This story begins with a dog.
The best stories always do.
So, there I was browsing Facebook when my pup, Jahkobi, decided he’d had enough of being ignored. One minute he’s scratching at my leg and the next the little furball’s in my lap. My phone meanwhile? It was suddenly on the ground beside me.
Now guys, I know he has paws, not hands. I get that. But Jahkobi’s petty. I’m 99.9% sure the mutt slapped that iphone right out of my hands.
Anyway, what I love about life is you never see fortune coming. And boy did it ever in the form of a finger-slipping ‘Join Group’ request I never meant to make.
The group? Hampton Roads Military Spouse Network Hosted By Martinsburg College.
I didn’t think much about the slip up. It was just a Facebook group I didn’t plan on interacting with. They’d deny or accept and I’d ignore it. Simple.
Except…enter Michelle Jones.
So who exactly is Michelle Jones?
NOT a doe-eyed jerk.
See, in order to access the community its administrator (yup, Michelle) needed to verify whether I was a military spouse or affiliated with the military. My first reaction was to ignore her message. Yes, I could be of value to a group of career minded military spouses but I clearly didn’t qualify for the group. Why waste anyone’s time?
Clearly I didn’t follow that logic. For whatever reason, I found myself responding. I told her about my business. Michelle met my confession with understanding and genuine enthusiasm. I was welcomed into the community and after proper introductions I realized that this amazing woman, military spouse and career professional had a unique position. Intuition told me hers was a story that the milspouse community needed to hear.
To start any story, you’ve got to know the beginning.
And beginnings mean family.
Now, if someone were asked to describe Michelle’s upbringing in one word, difficult might be too soft while tragic sounds condescending. Let’s go with extremely challenging.
Adopted and raised by two loving grandparents whom she calls mom and dad, her biological mother was diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia early on. She would battle mental illness for much of her life, a war her two oldest children would find hard to escape. In fact, those struggles would grease the wheels for the never-ending prison career of Michelle’s older brother and the drug and alcohol addictions that have plagued her eldest sister. Ultimately Michelle’s mother passed away just one year after she and her twin sister would turn one year old.
“I’m not telling you this so that you can feel sorry for me or my family, but I am telling you this because these stories, trials, and tribulations have shaped who I am today.” ~Michelle
And there it is. That wisdom is what triggered my intuition to find out more about Michelle. It is a lesson military spouses need to embrace.
Lessons from Michelle #1: Hug the circumstances that mold you close. Treasure the pretty and the ugly. Then use them to fuel the future you want.
Under her grandparent’s renewed effort to provide Michelle and her twin sister with much-needed stability and love, young Michelle vowed to make something of her life. Self-motivated at a young age, she thrived in school and extracurricular activities. Meanwhile daydreams of the future filled her mind. Dreams of changing lives. Making a difference.
It was a desire she would never shake.
Lessons from Michelle #2: When destiny knocks forget the peephole. Open the door!
At fifteen, Michelle would meet her now-husband, Jessie, while vacationing with a family friend. Little did they know what was in store for their future.
Sunsets. Epic sunsets were in their future.
When eligible, Jessie joined the US Marine Corps. Years later, the two have been blessed with a wonderful marriage and a pack of fur-babies which include three cats and one Golden Retriever puppy.
Orders would pull Michelle and her family to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Avoiding awkward introductions for nearly a year, she took the plunge and began attending Coffee Socials held by the local spouse’s group. It was there that she met a great, future friend and coworker. Destiny was knocking.
Its name was Emily.
“I could tell how passionate she was about her work and that the work she was doing was changing lives. I knew I needed to become a part of that.”
As a ground representative for Martinsburg College, Emily got to help military spouses, active duty service members, and veterans go back to school and earn an education. Her passion for work was electric and contagious. Michelle was hooked.
Lessons from Michelle #3: Make the most of your opportunities. You may only get one shot.
After applying for Emily’s position at the college Michelle started working as a National Admissions Representative instead. Recognizing opportunity, she worked hard and now holds the ground representative position for the Camp Lejeune/ MCAS New River region…the job she originally applied for! She can now help military spouses, veterans, and active duty service members on a larger scale by advising them on earned benefits and entitlements to jumpstart their education.
And It’s clearly not about the paycheck. Hearing her talk, it’s obvious Michelle loves what she does as much as old folks love backing up traffic while they talk to the gate guards.
“Tell em’ bout my hugs, Harold. Tell em’ my hugs are life!”
There’s major plans in work to push her program to the next level. One of Michelle’s projects involves bringing back a weekly spouse coffee social (every Wednesday at 10am) that will be open to everyone – even children are welcome!
No sitter? Lawd yass!
She will also host other events throughout the week such as complimentary brunch, lunch, dinner, dessert or craft events, sponsored by the college, to give the military community an opportunity to come out and make friends while learning about their educational benefits.
Buddy, that’s how you hustle!
Lessons from Michelle #4: Serve passionately. Build trusting relationships. This is the currency of success.
What makes Michelle’s story great is her enthusiasm to better others. Her dedication to unlocking the potential in military members and milspouses is the engine that powers her success. In fact, it’s her firsthand experience as a Military spouse that allows her to connect so personally with her clients.
A Note From Michelle:
I am a military spouse. I know the struggles that every military spouse has to encounter on their journey of following their significant other around the country or maybe even overseas. You have to leave everything behind. Your job, the school you were attending, your family… It’s not easy. You can’t help but feel like you have nothing to look forward to and feel excited about. I know exactly what that is like. To feel like you have no purpose outside of being a house wife. It sucks. That’s really the best way to put it, but it took me almost an entire year to realize that it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to lose out on an education! You have educational benefits to you that can help you pay for an education and help boost your resume so that you can find a job you are passionate about and love. It’s possible. That’s my goal. I want my students to feel like they have a sense of purpose – like they can still accomplish their goals even when they feel like it’s not possible. I want to show them they can do it because I KNOW that they can. They just need to see it for themselves. Watching them realize that, start off in a program they’re excited about, watching them graduate and then find a job they love. That’s fulfilling. That’s priceless. I live for that.
As a military spouse, Michelle is intimately aware of the lifestyle challenges; the deployments, the volunteering, the PCS’s. But as a resilient woman, forged by the fires of her youth, she has an extra ace up her sleeve. One she may or may not be aware of.
Michelle is an expert in overcoming.
See, it’s not enough to identify with your audience. That leaves you as just part of the pack. To make change, you have to rise above the pain points of a particular group. You must be an example. That means openness and honesty. For anyone seeking out Michelle’s guidance, her ability to absolutely crush adversity, plus her willingness to share her trials, is an inspiration for others to grow themselves. Even if they don’t know the circumstances conquered, I have no doubt they can sense the fighter in her.
These are characteristics of a leader. In fact I asked Michelle what she would do if made ‘Commander for the Day’.
I would make it so that military spouses knew about their education benefits. There is a statistic out there that says that only ten-perfect of military spouses know about the education benefits available to them. This is an opportunity to have your education paid for! You cannot pass that up! It really is my goal to really educate as many military spouses that I can about their benefits because once their husband hits a certain rank they will lose it!
I also do whatever I can to educate military spouses about Martinsburg College’s exclusive Military Spouse Scholarship. The scholarship covers all of the tuition for our Associates of Health Care Administration if you complete on of our health care programs and meet the eligibility requirements. It is PHENOMENAL.
Can’t argue with that!
So to my Military Spouse entrepreneurs and professionals I say thank you and never give up on your dreams. Let your circumstances mold you, but never let them define you. Use what you’ve learned along the way and define yourself. I think Michelle would agree:
Put yourself out there and explore the new area you’re in! When things get tough just keep swimming. You’re going to have some tough days where you’re going to want to hit a wall, but you just have to push through it. You can do it and you have a network of milsos around you who know exactly what you’re going through. Take advantage of that and make friends and create a support system for yourself. It will be vital for your sanity.
Guys, the life you want is within reach. You’ve got work to do. Get to it.