I’m lucky. I’ve been finding myself thinking that more and more often lately. In your twenties, and maybe just in life in general, it’s so easy to lose sight of all the good things going on in your life. For me personally, I know when someone hurts my feelings or if I get negative feedback on something I worked really hard on or if I get rejected or if something bad happens to me, I tend to focus on this one negative thing, and I let that negativity consume me. I’ve been trying to challenge myself lately to say ‘yes’ to more things and to break out of my comfort zone because something that I’ve always believed is that life isn’t meant to be lived in one place, and I know so much of that belief stems from my upbringing as an Air Force brat.
I know I’m not alone in saying that I took a lot of things for granted when I was younger. Being the daughter of someone in the Air Force meant that I got to see the world because of the brave job my father decided to take on. When I think about living in Japan, it’s hard for me to remember all of the opportunities that I had – the things I got to see, the food I got to eat, the places I got to go. It wasn’t until I was older that I was able to appreciate the fact that most of the people I met in my life didn’t get to spend four years of their youth learning to speak Japanese or celebrating Chinese New Year.
I think the best thing I learned growing up as a military child was to love people unconditionally. Living on (or sometimes near) the Air Force base, I was always going to school with people who were different from me. I never had to worry about being the only bi-racial person in the room. No one ever judged me by my skin color. No one ever asked me what race I was. Everyone was different. It wasn’t until after my dad retired, and I moved away from the military base that I was encountered by people who were curious about my race. It’s not uncommon for strangers to come up to me and ask “What are you?”
When it came to crushes, I was always a little boy crazy. I fell for the guy who sat next to me in class or let me borrow his pencil sharpener or challenged me to races at recess. (Side note: My first crush was a Chinese boy in my kindergarten class named Kenneth. One time we missed the bus together because we couldn’t decide what we wanted to buy at the book fair after school one day. I cried like a baby, and he hugged me. It was love.) Race wasn’t something that I saw when I had a crush on someone and vice versa (as far as I noticed), and that remained true until, again, I moved off of the military base. The first time I had a really ugly brush with racism was when I was in college, and a guy who had kissed me several times later told me that he didn’t want to date me because I was half black. This guy was white. I cried a lot and tried to find comfort in the words of my friends, but many of them didn’t understand because they had never had to deal with anything like that. It’s situations like this that make me grateful to have grown up surrounded by so much diversity. It taught me to not judge people by the color of their skin, because in the end, as cliche as it sounds, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
Growing up in the Air Force also instilled in me a love of travel. When I younger, I never lived in a place for more than 3 1/2 years, and because my friends were children of military parents too, I thought that this was the norm. After my dad retired and my family moved to South Carolina, I ended up leaving there when I was 15 and moved to Louisiana to live with my mom, and I’ve been here ever since. This is the longest I’ve ever lived in one state, and I’ve been itching to get away, not because I hate living here (it has its ups and downs like any other place, that’s for sure), but because I’m not used to planting roots anywhere. I have a thirst to see the world, and having a dad in the military was an easy way to do that. I was born in Germany, and from there I moved to Florida, Japan, Arkansas and South Carolina. Since moving to Louisiana, I’ve traveled to so many places, and I’ll always be willing to sacrifice buying material things so I can save up for travel.
On the other side of that, because we left our home every three or so years, maintaining relationships could be tough. I was jealous of anyone I met that had lived in the same place their entire lives. Sometimes it was exhausting to have to meet new people and make friends everywhere I went. At the same time, I’m so grateful for that because it’s a skill that has been an asset to me throughout my life. I’ve had people ask me for advice on how to meet people, and this always surprised me because I consider myself awkward and being in a room full of strangers gives me anxiety. If nothing else, forcing myself to talk to people when I was younger helped make me a good fit for the hospitality industry, which is the industry I work in now. Also, when I was the new kid, I was never brave enough to approach the “popular” kids. I always went for the loners who were playing with bugs at recess, and yes that is a real-life example. As I got older, making friends became easier, and I never wrote someone off because of rumors, gossip or the opinions of others. I taught myself to trust my own judgments and to get to know people before forming opinions about them.
The military taught me the value of friendship and relationships, and that if you want to keep someone in your life, it’s going to take work. Because of that, it’s rare that you waste time on people who cause you stress or only bring negativity into your life. The people that have been in my life for extended periods of time are people who I love enough to try to maintain that relationship, whether it be a long-distance friendship or not. I’ve learned to find the beauty in low-maintenance friendships, the ones where you don’t see or talk to each other for awhile, but when you do, it’s like no time has passed. I have a lot of friendships like that.
Being an Air Force brat helped me learned the beauty of diversity. I love immersing myself in different cultures. I love hands-on history in museums and galleries. I love trying new foods. There’s so much diversity in the music I listen to, the movies I watch, the books I read and the friends I have. I’ve learned that there’s not one way of doing something, and almost everyone is worth taking a chance on. I’m so grateful for my personal history growing up as a military child, because not only did it teach me so much, it also made me appreciate the bravery of everyone in the military and made me love my country.