s life. They have it easy.
- If I follow my heart, everything will work out.
- She is ahead of me. I’m not doing as well as others in my field.
- I must earn $___ per year to support my family, so I can’t quit my full-time job.
- I’m locked into this job. I can’t leave. There’s nowhere for me to go.
- My worth is determined by my work and how much I earn.
To begin changing your story, follow these tips:
- Examine your thinking. Once you’ve identified negative thoughts, you can create more positive ones that point you in the direction you want to go.
- Practice. Journaling is a wonderful way to practice replacing those negative thoughts with positive ones. You can use a written journal or even the Notes app on your phone. The goal is to write down and bring awareness to how you think.
- Focus on self-reflection. Are you moving in the direction you want to go? Progress not perfection. Are your thoughts pointing you in the right direction? What’s standing in your way?
- Surround yourself with good people. Develop a support system of people you trust and seek their input, whether that’s a friend, a family member, a mentor, an executive coach, or a professional colleague whose job mirrors the type you wish to have.
- Take risks. If you want to change your life, you cannot stay in your comfort zone. Consider what absolute success and abundance would look like. Think about the worst that could happen, how you could live with that, and how you’d overcome obstacles if that worse case scenario happened.
If I could go back in time, I would rewrite my story and hold a more positive view of being a military spouse. I’d relax and enjoy my time abroad and see each new duty station city as a place full of opportunities and new friends.
I can’t go back, of course. But what I can do is help others who are moving on their own path in life, help them see how powerful their own story is, and show them how to change it along the way.
Inspired by an Inc. article.