I stepped out of the building and onto the pavement and turned my face towards the setting sun. I breathed in the summer air and whispered to myself, “I’m free”.
I was walking away from a 20-year career and towards a new future for myself. Yet as I turned down a familiar cobbled path towards the train station for the last time, I was surprised when the excitement I’d been expecting did not rush to greet me. Instead, I felt exhausted and overwhelmed, confused and unsure.
What do I think I’m doing? Who am I? How am I going to make this work?
These questions rolled around in my head and would continue to do so for many months to come. I’ve experienced far more highs than lows since leaving my corporate life, but what I didn’t understand that night was I’d forgotten who I was.
Life had been a series of gorgeous moments snatched on weekends and on holidays, but it didn’t feel like I was fully alive day-to-day and I’d lost myself somewhere amongst the debris of days gone by and chasing dreams that weren’t mine, but never stopping long enough to consider where I’d come from and where I really wanted to go.
But now…life is different now. I know who I am and what I want, and also what I need, but it’s taken four years and a lifetime to figure out these things. And so I want to share how I found my way back to myself since that night when the setting sun caressed my upturned face. Please take what resonates with you, and leave the rest:
1. GET ENOUGH SLEEP: I promise you, if you’re exhausted and unsure, prioritising sleep could change everything. I’ve learned to build my life on the foundation of sleep because when I’m exhausted, I can barely remember my name – let alone remember who I am.
2. START WRITING: Through writing I transformed from someone who allowed myself to be a victim, to someone who takes ownership and responsibility for every piece of my life, the good and the bad.
I turned to my journal, started blogging and eventually, I also began sharing my thoughts and words on social media. But it was in my journal where I really reconnected with writing’s ability to help me make sense of my life and who I am. I was also reminded that I’m my truest self in my journal; there’s no public persona, only the naked truth of who I am reflected back at me.
What did I do? I stepped back into my past and I visited the experiences and ghosts that haunted me, capturing every detail I could recall in my journal. Sometimes this was intensely painful, but it also made me aware of how I’d taken other people’s words and made them my own. So, I took those painful stories and I re-wrote them. I re-wrote the endings with loving words. In doing so, I re-wrote my past, but I also wrote a new story for my future.
Old story: She told me I’m fat. I’ve struggled with my weight since I was eight years old. I can’t lose weight because I can’t stick to a diet. I’ve always been ashamed of my body. I’m trapped, stuck in a cycle of bad habits I’m never going to break.
New story: I’m fit, healthy and strong. I did the best I could in the past but things are different now because I don’t diet, I’m allowing myself time to heal. I love my body. I’ve learned to listen to it and whilst I’m still learning, my habits are already beginning to change.
3. CHOOSE YOUR WORDS CAREFULLY: I used to believe my negative thoughts were true; until I finally realised they were sabotaging my life. So, I started to constantly examine the words that ran through my head and the way I spoke to myself and then I made an effort to rewire my thinking. I replaced my negative thoughts and words with positive affirmations I could believe. In other words, nothing contrived.
It took time, but my life changed drastically as a result.
Also, we all have phrases we use without thinking, “I don’t have time”, “I can’t”, “I’m fat”, “I’m broke” – each time you use one of these phrases you’re reinforcing that message in your brain. Changing the words you use is powerful work.
4. DECLUTTER YOUR WARDROBE: I know, how can anything to do with clothing help you remember who you are? Well, purging my wardrobe of over 80% of my clothes was a turning point in my life.
Each time I let go of an item I felt myself get lighter. I let go of clothes not because of how they made me look, but because of how they made me feel. I felt a distinct energy shift; I knew I was letting go of the old and making room for the new.
I held each item in my hands and I closed my eyes and asked myself if it felt like a story I still wanted to tell.
Each time I let go of an item – even when it was hard to because it had been expensive or it was gorgeous to look at or because it held a memory – I was reminded that I get to choose. And that sometimes those choices are hard and sometimes it means letting go. But I’m still free to choose: My clothes, my feelings, my thoughts and who I want to be.
5. READ: ‘A Million Miles in a Thousand Years‘ by Donald Miller. This book will help you consider the story you want to tell with your life.
6. DO SOMETHING CREATIVE: Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, ‘Big Magic’ is a manifesto on the importance of creativity to our hearts and souls and she believes – as do I – that every human is creative, not just the people we consider to be ‘artistic’.
Creativity comes in many forms; you could express your creativity through your cooking or the way you style your home. Put together a scrap book of pictures of clothes you’d love to wear, take photographs with your phone, draw something just for fun. It doesn’t matter what you do or how it looks, this isn’t about the end product; it’s about how doing something creative makes you feel. I didn’t believe I was creative until I reached my late 30s and it was only two years ago I discovered I love to paint.
7. GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO BE HAPPY: I gave myself permission to be happy. I also asked myself, “What makes me happy?” and then I wrote a list I called ‘100 Words of Happiness’. Try it. You may be surprised by the stunning simplicity of your answers.
8. WRITE DOWN YOUR FEARS: Write them on the back of a used envelope. It’s amazing how quickly your fears lose their power when they’re scribbled in ink on an old scrap of paper.
9. STOP DRINKING: This may be controversial and I’m not anti-drinking, but alcohol doesn’t remind you of who you are. In fact, I believe it makes you forget.
10. CREATE SPACE IN YOUR LIFE TO BREATHE: On a four-day solo hiking trip I fell in love with the simplicity of my life on the trail; breaking camp, hiking from A to B, setting up camp. Repeat.
I decided I wanted my everyday life to be an echo of what I was experiencing.
That didn’t mean I wanted my life to be quite so basic, but what I did want was more space. Breathing space instead of a life that felt constantly overwhelming. Space where I could dare to be really present for everything I felt in my body and space to tune into my intuition.
As a result I let go of so many things and ‘resigned’ from many more – things I’d agreed to or volunteered to do. I wrapped up the personal styling side of my business. I began fiercely guarding my time, setting boundaries and saying no.
Creating space in my life is one of the most valuable things I’ve ever done for myself. It hasn’t been easy and I’m still learning, but it’s been key to helping me remember who I am.
11. LEARN TO LIVE IN YOUR BODY: After thirty years of yo-yo dieting, I made the decision to quit diets for good and began a journey to make peace with my body and recover from my disordered eating. I don’t care what anyone else says, I know – because I’ve lived through this particular hell – obsessing over your body and food and being at war with yourself takes up so much precious time and energy, creates a constant state of shame and leaves you feeling disconnected from yourself.
When you make a choice to quit dieting, what you’re really doing is making a choice to trust yourself.
And the world needs more women who trust themselves.
12. CREATE AN HONEST VISION FOR YOUR LIFE: I believe this is one of the most powerful actions you can take. So many people muddle along without asking themselves what they really want and why, and instead, take society’s definition of success and make it their own, without question.
Yet this is your life.
I believe we all need to get better at articulating what’s important to us and naming what we long for, without feeling ashamed of wanting more or worrying that we could fail at achieving or attaining whatever those things are.
Besides, without an honest vision for your life, it’s virtually impossible to know what steps you need to take in order to turn that vision into a reality.
Every few months I create a vision board of images and words; I use magazine clippings and photographs and add fabrics, postcards, flowers and even leaves. I treat it like a work of art. I don’t censor what I’m attracted to, instead, I let my imagination run wild and I’m always surprised by what I unearth deep within my subconscious.
I add elements over time and I find as I get to know myself better, I also remove things. It’s like who I am, as opposed to who I think I ‘should’ be, emerges a little more each time.
Crucially, I also ask myself, “How do I want to feel?” This is critical because big visions are important, but this question changes everything for me because it’s less focused on ‘in the future’ and more on ‘right now’. It also reminds me that I get to choose how I want to feel.
13. READ BOOKS THAT OPEN YOUR MIND TO WHAT’S POSSIBLE: Try ‘A Return to Love’ by Marianne Williamson, ‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield, anything by Brené Brown, ‘The Art of Asking’ by Amanda Palmer and ‘Wild’ by Cheryl Strayed.
14. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH POSITIVITY: Despite what we’re told, not all friendships are created equal. Some people bring positivity into our lives and some people bring negativity. I made a conscious choice to surround myself with positivity, which has meant letting some friendships go.
15. DECLUTTER YOUR HOME. FIX THINGS. GET ORGANISED: I’ve spent the summer purging; I’ve also had things fixed and framed, upholstered and breathed new life into areas of my home that have been waiting for my attention for years. This project is a work-in-progress, but the more I put my home in order, the more connected I feel to myself.
16. STOP SPENDING SO MUCH TIME ONLINE: I found it so much easier to remember who I am when I stopped pressing my face against the window of other people’s lives. If you find this difficult to do, read ‘Irresistible’ by Adam Alter to understand why.
17. DON’T TRY TO DO EVERYTHING: Pick one or two things from this list and do them consistently. You can’t do All Of The Things, All Of The Time – none of us can – and I know when I try to I just end up feeling like I’m failing. But when I do one, two, three or maybe even four things and I do them well, I feel increasingly confident because I followed through, which helps me come back to myself.
These are the ways I remember who I am, when I forget…
© 2017 Esther Zimmer