This time last year, I was hot off a coaching certification class, supporting coaching clients, in the final weeks leading up to a huge project deadline at my day job, mentoring a student director on a musical, in pre-production for my next stage play, making plans for my partner's upcoming birthday, and recovering from shingles (this is not a blog post about shingles).
I was expecting a pause in my schedule as pandemic numbers grew increasingly worrisome and closer to home. I was expecting 90 days of uncertainty. I had no idea how my world would change. None of us really, practically, understood the Experience that would become 2020.
And here we are, one year later. To say I've learned a lot about myself, my relationships, and my community would be a lame understatement. My life and my livelihood simply changed, full-stop. While I miss parts of the world from before, I'm anxious to see what's emerging: the old tactics are not going to apply in this newer world. Opportunities abound. We're all in the funknown now.
I'm feeling oddly reflective. With the privilege of hindsight I'm struck by those little things that hit me hardest over this last year; lessons I may not have otherwise experienced:
Those are the big three. Sure, I could talk about the exhilarating, terrifying experience of blowing up my day job to create the type of work life I wanted. I could extol the virtues of yoga pants and lounge bras; of not wearing high heels and makeup. Of protesting and Go Funding and learning and unlearning; of panic for the world and grief for the unnecessary loss of so many people. I'm sure you could, too.
But I'm curious: what has stuck with you? What lessons have you learned about yourself? What takeaways do you come back to when you reflect back on this year?
At its core, Dr. Sims offered a casual-but-huge takeaway about mitigating uncertainties at decision points: choose you. Yes, assess the benefits and the risks, the costs and consequences, but honor yourself. Those two simple words have stuck with me for seven months, at the front of my mind and on the tip of my tongue.
Of course I choose me, don't I? Sure. Yes. Mostly. Often. The more I thought about choosing myself, the more my certainty about actually doing it faltered:
A second list, choosing-for-me, bubbled up radiant moments when I let go of what I thought or imagined were exterior expectations and said yes to my instincts, my needs and my wants:
I spend gads of time with clients unpacking why they can't or shouldn't do things.
"They expect something else from me."
"What if I disappoint them."
"I don't want to seem selfish."
All valid, selfless reasons to avoid social discomfort. And when we talk about the cost of those decisions, I always, always think about a life on the high seas and ask, "what happens if you choose you?"
Give that a think.
Then give it a try.
Then let me know what that does for you.
Several years ago, I was a civil servant. I first landed a government job not because I was particularly driven to the mission of the agency I was hired into-- it has a good, noble, important mission-- but because I needed A Job after being unemployed for three months (more on this in a later post).
Most mornings after my alarm sounded and I started to get myself assembled for the day, I'd open the closet door, sit on the floor and gaze at my options. Usually, I'd grab my phone or, once I was senior enough, my government-issued Blackberry (TM) and check out what I had on the books for the day. And then I'd think, "who do I need to be today?"
Monday through Friday from 730ish until 430ish, my clothes reflected the person my colleagues needed me to be. Was she the spunky, enthusiastic agent of change? Was she the giver of performance improvement plans and disciplinary actions? Was she on the periphery of a big meeting, taking notes? So very rarely did I dress for myself; instead, my clothes armored my true self under carefully crafted ensembles that would allow me to fit in. I wasn't unhappy in my beautiful, carefully selected pieces, but I wasn't authentic. I was playing adult dress-up in the professional world.
The agency I worked for didn't have a dress-code other than some reference in a code of conduct about maintaining good hygiene and dressing professionally. There weren't restrictions on hair color or suit patterns or the sparkliness of accessories. There were unspoken rules about not standing out due to appearance. I wanted to stand out because I was a high performer. (Is this sounding familiar to anyone?)
This adherence to the unspoken rules came to a screeching halt when I chopped off my hair. I'd been ill, had surgery and spent 6 weeks at home recovering. During that time of discomfort and frustration, I reached for the one thing I could control and off went almost a foot of curls. To the outside world, my boy-short hair exposed a tattoo behind my ear, gave my many earrings more visibility, was a startling, drastic change. To me, I was literally un-locking the constraints I'd put on myself for so long. I started with playing with how I styled my hair, because why not, and that started to cascade down to the rest of my appearance. I dabbled with colors, shapes and classic styles reimagined. I brought more of my sense of play and my playfulness with clothes that I'd reserved for after work hours into work hours.
I was feeling more like myself, and I began to act in a way that was more natural. When I stopped "dressing" for other people, other things slowly changed, too. I was happier. Relaxed. I let people see glimpses of the truest me, while still maintaining professional relationships and adhering to the work environment. My world became that much easier to navigate. My work was more effective because I wasn't affecting. I figured out that the unspoken "rules" were unspoken because they didn't really exist. So long as I was clean, coiffed and bringing my best to the job, people didn't really care if my dress was flamingo-pattered or if my grey suit had metallic pink pinstripes.
How many of us play dress-up in our lives?
How many of us look at our closets (literal or metaphorical) or our reflections and deny our authenticity to shine through?
Where can we make little changes to how we dress (or behave, or feel) more like ourselves every day, all day? Because don't little changes become big changes when added together and given time?
Let me help you get started answering these. The next time you ask yourself, "who do they need me to be today?" The answer is you. They need you to be you.