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.
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.
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.
Curious. Bubbly. Creative. Curating a life I don't need an escape from and inspiring you to do the same.