Posted on October 24, 2019
This blog has been some time in developing, as it is something that I have been wrestling with on another project that is taking up a lot of my time.
We hear a lot, these days, about people identifying as non-binary, as female and many other forms of sexuality and genders: It really is a progressive World in which we live. However, my thinking is not so much about how people identify in these terms, but how they identify holistically.
During a conversation with a wise support counsellor that I met at a business event yesterday, I voiced my thinking on the issues faced by service leavers on their move to become part of this progressive civilian World.
In the military, during our service, we identify in so many ways and this identification is confirmed and affirmed by a plethora of historical symbolism. The colour of our uniform for the Service in which we work; the badge on our head gear; the rank on our chest, shoulder, forearm, upper arm or collar; the different ribbons on our chest; the badges earned on courses attended; the colour of our beret; the accommodation in which we live; the mess to which we belong; the pre and post nominals in our letter signatures; ALL serve to provide us with a level of identification for ourselves and for those with whom we serve.
Each individual symbol, title, item of clothing or series of letters is a sign of something earned, experience endured or challenge overcome to make us a person with a set of skills and abilities that people can see and immediately recognise and identify or empathise with. Our internal self-identification is clearly displayed externally to all those we meet. There is no illusion, and we understand peoples back-story to real extent based on the external notification of the symbolism.
When we move wholly into civilian life, this is all gone. Our new work colleagues and community do not see what we have earned, and many do not engage to find out our backstory; to be honest, even if we do share our backstory, many would not understand nor be able to empathise.
The question is, for me, how do we support our service leavers in being able to more easily, let go of these visual identifiers, allow the previous experiences, challenges and qualifications to become part of the backstory and move into the new environment with confidence and a way to self-identify in other, positive and expressive ways. My feeling is that this is an essential part of the Transition roadmap, that is ignored, and people are left to figure it out for themselves.
The process of self-identifying positively is essential to continued good mental health and is only one factor of the broader Culture Shock experienced by so many of our brothers and sisters.
I see so many people leave the Forces unable to articulate their exceptional high value transferable skills and accept a low income role in security, driving or shop floor work and this drop in sense of self-worth is having significant detrimental effects on the individual, but equally importantly, depriving UK PLC of the benefits of high value individuals in responsible and important positions delivering the value for which the Forces are respected.
So, how would I advise people on overcoming this issue? How would I support someone in finding anchors within their complex persona and experience to be able to self-identify positively moving forward?
This is something with which I have been wrestling. There are various self-help courses, counsellors and the like that would jump on this as a money earning opportunity, but these do not always deliver the positive outcomes people seek. It is something that has to be prompted externally but developed within to ensure it is an organic and settled outcome for each individual.
Self-identification is a complex, composite of many factors. Here are just some of them that need to be considered and ways in which you might find some answers:
Family: It is important to anchor yourself in an unmoving group and for many this is the family nuclear or broader family. Ensuring ongoing and solid relationships within the known environment is important. Identifying as Mother, Father, Brother, Son, Sister, Daughter, Cousin, Uncle, Auntie and all others are base needs to found the base of the self-identification process.
Work Role: It is important to find work that reflects you and your skills and capabilities. Being able to articulate what you bring to a role is a necessity and ensuring you take a position commensurate with these skills and one that is still challenging mentally or physically is factorial in on-going positive mental health and also in being able to self-identify positively by that role and title. Being able to do this is the subject of another complete Blog and perhaps a book!
Sports and Community Clubs: Microcosms of society can be found in a number of our social clubs. These are grounds for building lasting relationships based on common interests and equally, within these safe and protected groups, there is opportunity to share more broadly and expose vulnerabilities to be able to build meaningful friendships. Many have their own political substrate and all the annoyances of it, but they are positive environments for self learning, growth and identification. Such groups might be Golf Clubs, Squash Clubs, Free Masons, The RAOB, Rotary Club, Social Clubs, The British Legion etc.
Colleagues and Friends: In the Forces, we have volunteered to defend the UK and foreign interests sacrificing much in the delivery of that commitment, and possibly the ultimate sacrifice. Inherent in each and every person that has worn the uniform is a sense of service and giving of ourselves. Extending this out to family, friends and colleagues in support of them and their issues can be an incredibly positive experience. The Military axiom of “Adapt, Improvise, Overcome” can be exploited to support people we know and work with in resolving their personal issues, but in helping others, there is a very positive benefit to our own self-worth and subsequently our self-identification.
Volunteering: Extending further, the concept above, finding some part time work volunteering in charitable organisations or even setting up your own non-paying supportive service (gardening for the elderly, volunteer taxi services for the infirm or disabled, holding lunches for the disenfranchised, feeding the homeless in shelters etc) can all be very beneficial to your self-identification and your self-worth. It can provide an enormous sense of wellbeing.
At this point, I think I have provided some food for thought. It is something, as I said up front, that I am spending a lot of mind time on currently, and so, any of your wise feedback and thinking would be gratefully received. Please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.