BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

More Than a Label

Posted by sailorcindy on March 18, 2009


In the Navy, everything you need to know about someone can be summed up in three or four characters.  CDR.  LTJG.  SK1.  BMC.

My identifier was YN2, which meant I was a yeoman (the name of the job I performed) second class (E-5).  For three years of my life, I identified myself and others around me through these seemingly-arcane acronyms that immediately allowed us to find out how much respect (or lack thereof) we owed to someone else.

When the time came for me to leave the Navy, I found myself uncertain of where my place would be in the “civilian” world that didn’t automatically place labels on people.  How on earth would I be able to measure myself – and others – without this regimented system?

When I first read BPW’s research and discovered that 44 percent of the women they spoke with still did not feel fully transitioned out of the military (with an average amount of time out of the military being seven years at the time of the survey), I was not at all surprised.

military-service-cartoonIt’s one thing to leave the military, find another job, and begin a new life.  It’s completely another thing to totally lose your identity.  From my first moments in boot camp, I was taught to become a Sailor.  And somewhere during my time in the Navy, it actually happened.  My three-character identity became more important to me than my identity as a daughter, sister, friend, and wife.  I was YN2.

Perhaps my transition from the military would have gone more smoothly had I not begun working for the Navy again as a civilian after my separation.  Being at a Navy command only reinforced the fact that others still had their identities, but I had been stripped of mine.

I was now just Cindy, just another civilian.

More than once I found myself wishing I was back in the Navy where I had real responsibility and pride in the work I did.  I missed knowing that I was YN2.  At least in the Navy I knew what my job was.  At least in the Navy I knew I could be promoted from YN2 to YN1.  At least in the Navy I knew how to dress for work everyday.  At least in the Navy I knew my job was secure for 20 years.

I sympathize with my fellow women veterans who had all these same doubts – and for those who still do.  I do not know that there is a magic formula to stop feeling that way.  For me, it happened when I removed myself from the military culture and began to surround myself with people who did not ever identify others by three-character titles.  These people understood that the military was simply a small part of what I had done in my life – they somehow knew, as I had been unable to understand, that the Navy was not actually who I was.

That although I had once performed the tasks of a YN2, I was not actually – in the physical sense – a YN2.  It was only at this point that I was able to regain part of myself and discover my own identity once again – the kind of identity you can’t simply pin on your collar or state as part of your name.

A good friend of mine from my Navy days visited me a few weeks ago.  At one point, he commented, “You are so different from the way you used to be.  You’re so much happier now.  You’re so confident.

His words really struck me because I realized that I had completed my “transition.”  I no longer think of myself as a YN2 – or worse, as a former YN2.  I may not ever forget the label once placed on me by the Navy…but I no longer have to be controlled by it.

photo credit



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