The 80-20 Rule can be applied in many different ways, but it’s the principle that rules my writing life. I love what I do, but not every assignment ignites my inner fire; this is where the 80-20 Rule guides my career and keeps my passion for writing afire. I spend 80 percent of my time doing the writing that provides a salary, and devote the other 20 percent of my time to passion projects, or writing that both challenges and allows me to explore some of my more personal interests.
Military life, or rather, the military dependent (military brat) experience, is what I spend my free time writing about, as it’s one of the largest subcultures in America…and also one of the most overlooked and least discussed. In fact, the U.S. Department of Defense estimates that approximately 15 million Americans either are, or were, active duty military brats. And while our communal ties are strong — as the sheer number of websites and social groups dedicated to military brats attest — we’re an oft overlooked subculture of the general American population, a fact that continues to baffle me.
I write specifically about my own experiences growing up in Europe during the Cold War, and the confusion that results from spending more time in a foreign country than that of your own nation, but I also think it’s important to shed light on all of the children who experience[d] ex-pat life, growing up on foreign soil. There is a term for kids like me, as well as children of diplomats and missionaries, whose parents’ jobs led them to a childhood abroad — we’re collectively known as Third Culture Kids.
So the 20 percent of time I devote to passion projects, I write pieces for my Third Culture Kid community, as well as to help make those outside of our community understand our experiences, and how our unique childhoods create both stumbling blocks and opportunities of a lifetime. In an essay published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Military Families, I used the official symbol of military brats — the dandelion — to illustrate how a childhood peppered with multiple relocations builds a strength and resilience unmatched. Chicken Soup for the Soul Publisher and Editor-In-Chief, Amy Newmark, discusses my story in her podcast, Growing Up Military and Traveling the World: Those Resilient Families.
For those younger military brats, I wrote how the advent of internet and social media has positively impacted our ability to stay connected, despite being dispersed across the globe. In a piece for Wandering I — a site for both military brats and third culture kids — I talk about writing to APO boxes, using snail mail to stay in touch with friends, and how online registries and Facebook groups have made it possible for so many of us to connect across continents, a myriad of moves, and join together to reminisce about our shared experiences. This connection is invaluable for children, now adults, who grew up without a place to call “home.”
I remember a high school history project that required us to interview and record a WWII veteran’s experience, so that so many of those stories could be catalogued. And in an age when technology seemingly disconnects us from those who are physically in our lives, collecting oral histories is more important than ever. For this reason, I sat down with my father to talk about his military career, providing a different side of the many memories I hold dear from my days as an Air Force brat. I was struck by the amount of history involved in my father’s service, the fact that his service directly mirrored the political climate across the world, and how every job, every tour of duty he was assigned had a solid reason why.
Interspersed with a few of my own recollections, I was honored when Southeast Missouri State University Press awarded my interview-essay, Living In-Between, an honorable mention, and included it in Proud to Be: Writing By American Warriors, Volume 6.
I will keep sharing stories of a nomadic childhood, and the complexities of forming a [national] identity when living on foreign soil, because I believe our stories deserve to be heard. At times, I’m still taken aback by the general lack of insight the greater, civilian public has into such a long-standing, rich subculture that can be found both across America and across the globe. I’d almost argue that military kids, especially those growing up abroad, possess the strongest examples of community and resilience, more so than even the smallest of towns in America.