Shrinking Sweaters: A Letter About My Seasonally-Changing Life
Some thoughts about embracing change in my personal life. Written on an airplane flying through a rainstorm - so you know it's dramatic.
I’ve debated organizing a thought catalog alluding to my evolving personal life via a Substack post. Partially because I haven’t had time to settle down long enough to collect my own thoughts. And yet we meet again, on a screen, inside reflective words strung together - hoping to uncover a clue that makes sense of little tornados spinning inside our respective lives. While I couldn’t tell you what the weather is like on your side of the world, I can tell you a little bit about mine. Here are a few notes on what I’ve recently learned about adjusting to fate’s climate - equipped with just a few shrinking sweaters.
Many of you know that this summer I went on a four-month journey to the mountains in an attempt to learn about myself, try a new area out, and live somewhere other than my home state for the first time ever. With intentions to make this a long-term move, I sold all of my furniture, said goodbye to my friends, and immediately bought into the idea that it was going to be the most fulfilling experience of my existence. (Which is the joke of being in your twenties) On the drive up, I envisioned myself thriving in this new location, nestled so conveniently in such beautiful nature that I couldn’t resist staying for the rest of my life. Everything would be easy. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.
A few months into the said move, I felt extremely uncomfortable. While trying to convince myself and everyone else it wasn’t that bad, I was falling out of love with my life. I knew I didn’t want to continue living in the state I’d moved to. My social desires weren’t aligning, I couldn’t get plugged into the right artistic communities, and almost everything felt on pause. After previously living a very fast-paced lifestyle, I was forced to root myself in solitude and really think about what I wanted. Envision my ideal life in order to create it. And most importantly: accept that I had failed.
Except, I didn’t exactly fail. While I did not create the life I wanted on the first try, I was gifted the time to sit with myself in mountains of discomfort and confusion (that was a pun) and decide what the hell I wanted my life to look like, now that my original vision wasn’t panning out. The silence and redirection (that initially felt like a checkmate) was perhaps the best gift life has ever given me. Had I not taken the summer in a new city, I never would’ve felt the challenge to go this deep into my heart and healing thereof. It took being so far removed and defeated to meet myself on a deeper level than I thought possible. But when I did, I was led to new desires. Those desires were eventually backed by action, and I’ve now received opportunities in my life that I seldom dared dream about just months ago. My arrow is pointing in a new direction now - one that I wouldn’t have ever even known there was a target for, had I not given myself the chance to see this version of me. A version of me with the courage to not only chase her dreams but allow them to change. And this is where I’m at right now, preparing for the second move across the country, into a brand-new area, in a single calendar year, to put myself closer to aspirations that I didn’t even know that I had just a few months ago. And while sitting through the tornado has been nothing short of chaotic, I found my answers in the eye of the storm. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Collect Advice, Not Clarity
From my personal experience, asking for everyone’s advice absolves no clarity. Especially, when a weighty decision is at stake. I’ve begun to reframe the way I think about the advice I get from my close loved ones.
In the past, I reach out to my circle when I need a sense of clarity. To some extent, it’s helpful. But, mostly because it is comforting to drag someone else into my ever-changing perspectives and know that they’re rooting for me. The advice itself could be interchangeable. During my recent life events, I’ve received plenty of conflicting advice from people I deeply respect. This used to stress me out beyond belief.
Until I decided on one thing: collecting advice is no different than collecting stamps. Or whatever it is you collect. Collecting advice is a beautiful and even useful practice. In the file cabinets vaulted deep inside our brains, we likely store several perspectives of people that are meaningful to us. And when we face a life problem, we might even get a direct quote out of that storage file that tells us exactly how our role model would solve every problem. And yet, we usually don’t feel clarity having stored that. Even though it could be useful, it doesn’t necessarily provide the sense of certainty that we thought it would. And maybe that’s because advice is a collector’s item.
Advice, even the best advice, can be dusted off the shelf. We might take a hard look at it and find the exact message we needed to hear. And yet, even when we do - it’s really only useful when it affirms a clarity that already existed in our minds. Maybe we didn’t admit that we already held such clarity. Maybe we even hid it from ourselves to provide a sense of safety from the decision’s responsibility falling totally on us. But when someone shakes us into looking directly at it (often through advice) we already know they’re right before they even finish speaking. And that is because nobody else will ever be able to give you clarity. They can just make you finally look at it when you’ve been avoiding eye contact for a while.
So, I’ve learned to collect all sorts of advice. Whether it’s self-help, close friends, family members, or words passed down. But it’s no longer there to give me my clarity. I already have that. Sometimes I just forget to look it in the eye.
Follow Your Heart and Your Mind Will Learn How To Pave
I’ve always taken the back seat to the phrase “follow your heart” because when it comes to enacting the pursuit of my desires - I get stressed. It doesn’t make sense. It isn’t rational. I can’t trust ‘my heart’ unless my head is seven steps ahead.
This summer taught me that it’s never going to be the perfect time to pursue something, someone, anything, anyone. Often in life, we get lucky with an easy win. Life seems fluid in these moments and we get comfortable with the idea that we shouldn’t have to go too far out of our comfort zone to receive our true desires. If it was supposed to work out, it would. Because isn’t everything supposed to be an easy win? When the stakes are low and the platter is in front of us, the pursuit is simple and straight-away. Our heads and our hearts seem in accord. These are sometimes presented in the perfect alignment of an opportunity, a person, or a place.
But then, at some point, life cranks up the difficulty. It no longer makes total sense to stay in the pursuit. The silver platter disappeared and you must weigh your heart’s desire to step into the darkness and keep searching. Yes, life might give you another platter if you stayed in your seat and passed on this one. And since you know the math behind that - it’s easier to stay complacent. We don’t know what the math looks like if we follow our hearts into the dark. And that is perhaps the scariest monster lurking under the table in every one of our lives.
A core belief I have is that I am irrevocably smart. And that might sound arrogant, but you’re probably pretty smart too. I believe that ‘being smart’ is just having the confidence to trust yourself to take a jump. When you go into freefall, you too will figure out how to land on your feet. And when you inevitability land (even if that landing hurts), you begin to trust yourself a bit more and more. Because you’re smart. And you know how to stick the landing without dying. It just takes the uncertainty of freefall to figure that part out.
The (wonderful) human I am dating often tells me that my biggest risk in this life is to play it safe. When I am faced with a big risk and I don’t want to follow my heart into the dark, where the math doesn’t make sense, he has reminded me in the past that the biggest risk in my life is to stay seated. While the darkness proposes an immersive fear-based experience, how much riskier is it to sit in the chair and never chase anything? If you’re looking at the long-term gains you can miss out on from not following your heart - they’re astronomical at any and every age. Especially when you know that you’re smart. You will land in the fall. And you won’t be in the dark forever.
So a big takeaway I’ve gleaned is that if I follow my heart and take the jump, I know my mind will be smart enough to adapt, learn, and master how to land it. No matter how crazy and uncomfortable the freefall is. The mind will even go the extra mile and start to pave the path so that when I do land, the heart and head can go hand in hand. And that is much more exhilarating than an easy win.
It’s Okay To Hold Onto Shrinking Sweaters
I saved the nostalgic piece for the last paragraph because it was my main reason for writing this letter altogether. When my life is rapidly changing, I often feel like my sweaters are shrinking. Many of these sweaters have grown to be my favorites: my close friends, my little apartments, and my preferred sense of familiarity. But there comes a time, with several washes and turnabouts in life when things change and sweaters shrink. While some are better quality for the next life than others, we often find ourselves with beloved things that we are deeply attached to - that simply no longer fit as well as they used to. And it never really dawns on us that we stopped wearing them as much, or even altogether until so much time has passed and you’re suddenly looking for them to warm you up on a random chilly day.
Whether these “sweaters” are friendships, routines, habits, or places - I don’t know. But I do know that we often look back on our shrunken sweaters with pings of guilt. If only I took better care of this. I would still wear it every day. When in reality, the climate just changed. And you don’t have a lifetime warranty.
Rather than throw them out, I think learning to repurpose your ‘shrunken sweaters’ is a fact of life. In high school, at the end of the year, several people would make blankets out of their extracurricular tee shirts that they’d gotten through the years. These shirts stitched together now served a new purpose. They were no longer in the everyday wardrobe because life was changing. But, that didn’t mean they had to be tossed out in neglect. They were just repurposed. And perhaps this blanket isn’t used as much in certain seasons, but it’s still there in your belongings - taking a different form than before.
I think we have to do this with our own ‘sweaters.’ Sometimes our favorite friends become people that we only see a few times a year. That doesn’t make them any less of a favorite. But they can’t fit into your life the exact same way that they used to at every stage. And that is difficult to accept. Sometimes our local spot becomes a spot we will visit every few years. Even when it used to be a staple in our life every day. These are just facts of life. These situations might eventually come back in the same capacity we used to have them in. But too often, because we will never hold them in the same way we used to, we throw them out altogether. The climate changes. Spring cleaning. When in reality, you can still love on a shrunken sweater. As long as you can accept that it might look different. And that it’s supposed to.
It’s not often I publish a personal piece on Substack. I hope that you enjoyed it and found value that you can add to your collectible shelf of advice that you store inside yourself. With moving boxes around me, I’m onto my next adventure. And no matter how messy, crazy, or stressful - I know we’re gonna stick the landing (eventually). Thanks for supporting me through all of this. I can’t wait to tell you what’s coming soon.