Identity Formation Pt 2: Transitioning Identities
Updated: Jun 25
I am very frequently asked whether or not I think growing up in the military was good or bad.
Without hesitation, I say it was great… with one big caveat: when you get to high school you should be able to stay all four years.
I say that because when you are young, it is good to experience change, see different versions of yourself with different friends, you learn how much a group of people can impact your happiness and overall personality (for better or for worse.) But when you reach high school, you need time. Time to understand yourself and the people around you. Time to grow and think about what you want, what you like, and what you believe in.
Time Cut Short
I moved my senior year of high school, and though I had three years of building that identity from freshman to junior year, I felt it all crumble when I left. All of a sudden, my identity and the things I built my identity on were swept out from under me. My group of friends were gone and moving on, and I struggled to find friends with only one year in the new place.
I was no longer captain of the dance team or the school news anchor. I was just the new girl. And at this point, people at my school really didn’t care to get to know me. It was too late. We'd all be going to college soon anyway. What I didn't realize at the time, was how much that one year was helping me to form my lifelong identity.
How Rough Times Can Strengthen Your Identity (If You Let It)
There were a few things that year that helped me stay the course, and eventually feel an even deeper sense of self.
My parents - They have always encouraged me to be myself no matter how goofy and quirky I may be (well... within reason). They know me very well and are always able to pull me back to my senses when I feel out of sorts. They did that a lot that year.
A big goal - With college just around the corner, I was more focused on my future career. So, I shifted my sights on my job at the local news channel. That job made the year worthwhile. I loved being at the studio, surrounded by professionals who were so happy to guide me on my path to being a news anchor... or whatever I'd become.
Perspective - I knew it was temporary. I stayed in touch with my old friends, and my parents sent me back to Virginia to visit them frequently. But on the horizon was college, and I knew that would be when things would really take off.
Where Your Confidence Comes From
In college, my sense of identity was as strong as ever. Doing the things I enjoyed, working toward a huge goal, and surrounded by like-minded friends and peers. When you form a strong sense of identity it builds confidence.
At the end of my time in university, I had built my confidence up enough that I took a risk and decided to move to another country for graduate school. This was all on the path to a promising future that I could very clearly envision. This was a great phase in my life because it was the most permanency I had ever experienced.
Upon entering college, I was sure the nomadic life was behind me and I could start making my own way, doing things the way I wanted to do them. In times where you feel in control, you are able to make decisions that coincide with your goals, interests, and needs. But if you read my letter to the class of 2020, you will know things do not always pan out how you think they will.
As you probably already know, soon after coming back from graduate school I married right back into that military community (much to my surprise...). But hey, love conquers all, right? Military life does have a lot of great things to offer, but that's another blog for another time.
In the next blog, I will talk more about shifting identities as a spouse and the entirely different challenges that come along with that title. For now, I want to focus on what I learned going through this as a kid.
The Moral of the Story...
It was not until I got older, and further removed from my adolescence and college days that I am now able to see the patterns of identity formation that shape who I am today. Identity is fluid and ever-changing for everyone. But sometimes as a military kid, it feels more like a class-four rapid slamming you around and never giving you room to come up for air. But once I got out of the rapid and looked back, here is what I discovered:
Identities are fluid. Some things you identify with are not in your control at all, and you will carry them with you most of your life (daughter, sister, friend, military kid). Some are transient but will still impact the way you see things later on (new girl, dancer, student).
At different stages in our lives, we place importance on different aspects of our identities. When you are a kid, you are more focused on transient identifiers because those seem like the most important things about you. As a military kid, those are also the most fragile. So, when you get up-rooted, it is easy to feel like they are gone entirely simply because new people don't see them right away. That doesn't mean they aren't there anymore. It simply means that you have to make them stronger so you can dig them back up with each transition. But also realize that those permanent identifiers are always with you to lean on. I am a lighthearted person, I love to laugh, and I love to make others laugh. When transitions were hard, they were made easier by my ability to make my family laugh. That's a permanent identifier I am proud of now that I realize it is a part of who I am, but I never realized it as a kid; it was just natural.
Sometimes you don't want parts of your identity to be as big a part of you as they are, so you repress them. That makes it harder to really be yourself if you ignore it. When I went to college, I thought the military brat title was gone forever. I forgot about it, but every now and then, I would notice myself feeling different from a lot of my friends and didn't understand why. It's because my perceptions about the world were shaped differently than someone who lived in the same town their entire life. One isn't better than the other, but they are different. If you forget that part of yourself, it is easy to start feeling confused and lost.
Identity is a big topic because it shapes everything from how you see the world to how you see yourself. I know my story is different from yours, but I hope something resonates with you here. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! And read part three next week to learn more.