Advice from a Previously Shy and Anxious Military Kid: Learning to Adapt to these New Changes
As the weeks draw nearer and nearer to what I hope is our upcoming school year, it becomes planting season for lots of military kids. It’s time for us to plant new roots and start over. New year, new friends, new school. Every year, we all go through it. We must learn to adapt and change to this new environment we’ve been thrown into.
For some of us, this is much more challenging than what might be expected.
Growing up, I was as shy as shy kids come. I often spent my time alone, finding my own ways to entertain myself. I found it hard to talk to other kids and even though I had some friends, I was nowhere near as social as the other kids my age. When I was little, I thought nothing of it. As time went on, I watched other military kids find friends and a place in school fairly easily. From a really young age, I thought that as a military kid I had to have this certain social status. I thought I had to be this incredible, outgoing kid. It was ingrained in me for the longest time. I was taught I had to learn to talk to other people. I had to learn to shake hands and talk with adults. I had to learn to stir up conversations at school. The idea wasn’t even at all put upon me by my parents. It was just what I thought I was expected to do. Something I was supposed to master. It really felt unfair to watch all these other kids succeed while I sat back and felt like I would never be on the same level as them. They were able to find themselves and find their place in these scary new surroundings.
Many military kids are going to be feeling just the way I did as the school year starts. Scared to make friends, speak out in class, raise their hand. Afraid to make themselves stick out from the crowd.
Being a military kid makes this especially hard. From my own personal experience, I learned that my quiet and reserved nature made it very hard to reach out to others, and when I finally did make breakthroughs it was time to move again. It becomes more and more difficult for many kids as time goes on. For many military kids, their life is paved with anxiety and high levels of stress, with moving being just one of the reasons for this strife. Even then, not being shy doesn’t make these transitions any less hard. The fear that comes with moving is always there.
I don’t think many people outside of the military community talk about how many military kids struggle to readjust to change, especially shy and anxious kids. In our military-safe spaces in school we never really talked about it because, truly, I don’t think any of them understood. Even though I wanted to approach others and be as outgoing as other kids, I truly didn’t know how to and was afraid to try. It was a lot harder to warm up to these new situations. That’s why I want to talk about it in this article; if I had been told it was normal, I think my years leading up to high school would’ve been a lot easier. I wouldn’t have forced myself to be someone I wasn’t, just because I thought that’s what I had to be.
Growing out of my shyness was extremely hard and it took me many years to learn to break out of my comfort zone and become the bubbly, overzealous person I am right now. But even though I was able to stop being shy doesn’t mean you have to be! Everyone is different, special in our own way. We all have different levels of comfort and you should only go to the limits you are okay with!
Here’s a small little list I’ve compiled of things that would have made it a lot easier for me to be okay and comfortable with who I was when I was younger. This advice goes for all military kids as well! Even though someone may look confident on the outside, they may not truly feel it on the inside.
1. Respect your own boundaries
Truly, do not push yourself out of your comfort zone. Many people will try to force you to be less shy, and while social interaction is a very good thing there’s a point where it can become overwhelming. Don’t feel pressured into doing things, no matter what they are; just to try to make some friends or fit in. There were a lot of moments in elementary and middle school where I would be coaxed into joining a large group activity or doing something I didn’t feel like doing. If it makes you uncomfortable or you would not prefer to do it, say no. Your feelings are important. Don’t let your need for validation overshadow that.
2. Speak up about your feelings
Just like learning to respect your boundaries, learn to speak up for yourself! It may be hard because of your typically reserved and quiet nature, but finding a voice is very important to building yourself up as a person. Having a voice doesn’t even have to mean you’re outspoken, just finding a way to carry and hold yourself up is so very important! When things make you upset or uncomfortable, don’t ever be afraid to let people know how and what you are feeling. This goes for all of you, shy or not! It can get difficult when we feel as if the world is beating down on us, but learning to build yourself back up again is super important. Finding your voice, no matter how you choose to express it, helps a lot with this.
3. Pour yourself into things you enjoy
I’m such an advocate for doing what makes you happy because of how much it’s helped me. Finding what makes you feel your purest joy is a key part of growing as a person. It is such a helpful way to cope with the trials we face. Whatever you may do for fun and whatever you find makes your passion run strong, continue to do it! Don’t ever let people make your hobbies feel like a waste of time because if it makes you happy, you aren’t wasting any time!
4. Make friends
Now, hear me out, you may not want to, but making connections with other people is so important! Humans gravitate towards other humans and seek community, so it’s important you find that in any of the places you land. You don’t have to make a ton of friends, even having a few matters just as much! Start with simple things like complimenting people and making small talk. Having those awkward first conversations is so worthwhile in the end. Trust me, it won’t be easy, it never truly is. But even if you’re able to make one or two friends wherever you’re stationed, be proud of yourself. Breaking through those barriers, whether big or small, will help you grow a lot more as a person.
5. Be authentic with yourself and others
Pretending to be someone you’re not is an automatic no go. That’s a given, but for the longest time I tried to fake my confidence when I should have learned to be okay with the fact that learning to be happy and assured with myself was going to take time. Showing people who you truly are is a great thing because everyone deserves and would be blessed to know the real you. Even though it’s scary to show off the parts of yourself you might be embarrassed with or not as proud of, you won’t regret it in the end. Always remind yourself that this is who you are and no one should ever tell you who you should be, which leads me to my next and final piece of advice.
6. Learn to love yourself for who you are
This is honestly the longest and most difficult part. Being content with the parts of ourselves the world may not ever understand is a burden that is hard to carry. When you feel like everyone's eyes are glued to you, you just want to hide away. You become more and more aware of how you’re acting, wondering if you’ll ever fit in or if you’ll ever be welcomed by your peers. The pressure is crushing as you try to appease those around you. However, if you don’t have the strength to love the person you see in the mirror every day, you’ll only take in all the negative from others and never the good. You’ll feel the way people see you is the same way you see yourself. Letting your own negative thoughts about yourself consume you blinds you to the fact that you are an amazing person. You don't have to be perfect, you don't even have to completely fit within the norm, to be worth it. Surround yourself with people who bring and see the best in you and don't let these toxic standards dominate you. The journey to loving yourself will take time, but the right people will see how special you are. Don't ever stop reminding yourself how important you are, how worthy you are, how loved you are. My mom always says, "The words you speak upon yourself become real once you let yourself believe they're true." Once I started speaking good things over myself, I felt it become real in my life and in how I viewed myself. It's not an automatic fix, and in the end some days are better than others, but even so, you deserve to view yourself the way others view you.
These things are not going to happen immediately, always remember that. Growth is a gradual progress, and don’t ever put yourself down for struggling. Struggle, change, and growth are something we all go through. As the school year approaches, keep reminding yourself of your worth. You are so much more than the meekness you may feel because you’ve gotten through more than you've realized. This is a challenge, a thorn in the side, for all of us, and yet, you have still managed to move every couple years and survived! The anxiety may persist and overwhelm you but, you are so much more than it. Be proud of yourself for your progress and don’t ever forget how truly incredible you are.