Raise your hand if you’ve had a similar experience:
You’re in a room with military spouses, who are meeting for the first time. When the spouses introduce themselves, they give their names and their service members’ job descriptions.
Some of you who raised your hands might be thinking back on one or two stories in particular. The story that comes to my own mind is curiously set in a leadership seminar for military spouses back in 2008. As I listened to spouse after spouse stand up, say her name, and describe her husband’s job, I felt sad and confused, wondering why these bright, intelligent women weren’t describing their own hobbies, skills, jobs, families, or educations.
Over the years, I’ve recalled this story any time I’ve reflected on or discussed a struggle that many military spouses face: the struggle for a sense of identity.
Perhaps it’s natural for us spouses to ask or to offer up what our service members’ careers are as a starting point for conversation; after all, we meet each other knowing that one thing we have in common is that our spouses are in the military.
However, I wonder: Is our tendency to introduce ourselves according to our service members’ jobs a major contributing factor to the struggle of maintaining our sense of identity? In 11 years as a military spouse, I’ve worn numerous hats, as PCS’s and other life changes shifted me from jobs to stay-at-home-mom to freelance writer and a mixture of all three. My own sense of identity hasn’t always been in sharp focus, but I’ve learned something very important, which I humbly offer here:
1. Stand up, and own yourself.
You are you, and no matter how shy and lost, new and uncertain, outgoing and positive or established and sure you are in this life, you have unique qualities that other spouses want to get to know. Instead of stating your name and service member’s occupation, follow up your name with a description of your interests and background!
Making a conscious effort to do this will lead to some very important outcomes.
2. You will be in control of your own possibilities.
Frequent change can be a nasty beast. It can cause us to dampen down our dreams and put our plans on hold. Oftentimes we do this because we think we need to be ready to accommodate the next move, deployment or turn-on-a-dime change. Soon, our own ambitions feel so far away that we feel purposeless, and at times we might even resent the military or our service members for controlling our lives. But we can change that.
Take the “blank canvas” opportunity of a new unit, and begin drawing the picture of you. When you meet people at your new unit, answer opening questions as they pertain to you personally. For example, “I left a great job as a preschool teacher, so I’m looking for a similar position here.” Or, “I was part of PWOC at my last base and hope to join it here, too.” Or, “Photography is a hobby of mine. I give free pre-deployment sessions to families. It’s a nice gift, and it gives me practice!”
Introducing yourself with thoughtful details puts you in control of how your picture will be drawn at each assignment.