How One Military Spouse Built a Portable Career

military spouse
Jennifer Berlin

Military spouses know how hard it is to build a career of their own while following their service members around the world. However, for those challenged by regular PCS moves and deployments, the flexibility, independence and portability of a career as a financial adviser can be appealing.

Adviser Jennifer Berlin built her own business with First Command, a financial services company, primarily because it offered the opportunity for her to maintain and grow it even as her family changed duty stations.

“Every time my husband moved, I had to search for a new job,” Berlin said. “I kept starting and stopping. Then I met with a First Command district adviser who said, ‘What if I could tell you your resume would only have First Command on it for the rest of your career?’ That made me stop and think.”

Fairly soon after embarking on her new career, Berlin realized it had even more to offer than she had anticipated. And once she saw how much she was helping other military families, Berlin knew she made the right decision.

“First Command is a company founded by a retired military officer for the specific purpose of improving the financial well-being of service members and their families,” Berlin said. “I fell in love with it. I am giving back to the same community who did so much for me. This is exactly where I am supposed to be.”

Because Berlin maintained her business through multiple PCSs, her career flourished, and she was promoted to district adviser, a role that involves supervising other financial advisers.

“The district adviser role is one of the coolest positions in the organization,” Berlin said. “I love to mentor and mold the team, and I get to do that every day. I have a front-row seat to watch members achieve new levels of greatness that may have felt overwhelming to them just the day before. It’s an honor to be part of someone else’s growth.”

And as Berlin continues to grow her team, she believes diversifying is the way to serve others even more effectively.

“I am proud of my team’s diversity,” Berlin said. “We have a great balance of age, gender and backgrounds. Our strengths come from our differences. I am always looking to hire individuals who can bring new perspectives to the team.”

Although Berlin’s career has grown tremendously since her start with First Command, the path to get there hasn’t always been a smooth one. She said her biggest challenge was balancing work and family, but she found a new way to look at the different aspects of her life and have them all work together.

“I will only ever have 24 hours in a given day, and balance seems impossible,” Berlin said. “But then it hit me: harmony. Have you ever watched or participated in an orchestra? You have several people, all with different roles and different instruments. If they play really loud or too soft when it’s not their time, the whole piece is thrown off.

“If I was going to have it all, I needed to master my ability to create harmony. This is what I mentor and coach others to do – develop a conductor score for their lives. Identify which areas can be pushed, pulled, sped up or slowed down to create the beauty of the life they want to live.”

Today, Berlin continues to inspire other military spouses who want to start their own businesses. Her hard work has paid off with a recent promotion to vice president of development and training for the Northeast Division. With grit and the support of her family, Berlin fuses the challenges and opportunities of military life with passion and a strong work ethic to continue to build a rewarding career.

“If you believe in yourself and have a desire to help others, First Command provides the training, support and infrastructure to help in your journey,” Berlin said. “Above all, a military spouse has to want it and be willing to go for it. Beyond that, First Command ensures that they are there to offer flexibility as your life changes.”

For other military spouses who are ready to launch their own business, Berlin has some advice.

“From this day forward, take the word ‘just’ out of your vocabulary,” Berlin said. “You are no longer just a military spouse, or just a dependent, just a mom or just a wife. You are an individual with incredible skills, talents and gifts that can be used to impact the lives of those in the community you live.”

“Above all else, remember, life is messy. No matter how successful you become and how much you’ve made it, the kids will still eat fast food, the car will still look like a war zone, and the dishes will sit in the sink too long some days. But don’t let the mess stop you from getting to where you’re trying to go. Accept today will not be perfect, embrace it and in true military spouse fashion – power on!”

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