One of the most common conversation topics I have with (newer) women veterans is along the lines of “Who am I now?”. In the military, we knew who we were. For me, I was Chief. I was the subject matter expert on this or that; I was a mentor to junior Sailors; I was accomplished. I was confident. But when I took off that uniform, that was the biggest blow to my self-esteem that I had ever felt. For 18 years I was a Sailor – that was my identity. Yes, I’m also a Mom, but being a Mom was never my identity. Unfortunately, I put being a Mom second to being a Sailor because that was the only way to make rank. (We can talk about that another time.) But now, here I was, unemployed, no family aside from my 2 kids, and completely alone. I no longer had the confidence to walk into a room of people that I didn’t know. I had no idea how to sell myself to an employer so I could find a job. I actually seriously considered applying at Starbucks or being a waitress at a restaurant because I didn’t know where else I fit. I tried having conversations with other women but it usually didn’t go anywhere and I left the conversation feeling even more confused and lost. In my earlier years as a Sailor, I was a little more fun an daring, but moving up the rank structure to a Chief – well you had to put on this professional, serious face (as a woman) so people would take you serious. Well it was really hard to shed that serious face after leaving. And to be honest, I just really didn’t know how to relax and have a good time with people. I built a bubble around myself and the only ones that got to come in were my kids. Everything had to be serious all the time for me because I felt like I had to prove something out here to these civilian folks. And on top of it all, having to hide the fact that I struggled with anxiety and depression and all that comes with them. It really SUCKED!!
I went through many phases during those first couple of years. First, I dyed my hair purple – because I could lol! For nearly 18 years I had to conform to rules on hair style and color. I quickly grew out of that phase – but it was really fun having purple hair! Many of my veteran friends did similar things including tattoos and piercings – things we couldn’t do in the military. Yes, we could get small tats, but not large pieces that were visible. I then went through the gamut of trying different clothing styles and different hobbies and trying to fit in to different crowds. I really didn’t know where I fit and I was so exhausted from trying to be someone that I wasn’t. So, Who Am I? Well, I think I’ve pretty much figured it out. I no longer care what others think of me. One major thing I learned is that I’m not longer in competition with anyone. For so long, I’ve had to pretend everything was perfect at home and work my butt off to prove my worth at work to compete for promotion in the military. My mindset was always about what I could do to impress my supervisor and out-do my co-workers. When people asked me “what do you like to do for fun?” I really didn’t have an answer. When it came time to seek employment, I looked for what I knew from the military. Is that what I really WANTED to do? I honestly didn’t know what I WANTED to do. For the first time in almost 20 years, I had CHOICES!
Ok so back to the topic – who am I? Well I’m still figuring it all out, but each day I’m finding more and more of who I really am. Being a great Mother is number one. I have 2 awesome kids that give me little to no problems and are well-behaved and responsible. Considering how much I was absent during their younger years, that in itself is an accomplishment! But being a great Mom doesn’t define me. Who am I beyond that? I am the girl who doesn’t care what people think. I am the girl who goes against the grain and who doesn’t let the word “no” stop her. I have tattoos (and plan to get more). I could care less how I look most days. I don’t go to Walmart in my pajamas but I roll out of bed and put my hair in a pony tail, throw on some sweats or shorts and a top and usually flip flops (even in the winter). Yeah, I can dress it up but I have to really like you to look good for you lol! I would consider myself PASSIONATE and DETERMINED. I have no issues going up against high “authority” when I think they are wrong. I have little tolerance for people that are easily offended. I can almost guarantee that if you spend more than a few minutes with me, I WILL offend someone! My favorite music is rock/metal and my favorite band is Motley Crue. My Ipod playlist ranges from Danny Goeke (gospel) to the next song being Five Finger Death Punch, followed by Jason Aldean. My favorite movie is Transformers. I’m addicted to the Hallmark Channel. I am the girl that suggests to her friends to jump in the ocean at near freezing temps! Why? Just because. I wake each day and whatever pops in my head – well that is who I am that day. Yes, I can be serious. Anyone who knows me knows that my passion is helping veterans. Screw with a veteran and I can go from goofy head-banger to in-your-face in less than a second! But when I’m not wearing my Veteran Super-Hero cape (ok that really is a joke and if you think I’m vain and full of myself for saying it well you can ……), I truly prefer to just enjoy life and encourage others to be king to one another and help their neighbor.
So the moral of this story is this – find your passion, try many different things and don’t settle only on what you know or what “think” you like. All you ladies (and men) out there leaving the military – you need to get out of your comfort zone and try different things – even things you don’t “think” you will enjoy. You also must not concern yourself with what anyone thinks. If it makes YOU happy then to HECK with everyone else. I’m not saying to go out an intentionally offend people, but don’t change the thing about you that makes you most comfortable just because you are worried that others won’t like you. THOSE people weren’t meant to be your friends! I guarantee you that there is a whole bunch of “your kind of crazy” people out there looking to bring you into their circle!!