A Closet Full of Costumes

Before I joined the military, my father and I had a conversation. It impacted my thinking and actions so much that I often share the concepts with others, even nearly 13 years after it happened. He told me of the “Closet Full of Costumes.” This was, as you probably imagined, a closet…full of costumes. He described one that had businessman’s suits, a pair of mechanic’s coverall’s, a safari outfit, a scuba set and wetsuit, and a military uniform.





The point is that I was joining the Air Force. I was donning on a costume. I was ready to completely buy in to it. Pops explained that while I was wearing this costume, I would be the same person, with the same values and skills and passions. While I could be expected to support my organization’s goals and values, that is not the entirety of who I am. Like an iceberg, only a tiny part of a person is visible at the surface. When I was wearing that particular costume, I should do as appropriate while wearing it, and that however long I wore a costume was largely my choice. It was a very empowering concept for me, and I hadn’t considered it previously.  I suppose I was ready to be “the military guy” all the time, and stop being “the poetry guy” or “the skateboard guy”, or “the handy guy”. I was ready for my role to become my entire identity. By allowing myself to compartmentalize and have my titles separate from my name and my identity, I was able to keep issues in perspective, and relax in my off time. It’s not that I don’t take my job seriously-I absolutely do-when I’m at work. But when I’m off, I am not operating in that role. When I’m home with my kids playing ponies, that is the most important thing in the World at that moment. When I’m on the mats at jiu jitsu, I’m focused on coaching and learning, not on remembering to respond to an email when I get back to the office.


This doesn’t mean that I’m a fake person, but I play many roles. Sometimes they overlap nicely (martial arts coach/parent) and sometimes not very well (military member/environmentalist). Role strain friction can be frustrating, but I’ve always been good at deescalating conflict and finding a peaceful resolution and keeping my head in frantic situations, which somehow doesn’t conflict with my appreciation of bending people’s arms the wrong way and strangling them with their own clothing.


What costumes do you wear? Do your costumes clash?


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