Why Focusing on Your Identity is a Form of Self-Care

Laura Jennings
September 8, 2023
Why Focusing on Your Identity is a Form of Self-Care

A few weeks ago, I was in a group advisory session for my daughter’s school and one of the moms asked, “What do you do for self care?” Many of the parents' answers were as you’d expect: spas, massages, reading, and exercise. Some were larger scale involving getaways with a partner or friends. But my mind kept going back to LVL-Up. 

It seemed that self care for them meant trying to get away from their mental loads. So why was LVL-Up coming up as self care for me? As co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer of LVL-Up, it is anything but a break from the mental load. I started to wonder, is self care really a break from the mental load? How many times have we gone for that run or that massage only to come home to kids fighting, messy homes, and science projects? Almost immediately, we lose all the recovery we just built up. Breaks are always necessary, but is lasting self care really more about balance in your identity? And how does LVL-Up play a role in that for me?

Identity refers to how we see ourselves. The components that tell us who we are, which can be a mix of spiritual, cultural, emotional, sexual, social, physical, mental, and political ingredients. It is what you prioritize in your life to feel most at ease in your own skin. If any of the components you’ve prioritized are lacking, then you find yourself unsettled or unbalanced. This is where self care comes in to replenish a component of identity and restore balance. As an Eligible Family Member (EFM), I find the identity component most lacking is mental – and here is why.

The mental component of identity is defined as realizing potential and having the ability to contribute to society. Raise your hands if you have struggled with this as a military or Foreign Service spouse!

We are often undervalued as “just” an EFM or “trailing spouse.” Moving overseas is a huge forfeit of identity because it means freely giving up our social, spiritual, and emotional components when we leave our families and friends. But we are aware of it, and we work hard to build ourselves new communities. For EFMs, loss of the mental component of identity can be a surprise. 

When I married my Foreign Service spouse and moved to Paris, it sounded like a fairytale. But there I was with a dwindling bank account, no kids, no job, and no purpose. I did not feel like I was “contributing to society”. After five posts, I still see EFMs struggling to put their finger on what is missing for them. They aren’t unhappy, just unsettled. And they talk about self care as if they are searching for a cure or a tonic to pull them from the reality they are in. I think it is an imbalance of that mental component of their identity.

In many ways, EFMs are 1950s homemakers who are wholly dependent on our spouses for anything we need through the embassy or base: maintenance, mail, and even medical care. And in other ways we are on our own to figure out foreign countries and how they work. We unlock these foreign systems for everything from enrolling our kids in school to seemingly simple tasks like how you go through a grocery line. I always tell new EFMs, that our spouses are sitting behind Embassy walls speaking English and drinking tea while we are out here in the Hunger Games trying to get a pear. We look back at our days feeling like we’ve conquered mountains and we’ve actually only achieved three simple tasks. 

I would often wonder, where is my value? How am I contributing? And most importantly, is this the maximum potential I will realize? Does my total value lie somewhere between being a Pleasantville homemaker and the Hunger Games? That's when it became clear that LVL-Up kept coming to my mind as self care because it was a space for me to build on the mental component of my identity. 

Once I co-founded LVL-Up, my mental component of identity was brought into balance. Navigating seemingly simple errands or being considered “just” an EFM seemed to hurt less. My mental self care increased and that helped my overall well being. It strengthened my identity.

Yes, I am an EFM, a wife, and a mom, and I’m also a trusted advisor to clients. I help people achieve progress with their company’s and careers. Progress for my clients trying to achieve their visions. Progress for the team with upwardly-mobile careers they can keep with each move. With LVL-Up (and hopefully many more businesses to come), we’ve built a space for professionally driven EFMs to find self care. 

LVL-Up is my self care because it replenishes the mental component of my identity. LVL-Up literally levels up my identity!

Laura Jennings