An editor once remarked after reviewing the third revision of an essay I was trying to perfect, “You’ve rewritten this so many times it’s turned brown.”
Her analogy to children who recolor the pictures in a coloring book was spot-on. I had tweaked the essay too much. Instead of a simple message that floated off the page, it was cluttered with unnecessary descriptors and meanderings.
The storyline was no longer clear.
Her remark came to mind recently when I was struggling to find my own storyline following a partner loss, financial loss, health loss, and generally dark time during the pandemic. Friends and family encouraged me with “you’ll land on your feet” and “this too will pass,” but for months I couldn’t walk from the kitchen to the den without holding out my hands to break an expected fall.
I’d latch on to one idea one day, only to replace it with something different the next.
The thought of reinventing myself—a word used to describe being forced (or sometimes choosing) to transition from where they thought they were to a place they thought they would never go—felt cruel and untimely. Hadn’t I chosen the right career? Picked the right guy?
Okay, maybe there had been a few bumps along the way, but they were manageable and nothing I couldn’t handle. Now my steady self was at a standstill with no map, no GPS, nothing but the fallow ground.
Carol Adrienne writes in her book When Life Changes or You Wish It Would that when you can no longer see the next step, you’re simply looking too far ahead. Like driving at night, you must trust that the little bit of road lit up by your headlights will eventually get you where you want to go.
I wasn’t so sure. For a long time, I wasn’t sure of anything other than that lying down felt better than standing up.
Eventually I went looking for answers. First little ones like who to defriend on Facebook and whether to answer the phone, then bigger ones like how I had ventured off my familiar path. I asked questions, read books, and wrote down ideas in a spiral journal I kept by my bed. The pieces still did not fit. I added prayer, yoga, meditation, and training courses on being mindful. But even as the idea came that life was pushing me toward something better, I shrugged it off and went digging for more. There had to be another website, another expert, a bit more sugar, a pinch more salt. Or so I thought.
Then one day it hit me, and I wasn’t doing anything other than standing on my deck feeling the velvety brush of a breeze on my face.
“Have I turned brown?”
Had I been trying to reinvent myself too much? I realized instantly that sitting within me was the truth about me. Although my business card had changed, I was still me.
From that moment on, I challenged myself every day to welcome the possibility that something better was ahead. Instead of doing what I had done so many times before—blame myself for things not working out the way I wanted —I focused on the time-honored relationships and activities that had guided me my whole life.
In other words, I focused on what was working in my life and put my energy there.
My faith, my friends, my values, my sense of adventure, my ability to steer a kayak down the rapids and balance my checkbook were still intact. Admittedly, there were circumstances in my life that needed to change. But completely reinvent myself? I don’t think so.
A new version of the old me was unfolding and would do just fine.
For more about finding yourself amidst change, check out my coaching session, Design a Float Plan.