I think there comes a time in a person’s life where we sit with ourselves and finally ask… are we living in our purpose?
Not “a” purpose. But “our” purpose.
I have finally reached the point where I know the answer to that question is a resounding “no”.
I have served in the United States Air Force for fourteen years and answering that question has caused me to have an internal reckoning: it is time to pivot my career.
At what point in life do we turn away from our inner voice?
I knew at 15 I wanted to pursue a creative career. But society and my family cautioned me: “you have to put food on the table.” The message to creatives always seems to perpetuate the lie “you cannot make money from your craft.” The unfortunate thing is at 15, I bought it, and decided instead to follow in the footsteps of multiple generations of my family (on both the Cajun and Puerto Rican side) who had served in the Army, Air Force and Navy. I wanted to continue their legacy of service, and further it in any way I could.
In 2009 I joined the United States Air Force and headed to basic cadet training at the U.S. Air Force Academy. This was the hardest four years of my life and I lost myself utterly in the assimilation of becoming a cadet and eventual Air Force officer. When you are 18 you don’t know who you are yet. You haven’t had time to develop and individuate into your own identity. I wanted to belong so badly at 18-22 within my military career. For me, the magnitude of attending a service academy overwhelmed my own interests and I had no energy to do anything except get through each day with absolute commitment to what I was being told I should be. I began counting down to graduation for 1,000 days starting my sophomore year. Every day I wanted to quit, so each day I had to make the decision to stay. By the time I graduated, I had made a thousand decisions to stay.
In 2013 I graduated with my commission as a Second Lieutenant. This was an incredible achievement: I was the first officer in my family in six generations. I was the first female officer in my family, and the first Academy grad. The pressure to “succeed” that came with this path was crushing, and it came from all directions: my family, my impossibly high standards for myself, and the institution I had become a part of. In the process of attaining my commission, I had given up everything that made me come to life. Painting. Piano. Dance. I abandoned all my creative pursuits as “irrelevant” and “frivolous.” I internalized the message that creativity had no place in the serious work of serving in the military. I learned to devalue the unique attributes I brought to the fight, because those very things made me stand out.
Therein lies the conundrum I have faced the entirety of my career. Creative personalities naturally exist, think, and experience life incongruently to the necessary assimilation of identity into a community conditioned to standards and regulations. More simply put, it is hard to blend into a standardized community when you were born to naturally stand out. Yet that very same community stands to benefit immensely from the contributions of those of us in the force who are creative.
When you join the military, you place the importance of your individual identity beneath the importance of the identity of the collective. This is how it is, and it is an incredible thing to experience community in this way. You know the people you serve alongside are similarly striving in pursuit of a common mission. Over time I have returned to my craft, and thankfully found on active duty (which began once I graduated) an immense need for thinking outside the box, originality, and a dedicated approach to innovate. Eventually I learned the way I critically evaluated and approached problems turned out to be exactly what was needed. Ultimately, I love being a part of an elite team in this way, even if our only task is to churn through paperwork. There is always an urgency to it, a PURPOSE.
Which brings me to mine.
Once we know irrevocably in our bones why we are here, it is our responsibility to either avoid or align to that calling. I have made the decision to pivot my career into the Air Force Reserves to afford more time to bring my art and writing to life. I love serving my nation, but I know the highest form of service I will pursue in my lifetime will always be through my art and writing.
I have always been, and will always be, an artist and writer. My journey as a creative has been detoured by an incredible career in the military, full of purpose and meaning. But at the end of every day, at the end of every achievement, my purpose will always be within my palette and pen.