My Career Journey: The Ups, Downs, and Military Life’s Role

Written by Valerie McCarley


I’ve always loved education. I’m constantly striving to learn, with a deep desire to understand our world. As a child, I looked forward to school starting again each year after the long summer break and soaked up every experience in college. I loved education so much that I even changed my career trajectory very late in my undergraduate degree. Rather than heading to med school after my first four years, I opted to pursue a Master of Science in College Student Personnel. In other words, higher education was my new calling.

My first post-grad, professional job was the most demanding, high-intensity job of my life. I moved thousands of miles away from my hometown to take a live-in position at a university where I spent many nights and weekends on call. I had never been so tired yet so fulfilled. It’s also where I met my husband.

From that moment forward, both my life and career took diverging paths. Never had I considered the possibility of marrying into the military, nor had I envisioned leaving the university that now felt like home.

Almost 20 years and five permanent change of station (PCS) moves later, my career has taken a non-traditional path. It’s been rewarding and poignant. I’ve been challenged to grow both personally and professionally. I’m thankful for the experiences I’ve had, but it can also be difficult to see the steady, linear career growth of my non-military-affiliated counterparts. I cheer for them and yet sometimes also grieve the lack of that same upward mobility in my career. Each move started the cycle over.

24% of military spouses experience unemployment, six times the rate of their civilian counterparts, and 63% of those that are employed report being underemployed.

Bridging the military spouse employment gap will require effort from both employers and potential employees but many organizations are leaning into the challenge. If you are looking to level up your career skills, check out these opportunities:


Career Advancement Tips for Military Spouses

Higher Education

Start with the education center at your base or post. Learn about financial assistance programs, such as the My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) and/or available scholarships. Many colleges offer in-state tuition for military-affiliated students. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if you’re eligible for grants and loans (if needed).



Certificates can be a great way to demonstrate your knowledge or skill in a given area. Research certificate options through Blue Star Families Spouseforce Virtual Community or the USO Pathfinder Transition Program. Both programs also offer a variety of resources outside of certificates. Or, if you’re interested in the tech world, consider the free training offered by Salesforce Military.



LinkedIn offers a one-time, one-year subscription to LinkedIn Premium and LinkedIn Learning for military spouses at no charge. This is a great way to grow your professional network and skill set. The employment office on your closest military installation is also an abundant resource for networking opportunities.


Find Your Niche

Explore any avenue that might interest you. Are you considering a remote position? Both Virtforce and Instant Teams help to connect military spouses to vetted virtual employment. Considering an internship or apprenticeship program? DoD Skillbridge might be a great path to explore. Have an interest in another area? Find a way to make your dream a reality!



I still love being on a college campus. I still adore education. I’m constantly amazed by the doors education opens and the cultural awareness it brings to its community members. My employment has taken me from university settings to military bases to a virtual environment. I’ve explored careers in various fields and am slowly learning more about what I genuinely enjoy. I take classes, pursue certificates, and remind myself that I am making progress. Behind everything that I do, my love for knowledge continues to shine through. Whatever your path looks like, I wish you the same sense of wonder and opportunity for growth.

Embracing the uncertainty of military family life can help you find joy in your current season, including your career and education path. The Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) comes alongside military families by providing unique and specialized programs at little to no cost, empowering service members, military spouses, and military children to make the most of their duty station and create more possibilities.