“What’s been your favorite duty station?”
For a long time, my saccharine answer when asked the above question was, “Wherever I live!” In an effort to set a good example and not complain in front of my kids, put my best foot forward, and keep a positive attitude, it was a mantra I’d learned to live by.
Still, if I’m honest, I didn’t love the long winters that came with my husband’s assignment to North Dakota, and I wasn’t especially fond of the scorpions that plagued our home in one southwest state. Still, in the way things seem to go with military life, those assignments ended up being places where we created some of our happiest memories. (And for this people person, it was typically due to friendships made!)
Not every military duty assignment can be your absolute favorite, and in fact, you may outright dislike where you’re living. But if you’re going to be in a location for several years, it’s worth making the effort to not be miserable the entire time.
So…if you find yourself in a not-so-perfect scenario at the moment, how will you manage the next few years at a duty station you just don’t love, or maybe even hate?
Here are a few tips to help:
1. Start small.
You may never embrace the desert heat or the northern tundra of where Uncle Sam has most recently landed you. But you can find one thing you like—whether it’s the quaint corner coffee shop, your new job, or a cuisine you’d never tried until landing here. Find one thing, focus on that, and perhaps your eyes will be opened to other local gems.
2. Remind yourself it isn’t forever.
If the Pollyanna-esque idea of counting your blessings every day doesn’t ring true for your personality, take a deep breath and remember this is temporary. Can’t stand that annoying neighbor? Most likely, one of you will be moving on soon! Hate your job? One perk of military life is that no one will raise eyebrows at the many career changes on your resume, and you know you won’t be stuck in this job long-term.
3. Look for your “bosom friend.”
If you’re a lover of the Anne of Green Gables series like I am, the above needs no explanation. Anne, in her ever-dramatic way, dreamed of meeting her “bosom friend” and finally found it in her best friend, Diana, a “really kindred spirit.”
You never know where you’ll find your own kindred spirits—play dates, newcomers’ orientations, spouses’ meetings, perhaps a neighbor! So keep a lookout, because finding a true friend to share the foibles of a not-so-great duty station can quite literally turn the whole experience around.
4. Don’t compare.
There have been locations where I’ve felt I’ve gotten the short end of it all: communities where friendships haven’t come easy, I felt surrounded by standoffish locals, or had to live several years in a climate I didn’t like.
Then, I watch my husband with his seemingly built-in network of friends and a schedule to step right into—all that goes along with being active duty. It can seem unfair as I start over again and again to recreate support systems, friendships, and a life for the rest of our family. Still, I find that’s not a fruitful road to go down—the trap of comparison, the “who has it harder?” game. No one wins, and it’s energy better spent on something else. I know that military service has its own challenges, and it’s best not to compare.
5. Explore, explore, explore.
After nearly 30 years as a military spouse, I’ve often said that one way to get out of the “hate it here” mindset is to explore. If you live on the installation, you’ll have to make a conscious effort to get outside the gates from time to time. There is no assignment that has nothing to offer.
And if you feel like you’ve exhausted everything there is to do in your immediate locale, branch out! One friend of mine suggested drawing a 20-mile radius on a map (this was in the olden days, before smart phones) and explore everything of interest in that circle. After you’ve exhausted that, make a new circle, and so on. Before long, you’ll be the expert about the hidden overlook with the best sunset views or the local brewery you never would have found otherwise!
6. Be your own best friend and treat yourself.
In the words of Donna from Parks and Recreation, “Treat yo’self!”
Sometimes, a positive attitude, looking for friends, exploring, and all the other healthy coping skills you’ve honed over your years as a military spouse just don’t help. It’s okay. We’ve all been there or will at some point. Give yourself something to look forward to to break up the time!
Set up a system where every so often you treat yourself to a pedicure, shopping day, day trip, or flight back home to regroup. Sometimes, it becomes about whatever it takes to get through.
And just think…hang in there a little while longer, and PCS orders should be coming soon!
By Jen McDonald for MilitaryByOwner