We’re at the MilSpo Project’s “Embark” conference in Norfolk, Virginia today. The MilSpo Project started in a donated space in a Fayetteville church in 2014, and now boasts 40 chapters around the country, dedicated to empowering and educating military spouses to be their best business-selves.
“We encourage all spouses to reach their fullest potential, regardless of their background or circumstance,” says Co-Founder and Executive Director Elizabeth Boardman. At Embark, it’s a star-studded line-up of powerful speakers on stage, from Military Spouse of the Year 2015 Corie Weathers to the founders of R. Riveter and Bottle Breacher sharing their Shark Tank success stories. We’re surrounded by inspiring military spouses who are in different places in their entrepreneurial journey. Whether their businesses are just starting out or are well-established, something these spouses all have in common is unbelievable passion for our military community.
This morning started with an address by Rosemary Williams, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at Veterans Affairs. Rosemary, a military spouse herself, spent 25 years as a broadcast journalist before turning her focus to serving in the public sector, where she served as head of the DoD’s military family policy office. Rosemary shared lessons she’s learned throughout her career, including:
Jump in where you think someone needs help, and it generally pays off.
Years ago, while Rosemary waited for her first interview she noticed that the receptionist was inundated with phone calls and paperwork. Rosemary asked if she could assist while she waited, and the receptionist tasked her with filing photographs, grabbing the phone and then, surreally, left Rosemary in charge while she went to a dentist appointment. When she returned, Rosemary had everything under control, and was offered the job without even having to interview.
Don’t give up
“Grit and determination are a part of all of us as military spouses,” Rosemary said. She shared a story of a long drive to New York City for an interview. She pulled over halfway there to find a payphone to reconfirm the appointment, and was told that, “You just aren’t what we’re looking for. You don’t need to come in.” Undeterred, Rosemary went to the building, made her way up to where she was initially supposed to be, and got the job. Unfortunately, the show for which she was interviewing was canceled three weeks later, but the lesson remained: don’t give up. Persistence pays off.
If you’re not serving, there is something missing
As military spouses, we know the importance of service and sacrifice. We understand what it means to give of yourself.
“If you’re not serving others,” said Rosemary, “there’s a part of you that’s not getting fed.” Whether you’re making dinner for a friend down the street, volunteering time at your local Family Readiness Group, or like companies R. Riveter and Bottle Breacher, finding ways to employ veterans and spouses, service should be at the core of what you’re doing.
Co-founder of R. Riveter, Cameron Cruse, echoed these sentiments when talking about their commitment to the military community. Thirty-five cents of every dollar that R. Riveter makes goes directly into a military spouse’s bank account. “Our goal is to inspire, engage and empower,” Cameron said. Bottle Breacher’s Eli and Jen Crane also are committed to those ideals. A former Navy Seal, Eli shared, “I believe that God won’t trust you with a lot, unless He can trust you with a little. Giving back to our military has been a part of who we are since day one. That was a non-negotiable.”
Do not compare your progress with anyone else
“It will only leave you vain and bitter,” Rosemary advised. “You can only measure against yourself. Ask, ‘where was I a year ago?’” All of our journeys are different. Some will have easier paths, some will have quicker results. The only standard you need to assess is your own.
No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. From the vendors to the people in the mail room to the chief executive, they want to know you’re invested in the mission and the people who support it. Rosemary shared, “If people know how much you care, everything else is forgivable.”
You have to have a sense of humor
Some of the best advice Rosemary has been given in her career is, “If you can laugh at it, it cannot control you.” When the deployment Murphy sneaks up, when orders change at the last minute, when anything that can go wrong, does, it’s important to laugh at it. That’s all you can do.
The lessons at Embark are numerous, the networking opportunities endless and we encourage you to get involved with a local project chapter to better hone your business skills and get inspired by your fellow spouses. Don’t miss this event next year. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the one on the stage.