I crisscrossed my thin blonde hair tightly against the back of my head, twisting the stray whisps up, around, and into compliance. Reaching for the salad bowl shaped hat, I gently added the last touch to this look, cocooning myself securely into my identity. I am a flight attendant, and by my scarf, bright red lips, and two inch wide and no more than two inch high heels, everyone would know me. In less than an hour, I’ll walk with my colleagues through Oslo, Copenhagen, or London Airport, and people will observe our collective sway, one that says, “I am Cabin Crew.” Not only is this a presentation of what I do but a statement unquestionably communicating, “This is who I am.“
Then it stopped. I quit. My skirt, red leather gloves, and oh-so-cute flight attendant cape left motionless and neglected in my closet. Traveling nowhere. Taunting me that I would never be as pretty or adventurous or accepted as I was when I was shrouded in its image. When people asked me, ‘What do you do?” What was I supposed to say? I turned in my crew IDs and stopped commuting across the country. I stopped traveling to Europe every other week. I stopped being the person that did these things, and yet for so long that person was the only part of me that I knew. So, now what? I walked precariously along a line that tempted me to believe I had no value unless I was the pretty flight attendant.
But, the thing was, I still went on, and although I remained in aviation as I struggled to become a corporate flight attendant, I went on without the identity that for years defined me. And there were days that I hated myself. Hated that I was making minimum wage at a job I hated. There were days that I ached for the double aisles, Scandinavian announcements over the intercom, and my beloved cappuccinos in cozy Copenhagen cafes. I hurt to lose this part of me, but it was only a part. I needed time to meet the pieces of myself that the uniform I was accustomed to wearing stifled.
I believe flight attendants are particularly vulnerable to the existential crisis felt by losing one’s identity. The identity crisis that can result from losing the flight attendant uniform, whether this is by choice or forced through furlough. I believe right now, today, many many aviation crew are breaking because they feel lost, scared, and uncertain. They don’t who they or where they should be. Their jobs have shifted, the environment has changed, and what defined them once cannot define them now. God, that place. This place that you are in aches. It’s so hard.
When I left the airlines as a commercial flight attendant, I had to fight to build a new career and reputation for myself in corporate aviation. Over the years, I rebuilt an identity away from my previous airline uniform. An identity that I was proud of, one that (truthfully and unhealthfully) defined my life. I made a high six-figure salary. I was consistently booked for work trips. I got to see some of the most incredible places in the world. The rhythm was addicting, the success sweet. About ten months ago, my world, like many other corporate flight attendants have experienced, fell apart. What we knew and expected was no longer. Masks covered our pretty faces and food was served in plastic containers. Layovers weren’t fun meet-ups with friends or lovers, but hours of isolation fueled by a fear of illness. It was like my concrete foundation I had so artfully designed my life around turned into sand, overnight.
I have never been my full self on a private jet. Clients only see one side to me, the side that attempts to mind read what the guest needs. On a private jet, it’s not about who I am, but who they are. Due to this, I didn’t interpret myself in the same way I did when I worked in commercial aviation. Instead, I defined my identity in private aviation by my income and by the rhythm of travel. I tested this against how it appeared other corporate flight attendants were doing. My heartbreaks at my level of immaturity in the way that I was building my internal value; that I would play a game that has no outcome but loss. You can’t build your value, your identity, around external messages.
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I see it so clear now that the path of identity I crafted was bound to end in inevitable catastrophe. It was only a matter of time. If we choose to define ourselves in comparisons, or value ourselves by external entities that cannot be controlled, we are destined to lose ourselves when life invariably hands us unforeseen challenges. Please don’t do this. Please don’t define yourself by what can be stripped from you in an instant. I realize how silly it is to decide who I am based on what I cannot control, what is outside of myself, or what truly has no merit to my internal worth. It’s silly and dangerous.
So, how do we go from external definitions of identity to an internal assurance of who we are? We need to get to the destination where we love ourselves— With or without a pretty uniform. I’m on a path of figuring this identity thing out. I don’t have all the answers, but I want to share with you what I’m learning. Here are ten steps for you to reclaim, rediscover, and uncover your identity. Your true, God-given value and uniqueness that you may have not had the time to meet yet.
10 Steps To Rediscovering Your Identity In An Uncertain Future.
- Accept now — Surrender to whatever space you are in today. It doesn’t mean you need to like it, but it’s essential to have a starting point. Breathe in. Breathe out. Accept that you may not love your weight, love your income, lover your career right now— whatever it is. Ok. That’s fine, but sit with that for a minute. Acceptance doesn’t mean staying where you’re at, it only means that you can start drawing your new road map from here. I remember when I broke my ankle, it was like, well — fuck. I guess I won’t be flying for awhile. I won’t be kitesurfing. It’s just gonna be ‘here.’ I don’t what it is about The Law of Acceptance and Surrender, but I had so much peace once I just stopped striving and worrying and just settled in to the present.
- Limit social media — Social media is both a blessing and a curse. I’ve noticed, it can be a trigger for me when I’m struggling and uncertain about myself. I begin comparing myself and wondering, “WTF is wrong with me?” I would challenge you, if you are personally going through an ‘identity crisis,’ to limit your social media. If it’s not a trigger for you, that’s totally fine, but be aware of your thoughts and feelings right now as you spend time evaluating and judging other people’s lives. They should not be a litmus test for your own.
- Meditate. Pray. — If you believe in God, ask him for guidance. Practice Breathing and meditation. Let yourself sit in the discomfort of stillness. I know as a flight attendant, I’m not accustomed to sitting still, but stillness, reflection, and pray/mediation is so important right now (and always) for your mental health.
- Practice Gratitude — Every morning, I write three things I’m thankful for. I do this religiously because I have a tendency to focus on the little things that go wrong. Gratitude brings me out of myself and into another (better) mental space. Your mental space right now is an aspect to protect and nurture in challenging and uncertain times. Your brain has so power and potential— which in turn fuels you and your life and your dreams.
- Remember feelings are feelings and NOT fact — I’m an emotional person and have to be SO cognizant of my feelings. They can get me off track, quickly, if I’m not disciplined to keep them in check. Be aware of your feelings, but also be careful to look at both the comfortable and uncomfortable feelings through a lens of reality. If you are going to let your feelings free, back them up with some facts, too. So, you went through a break up, does that really mean no one will ever love you again or you aren’t enough? This is really good exercise for those who need help challenging feelings.
- Create actionable to-do lists and tasks — Sometimes, life is just too much to understand. When this is the case an excellent strategy is to focus on actionable tasks. Write “going to the grocery store, calling your mom, applying for one job.” It doesn’t have to be big. The little things you do in your life add up to the big things. When faced in uncertain, just do what you can. That’s ok.
- When in doubt, be still — I’ve spent a lot of time over the last ten months sitting on the sofa, staring at the living room wall. Sometimes thoughtless, my breath a metronome. I watch the curtain rustle in the afternoon breeze. I look at my flowers on the kitchen table. I’ve allowed myself to not do anything when I don’t know what to do, and it’s surprisingly refreshing. Try it.
- Talk back to your internal critic — There is a voice in each one of us that attempts to limit our potential. Somedays, the voice is loud. Did you know you can talk back and need to? Tell that internal critic to F’off. Tell it to wait its turn. Tell it whatever you need to, so that you can be who you were created to be. Yesterday, I was hearing that internal critic, telling me I had no business trying and that I wasn’t good enough. Usually I listen to long, but this time, I said, “You know what thanks for sharing. I disagree with you, and tomorrow, I’m going to keep writing. But as for tonight, it’s time to for you and me to go to sleep.” It was both simple and a bit silly, but weirdly, my anxiety quickly passed and I fell asleep in peace.
- Explore YOU — You may have spent most of the last portion of your life with only the time to be a flight attendant. You’re not actually sure who else you are and what else you enjoy besides travel or jumping on an airplane. It’s time to get to know yourself. You can start by thinking of the moments you were happiest and what it was about those moments that made you happy. Maybe it was meaningful conversations with someone you met while traveling. Maybe it was being creative. Maybe it was a new physical challenge or learning a language. I am by no means musical, but about a month ago I bought a $30 ukulele. To my surprise, I have had MORE fun singing off key, strumming away, and doing something I never do, with no intended outcome or purpose— except for the joy of it. Finding the moments that you experience joy are so important for you to rediscover who you are.
- Foster meaningful friendships — Life is different with social distancing, but that doesn’t mean you cannot foster meaningful friendships. I’ve really come to appreciate my friends Sara and Melissa more than ever over the last five months. We are not going through the same things in life, but there is something irreplaceable about strong friendships that are infused with empathy, love, and faith. You need a tribe to lean on while you walk the journey of rediscovery.
I hope that you find this content helpful and meaningful. I’m currently writing a memoir about being flight attendant and the journey that we all take to believe in ourselves and our potential. If you want to hear more, please sign up to the mailing list by clicking here.