The Difference A Year Makes

This time last July I was a new Fellow in cohort four of the Dog Tag Fellowship Program. I entered the program as an active duty Army spouse with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and a successful teaching and event planning career in performing arts. My husband and I had moved five times in five short years- and we were carrying the weight of constant change and transition. Last year we made the tough decision to separate from active duty and put down roots in this new city we’d come to love. We were both ready for a career change and wanted to pursue new passions. But as everyone who’s experienced the veteran transition knows, these pursuits are much easier said than done.

Making a career change for myself in addition to our transition from active duty was daunting and a bit overwhelming. After months of trying on my own to make a career jump outside of the performing arts, my efforts were going nowhere. I was starting to question my path and knew I needed guidance. Last spring, I learned about the Dog Tag Fellowship Program through a Hiring our Heroes networking event. For me, the opportunity to study with Georgetown University and gain hands-on experience in new fields was too good to pass by. So, I took a chance on myself- applied to the program, and was accepted.

As those familiar with the program may know, it is comprised of three main segments: business rotations, learning labs, and classes through Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies. In the business rotations Fellows learn hands-on from Dog Tag staff members and take on projects that complement and enrich the varying scopes of work within the organization. Through the learning labs Fellows hear from dozens of different entrepreneurs, career coaches, and other veterans and veteran advocates. We were exposed to a large range of topics and the opportunity to network and learn from others and their successes was invaluable. The curated classes through Georgetown University were truly top level. It was energizing to be challenged in the classroom again and to learn more from leading professors in their fields. The program also has holistic support components, volunteer opportunities, and self-reflection through its “finding your voice” class. Fellows can fully immerse themselves alongside fellow spouses, caregivers, and veterans. My experiences through the five and half months of the program were inspiring and gave me the confidence I needed to persist on my path forward. I also can’t go without mentioning the friendships that I forged with my “fellow Fellows” along the way. We still meet up from time to time- and our humorous group messages and continuing support for one another is authentic and appreciated, especially now that we no longer see one another every day.

Prior to coming to Dog Tag, I questioned: “could I do this?” and “where do I fit?” Thanks to this program I know now that I have the tools, resources, and network to achieve my dreams. This fellowship and my experiences helped me lay out a better-defined path to success for myself and prepared me for the day when opportunity came knocking.

It is hard to wrap my mind around how much has transpired and changed in a year. Thanks to the connections I made during my fellowship, I am proud to say that I landed a fantastic job. I am the new Director of Membership and Communications for OSEHRA- a 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization dedicated to accelerating innovation in open source healthcare IT. I direct our event planning, membership development, marketing, and communications. I have already advanced within the organization and I feel truly blessed to go to work every day to a job I love. Our military journey has evolved as well, and continuing to transition and shift with his new status as a Veteran. We are still exploring and defining where we fit in the “civilian world” and I know there will be many more twists and turns along the way, but we’re ready for the new adventure that awaits.

 

I am grateful that Dog Tag helped me relaunch my career in a whole new direction. (If you had told me that I would be working in the healthcare IT industry back then I wouldn’t have believed you!) To anyone considering the Fellowship Program I encourage you to reach out to an Alumni or Staff member for more information. Completing this program for myself was one of the best decisions I’ve made. To other spouses or veterans currently in transition, I offer the following parting advice:

1. Be patient with yourself. It’s normal to feel like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster during such an intense time of transition. The old rollercoaster comparison may be a little cliché, but it’s very true. You will have confident days, days where you will question yourself and your path, and days when you wonder if you are even in control of your own path. You will have highs and lows, and sometimes it will be difficult to perceive the distance you’ve traveled. Through it all, remember what you’ve already accomplished and overcome throughout your military career/experience. Lean on it, and “lean in,” to continue overcoming new obstacles and challenges.

2. No path will be perfect. There is no set or best way to transition out of active duty. No matter which professional path you choose to pursue there will be concessions, and that’s okay. Define what is most important to you and pick the concessions you can live with. Stand firm in knowing what is best for you.

3. Don’t forget to nurture what feeds your soul. Dance, cooking, yoga, art, golf, photography – whatever you do, do something that brings you joy and good energy. In a time of big changes it is helpful to have something that grounds you and brings you to your best self.

4. The best memories of your Military career don’t fade when your time in uniform does. I am so thankful for the adventures we experienced and the lifelong friends we gained during our time in the Army. Looking back, I am grateful we made the most of each duty station and that we can carry the best parts and lessons from our active duty life forward. I will always hold these memories in my heart.

 

Megan Murray is the spouse of an Army Veteran, and the Granddaughter of Marine Corps and Navy Veterans. She loves ballet and yoga, working with children, event planning, and college football. She and her husband Ben reside in Alexandria, VA with their cat and dog. Connect with Megan here on LinkedIn.