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Jimmy: I'm proud to have been a United States Marine.

Sally: But you hated being in the Marines! All your letters talked about how much you regretted joining.

Jimmy: Well, yes, those were my feelings at the time. But the Marines is [insert word here] so that's why I'm glad I joined.

What would be an adjective that describes a group or event that you didn't like being a part of while you were in it but for some reason you look back on it with fondness?

The word nostalgic is incomplete because it doesn't include the feelings of dislike during the event or group being thought of.

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    You really want to say "made me the man I am today ...." It's trite, but it's what you're trying to say. – David M Aug 28 '19 at 15:37
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    I'd say "worth it." "Worth it" conveys it came at a cost, which isn't ever pleasant, but what I got out of it was still more than I put into it. I served a two-year Mormon mission in Portugal and Spain from 19 to 21. It was one of the most difficult times in my life. I struggled physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But I came out the other end stronger and more edified, And it did have its moments that I look back on with great fondness. So all in all, it was "worth it." I mean, my career today in comparative literature (English, Portuguese, and Spanish), which I love, flowed from that. – Benjamin Harman Aug 29 '19 at 23:01
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Depending on the context, there are many possible words. And, even in the example, it's not exactly fondness. It's more of a situation of being glad to have gone through it, in spite of still thinking it was unpleasant. Indeed, a marine is not likely to advise that the training for new recruits be made less tough. Nor that they continuing training be reduced or made easier.

This particular example might be termed a situation where Jimmy did some growing up, a toughening experience or one that made him adult. A maturing experience. It might have been educational, a learning or educational experience. He might also be referring to the honor he believes he earned, so an honorable experience. Possibly he learned that the suffering and humiliations of the training had a purpose, so a purposeful experience. Possibly he is referring to the experience of being part of a larger group, so he may say it was a worthy experience. Or a spiritual experience if he is inclined that way.

A trip to the dentist is not pleasant. Very few people like what a dentist does to them. But they keep going because it's a necessary experience. Or a medicinal or therapeutic experience.

That is, it depends on the context and the aspects Jimmy is trying to emphasize.

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You could say the person is seeing it through rose-tinted spectacles or rose-tinted glasses

This is generally applied to exaggerated praise of a situation that was bad at the time, due to forgetting or glossing over the bad parts. 'The good old days' is an example of this.

Here's a definition:

An unduly idealistic, optimistic, sentimental, or wistful perspective on or about something. Primarily heard in UK.

I know Sarah looks on our childhood with rose-tinted spectacles, but I can't put aside how difficult my parents' failing marriage was for all of us.

Source

It's linked to rosy retrospection, which may also apply:

Rosy retrospection refers to the psychological phenomenon of people sometimes judging the past disproportionately more positively than they judge the present.

Source

The 'rosy'/'rose-tinted' refers to the flower, which is often symbolised as being pleasant and beautiful - 'a rose by any other name would smell as sweet'. See the entry for 'rose-coloured' on Etymonline:

"optimistic," 1854, from rose (n.1) on the notion of "something uncommonly beautiful."

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But the Marines is [insert word here] so that's why I'm glad I joined.


I am sorry but but I am unable to compress all your requirements into one small package and the presentation had to be adjusted a little but I think this fits in with the context of your conversation. However I have appended what I think is a better solution.

Jimmy: I'm proud to have been a United States Marine.

Sally: But you hated being in the Marines! All your letters talked about how much you regretted joining.

Jimmy: Well, yes, those were my feelings at the time. But being a Marine "was a wistfully defining exercise", so that's why I'm glad I joined.

Examples

He speaks wistfully of his time in the limelight.

Responsibility, I suppose, is what defines adulthood.

an exercise in public relations


Alternative

However if it was my choice I would not try to convey the feeling of Nostalgia into the spoken statement but rather in how it is delivered.

Jimmy: I'm proud to have been a United States Marine.

Sally: But you hated being in the Marines! All your letters talked about how much you regretted joining.

Jimmy: Well, yes, those were my feelings at the time. But being a Marine "defines you ", so that's why I'm glad I joined.; He replied wistfully


wistfully: adverb: in a way that is sad and shows someone is thinking about something that is impossible or in the past:

define verb [ T ] (EXPLAIN) to explain and describe the meaning and exact limits of something:

exercise noun (PRACTICE) an action or actions intended to improve something or make something happen

All Definitions and Examples supplied by Cambridge English Dictionary

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