At Ease – Life After Uniformed Service
Finding your “flow” as a civilian can be a veritable minefield. Double that if you are a woman! Here’s my story of how I ditched the protective armour of uniform. Discovered what sort of person I was underneath. Learnt how to portray the real me to the world – on my terms.
I didn’t know who I was. I just knew who I wasn’t!
When I first signed a contract to join the Army, I was 16. Nuts, really. Because I had no real idea what I was letting myself in for! But I wanted something adventurous, outdoorsy, that would get me away from my home village in little old Northern Ireland.
1990s – A new era for breaking old stereotypes
I vividly recall this advert – it may get up your nose now, but back then it was a breath of fresh air. Frilly flouncing big 80’s hair, and expectations of women to stop work when they got married, were starting to fade. A new era of breaking old stereotypes had begun. I went for it!
The Army offered to take us apart and put us back together again, only better. At 16, that sounded like a welcome relief. If the Army couldn’t sort out teenage-misfit-me, nothing could!
The bravado of 16 wilted slightly by the time I actually started at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst age 21. The ‘taking apart’ process was fairly shattering. With relief, I passed and came out the other end of ‘the chocolate factory’ a year later. I’d broken out of one mould, but had I landed into another?
Invisible in Uniform
I hid inside the uniform. The rules were safe. And I knew a ton of rules! Inside my head I ordered myself about, just as others did to me. I achieved what was necessary. I was brittle. To be caring was out of the question. Keep feelings locked deep inside. Don’t be soft. Don’t mind. Don’t show up. Don’t make a fuss.
Don’t get me wrong. Most of the men were trustworthy, fun, fair. But the system we were in – inherently misogynistic. I’m embarrassed to recall that I accepted it as the rules around here. I was one of a small band of female visitors in a man’s world. Lucky to be allowed to be there. Amongst the very men I team-worked with by day, some were threatening by night. The uniform never fitted, even though I’m tall. I took the Pill without breaks so I didn’t bleed. I drank heavily. Spoke tough. Dodged groping. Always aware that to be judged any good, I’d have to be better than the men, just to make up for being a girl.
Outgrowing All This – The Start Of Discovering Me
I gradually, along with my inner confidence, outgrew all this. It began not to be ok with me that phrases like “lumpy jumper”, “split arse”, and “like a girl” were witheringly spoken around me, day in, day out. Two days ago I heard Marvin Thompson on Radio 4 discussing his win of the National Poetry competition. His poem describes how as a teenager he unconsciously laughed along at racist comments. Before he learnt what they meant, their impact, and how fervently he now moves away from this for his children. This resonated with me, of how I gradually became aware that I’d unconsciously absorbed a bunch of behaviours that were not coherent with the real me. Now, I’m passionate that my daughters are never despised, as I was, for just “being a girl”. Furthermore, that they never need laugh along with it, to hide the shame.
Uniform is great. At a glance you can tell who anyone is. Their place in the pecking order. Their skills. The things they are good at. You get a specific uniform for each situation. No thought required. Dress, then do, the part you play.
But I began to feel constrained. Too small to make a difference. Did I still want to play this part? Where was the freedom I’d merrily signed up for? Had I just jumped from one set of rules to another? I began to wonder – do I really fit in here? Who am I anyway? What is this all for? And… Why?
“Make a Difference”
Civvie Street, always something a bit sneered at, began to appeal. Civvies could do whatever they wanted, right? I’d find a way to make a difference in the world! (Desperately corny, I know, but that’s what I wanted!). I was headed into a dream where I could at last be ‘me’. Whoever that was!
But how to navigate this new world and make this ethereal-seeming difference? Without uniform, how does anyone know who people are? I thought. What is the right way to dress? Where are the rules? How to be noticed for the right things? How to be heard? And what was my message anyway?
A Way To Be The Best Version Of Me
I stumbled across House of Colour. A specialist (now a friend) helped me discover the colour and style of clothes that suited me. Not the clothes I was told to, or ‘should’ wear, but simply, the combinations that brought me to life. A way to be the best version of me – like the Army “Be the Best” slogan that I had served under, only this time for the real, inner, me.
I’ll not lie, at first I used the knowledge to bolster the outer me. Inner me was quaking in her boots. It was a huge leap, this jump to freedom. Inside I was terrified. So I dressed to portray confidence – and, gently, my confidence shifted inside. I dressed to communicate clearly – people listened. I brought colour to my accessories – my thoughts brightened.
In the army, they used the uniform and rules to get our outer selves to shape our inner selves. Now I was free of that, I learnt how to craft my own outer me, but in a coherent-with-me way that served me so much better.
The Outer Me Gave Me Confidence To Help The Inner Me Heal
With the real me looking and feeling much more comfortable on the outside, I began on the inside. The brittle, harsh, uncaring armour gradually came off. Unearthing the real “me”, releasing and empowering who had been there, buried, all along. This bumpy journey brought me a divorce, a new marriage, and painstakingly to motherhood. I faced inner fears. Did the work to come to terms with myself. I’d never have accessed the mother in me, without that journey.
But when the long-awaited baby almost died as soon as she was born, and a time later was found to have incurable bone marrow failure, I entered a mental nightmare of a different kind. Once again, the outer me came to the rescue, holding it together while the inner me recovered. (You can read more of this story here). I’ve had my struggles, but I count myself so lucky.
25 years after entering uniformed service at Sandhurst. 10 years on from having that baby (who happily now is growing into a wonderful young person). I’m once again working with a House of Colour specialist to help me communicate. Only this time, its not about me.
It is no longer about me!
Now, every day I make a difference. I’m a trauma-informed coach, which means I’m trained and certified to work with and bear a great deal more pain and suffering than standard coaches. (Yes, coaches do work with Trauma, you can read more on this here!) Where once I was a tough outer shell to keep you away, now my daily work is the privilege to be invited into peoples inner minds and connect with their pain, their hopes, their dreams.
I Help You Access Your Self-Confidence; to Consistently be The “Real” You
I help you unfreeze, heal, live and love again. My work is not about me. I’m working with Tracey Moys, House of Colour to raise my external game to meet the challenge of getting my message across. Because, as so eloquently described by Elizabeth Gilbert, there is no time, any more, to think so small.
At Ease – Finding my Team
Tracey is ex-U.S. Navy. We have discovered a mutual shared experience in developing the inner and outer versions of ourselves AFTER leaving uniformed service. Together we hit on the idea to help women become at ease with finding their flow as a civilian after life in uniformed service of any kind. We expressly welcome trans and non-binary people who want this too. After all, the impact of misogyny is not just against cis women, but (imo) against anyone that is other than “men”.
Until things change, men are in the ascendancy. Life in uniform is geared towards them. Moving smoothly and successfully into civvie street is also known to be harder for female veterans. In my own experience, people don’t know what to make of you! Wonderful work is being done in the UK to change this, not least as showed by fellow ex-Service Sister Sarah Atherton MP here. But we realised we can help you too.
Help us to help you
Our program, At Ease, will be launching soon. Its a 3-month intensive group and 1:1 program.
Tracey helps you discover and understand the colour, clothing, and style that you are at your best in. How to communicate clearly from the outside. So others might only get a glance at you, but they already “know” you. This makes it WAY easier to communicate your message, whether it is at job interview, building your brand, or simply spending a lot less effort being seen, heard, and understood. To read her story click here.
I coach you towards the self-confidence to know yourself, to navigate this phase of your life. Visibility (such as you’ll get from Tracey) can bring a surge of vulnerability. After so long hidden in a uniform, I help you connect with yourself, get clarity on what matters to you, and help you build your self-confidence towards expressing yourself clearly across all areas of your life.
Between us we aim to help you leave the Service, At Ease with yourself, knowing how to clearly communicate through how you dress, act, and think – on YOUR terms! Please note – we are not offering career advice as there’s plenty of that! This is how to be At Ease and self-confident, no matter where your career, or indeed life, takes you next.
Please Tell Us What You Think!
We’ve both had lifetimes of being told by others what is good for us. We aren’t going to do that to you! So before anything begins, we want to hear from you. If you are a woman (cis, trans, non-binary) due to leave, soon to leave, or who has left uniformed service in recent years, please take 3 mins to complete the confidential questionnaire here. For your time, we’d like to thank you by offering a 10% early bird discount.