In the fall of 2014, my family learned that we would be moving to Hill Air Force Base. This was to be our fifth move in as many years, with a brief 6-month stint in Okinawa, Japan. For a family of seven people, these sudden relocations had major impacts not only on us, but on the communities we inhabited.
Some of the damage we still feel today — many relationships in my family will likely never be the same. It is so easy to begin asking questions like, “How could you do this to us?” or “Wouldn’t it have been better if …?” But dwelling on these questions sows nothing but resentment and anger, and has the power to take a healthy, loving family and fundamentally alter its moral character.
It is imperative that teenagers learn how to emotionally and mentally handle the stresses of Air Force life, in order that our families, and indeed our Airmen, may flourish. I am writing my story of resilience, with hopes that I can help others learn to not only respond to crisis, but thrive in it.
There are three concrete things that teens can do to help themselves succeed: Anchor yourself with a strong purpose, allow your social life to adapt gradually and remain specifically optimistic.
In my life, the greatest threat to personal productivity and happiness is a lack of purpose, by which I mean conviction. We often draw our sense of significance and self-worth from the things that we do. We constantly define ourselves by our hobbies or occupations. This is not a bad thing at all. In fact, it is one of the greatest tools to help maintain sanity when everything goes wrong.
When I first heard of my family’s upcoming move, my first reaction was a sense of loss. I was no longer going to have all these friends, connections, or sports teams. What could this mean for me in the next few years? A move is a particularly insidious form of stress, because it thwarts many of the plans that we have for ourselves in the future. It deprives people of their sense of direction. How can they guide themselves when they don’t know where they are going?
It is essential, at this point, to resist the temptation of succumbing to apathy. Change cannot be allowed to prevent you from living life. Find something to invest emotional energy and time to give yourself purpose.
I participated in my high school’s debate team. In the spring of 2015, leading up the move, there would be days I would spend upward of six hours in the debate classroom. I invested hours at home, writing, reading and thinking. I worked like a man possessed because I channeled every fear, misgiving, or apprehension about my uncertain future into the purpose of the now. When you do this, you convert your pain into the fire that propels you forward. My efforts paid off. I have managed to place among the very best in the state in moral philosophy debate and in extemporaneous speech on current events.
The point is not what you achieve as a result of your purpose; the point is that you mastered the challenges of your situation and made them work for you. The key is to isolate an activity or goal that gives you something to go for, and then give it all you got. There are no right or wrong answers, because the value of your purpose is created entirely by you. Be creative, and don’t be afraid to maybe try something new, because you just might surprise yourself.
Ultimately, when you feel yourself and your loved ones falling into crisis, build a lifestyle that can handle the pressure by founding your purpose on concrete goals that you can work toward right now. Doing so will make you more emotionally resilient and can enable you to accomplish some pretty amazing things.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Zachary Baker is the son of 75th Air Base Wing Deputy Chaplain Maj. Scott Baker.