Do you ever have days where you feel uninteresting?
Do you ever feel tongue-tied when someone asks what you’ve been up to, not because you aren’t working hard but because you can’t imagine they really want to hear about your life?
Do you ever wonder, deep down and never out loud, if your day-to-day work and sacrifices actually matter?
If so, read on (and bookmark). This post is for days, moments, and questions like those.
As military spouses, we’ve begun to notice a sneaky little phenomenon.
We like to call it secret achiever syndrome.
“Do you work out?”
“Oh, I dabble.” *Highly-competitive CrossFitter. Can deadlift two of you. While pregnant.*
“What have you been up to lately?”
“This and that.” *On the board of six different nonprofits. FRG leader. Renovated house by herself during deployment. Seven months pregnant.*
“What do you do for fun?”
*weak laugh* “Oh, I have this little mommy blog.” *50k followers on Insta. Six-figure blog income. Three kids under five.*
“So, is this the first deployment you’ve gone through?”
“Nah.” *Decorated veteran. Deployed twice with her own unit before her husband’s first deployment. Now on their fifth as a couple.*
“You have your own company, huh? What’s that like?”
“Not bad. A little busy.” *Featured on Shark Tank last week. Made Mark Cuban cry.*
Okay, okay, we made these conversations a little extreme to make you laugh. But we have a feeling you can think of one or two instances of this in real life that are not too far from what we just wrote!
Yes. Secret achiever syndrome is sneaky, contagious, and everywhere, especially among military and first responder spouses who are getting after it like crazy behind the scenes instead of on center stage.
When we talk with friends, family, and neighbors, we can get so used to having conversations that center around military life and the service member’s career that we begin to downplay our own interests, passions, and hard work. It doesn’t help that the world of military and first responder work can feel very distant from the kinds of things that we spouses spend our days doing - mothering, creative and entrepreneurial pursuits, college and grad school, and various civilian professions. Eventually, it starts to feel weird to talk about our accomplishments at all.
We’re not talking about plain, old-fashioned humility, by the way. True humility is a wonderful thing. It’s when you start doubting whether your passions and contributions have any real value that things get less wonderful.
Being open about the things that are exciting and important to you is not boasting. It’s just honesty. And there are many ways to make an impact on the world. We want to value all of them, right? But it's easier said than done, especially when we are having a hard time valuing ourselves.
So what causes secret achiever syndrome?
Depending on the person (and the day) it could be caused by many different things - insecurity, passivity, loneliness, discouragement, fear of coming across as boastful, or maybe even jadedness, as in, “I really don’t care about going deeper with these people so I’m just not going to share anything about myself”-ness.
But sometimes, on some days and in some conversations, the biggest contributing factor might be this nasty little lie that can squirm into our hearts almost unnoticed:
“You’re not the interesting one, so be sure you don't share too much."
Ugh. We hate that lie. And it is SUCH a lie!
Military servicemembers and first responders sacrifice a great deal to do their extremely important, difficult jobs. They deserve every bit of honor and respect they get, plus a bunch more, in our opinion.
And we all know that it’s not a competition. One person’s special job and important role doesn’t make another person’s job and role any less special or important.
But ohhhh, tell us that on a day we’ve spent changing dirty diapers and wading through a carpet covered in toys, while our husbands are off living like real-life video game characters. Seriously! Why are their lives so … so … cool?
Why does it feel like ours are so not cool sometimes?
We could write a hundred blog posts listing all the reasons why the role of “military/first responder spouse” is actually very special and cool indeed.
But sometimes, all the encouraging listicles in the world won’t change the fact that the lie has taken root in your heart. You don’t really need compliments (though you definitely deserve them). You need practical, actionable advice you can grab on to and use to kick that lie to the curb.
This blog post is for days like that.
When you feel particularly “unspecial”, here are three powerful things we've found can help to pull you out of the funk:
Take action to celebrate your wins, big or small
We’ve found that the more we look for things to celebrate in our lives, the more we see that our various projects and passions truly are special. The key is to do something concrete and fun to mark each and every win.
Aced an exam? Meet up with a friend for celebratory coffees.
Got a raise or made a big sale? Treat yo’self.
Had a breakthrough with one of your kids in an area where they struggle? Family pizza party. (Maybe even invite another family to share your joy!)
Launched something new? Meet someone at your favorite restaurant for a mini-launch party.
Take action - no matter how small - to celebrate something that matters to you. This is a powerful way to remind yourself and your community that your contributions to the world are real, valuable, and needed.
Do or say something that makes someone else feel special
If you want others to notice that you’re more than “just a spouse,” are you also proactively noticing other people as more than “just a spouse”?
In a community full of secret achievers, this takes intention, persistence, and love.
Do you say “How’s that new project you mentioned the other day?” and keep digging until they give you a real answer?
Do you notice that they have a special interest and ask questions until they finally tell you how much it means to them?
Do you celebrate the accomplishments of other military and first responder spouses, or do their wins just make you feel worse about your own disappointments?
If you don’t, start. If you do … do it more!
We’ll let you in on a little secret: There is no better feeling than getting the chance to make someone else feel special. It’s often far sweeter than being in the spotlight yourself.
Embrace your own depth and complexity
You are more than a ____.
You are not defined by a profession, a degree, a rank, a child, or the lack thereof. You are a complex, beautiful, multifaceted being with a variety of interests, talents, and dreams. You’re still growing and learning. You’re a different person today than you were ten years ago. And ten years from now, you’ll be a force to behold.
Don’t let yourself be trapped into the notion that just because you can’t always answer “What do you do?” with a short, concrete, and impressive noun, that must mean you aren’t doing anything.
We know you do a lot of amazing things; we know you are an amazing thing. Embrace that truth and refuse to be put in a box.The next time someone asks, “What have you been up to?”, give them a complex, honest, and exciting answer that reflects who you really are - because you are all of those things: complex, honest, and exciting, too.