Have you ever woken up one day with the sense that you’ve gotten into a rut? That somehow you lost some zest or color in your life, or yourself, that you used to have, but you’re not sure where you left it? Even if you’re a pretty self-aware person, this kind of slow leak can happen over time, without you really noticing it.
A couple of years ago, I realized that it had happened to me.
I was scheduled to give a TEDx talk, and I’d started working with a storytelling coach so I could play around with some different ideas for it. (Turns out, that talk never happened, but the storytelling prep was absolutely worth it anyway.)
The first thing she asked me to do was tell her a three-minute story, off the cuff, about shoes. It’s sort of warm up, and a way of practicing thinking in terms of story, for one thing. So I told her about how as a child, each new school year meant a new pair of shoes.
We weren’t well off, so my Mom would buy that one pair a little big, so we could grow into them over the year. And they were the Kmart store brand, Trax. Kind of like a poor man’s Adidas. (Seriously, they sold for under $10!)
These shoes came in different colors, so each year was an opportunity for me to pick what color would be this year’s theme. I was partial to these blue ones, but there was a maroon option, and an emerald green. As I recall, I liked them in that order. And, even though there was a brown, I only picked that one year. It seemed boring.
Then some things happened. My family became homeless. There were substance abuse and mental health problems in my family. There were my own mental health struggles in high school.
And what’s interesting is that by the time I left high school, I only wore muted colors. Mostly grays and blacks. Not just shoes, but clothes, and products too. They matched my internal world, maybe.
Now, that storytelling warm up only took three minutes, but this idea of my drastically changed shoe color preference kept nagging at me. And I was reminded of it every time I saw a guy wearing non-brown or black shoes! It seemed like there was something more there to be learned.
So, I kept pondering, for over a year.
I thought about how even though I’d long ago left behind that dark internal world—metabolized it and ultimately used it to help me help other people better—my color preferences largely stayed the same all through adulthood. Mainly gray, black, or brown.
I’ve been living a full-color life for a long time now. So I started asking myself, “Why haven’t my shoes kept up? And if they haven’t, what else hasn’t?” Had I lost a part of myself that was more colorful and vibrant?
I thought about how, as we move through life, we try on different things for size—thoughts, beliefs, identities, habits, relationships—as we try to survive the circumstances that life throws at us.
But those adaptations are meant to serve a purpose, like putting on a pair of galoshes to go out in the rain . . . it would be weird to still be wearing galoshes on a summer day, right?
Yet, sometimes a kid who liked red and blue shoes grows up, and ends up walking straight to the black shoes. Every time. Without looking up.
So, now fast forward to a few months ago. A couple pairs of my casual shoes had worn out, and I still had all of this on my mind. So you know what I did? I decided to get in touch with that kid inside, and take him shopping with me.
He hadn’t been out shoe shopping in a good 35 or 40 years. And you know what? It seemed like there were a lot more shoes to consider than usual!
I didn’t just walk straight to the black ones like I normally would. Instead, I took my time, really considering each pair to see if there was anything that stirred, beneath my usual snap judgments. I picked up and looked at lots of shoes of lots different colors and materials.
Purple ones, ones that looked like fur, polka dots. Interesting, but no, they didn’t do anything for me. You know what I ended up picking out?
These. Kind of like my old maroon Trax—except they didn’t cost $8.00, unfortunately!
And these, too. My good ol’ blue!
Oh, and I picked this third pair out, too, because, you know what? I actually really do like black, even though I wasn’t crazy about it as a boy.
So it turns out that I hadn’t actually lost any part of me over the years—not for good, anyway—and in fact, I’d even expanded some.
I’ve written and talked to you before about how your personal development journey, if it’s the real deal, doesn’t have a finish line, and I live that way myself.
Even though it’s been many years that I’ve been on my own personal development journey, and helping other people on theirs, I still keep doing the work. I keep discovering new parts of myself, or, like in this case, rediscovering parts that were hidden for a while, and needed to be reintegrated with the rest.
But those discoveries and rediscoveries don’t happen unless you’re open to them.
So, even if you don’t feel like you’re in a rut right now, I encourage you to never let yourself believe you’re done; that you’ve got it all figured out now. Instead, keep looking for, returning to, and walking the path that feels right for the most authentic parts of you . . . and make sure that you have the right shoes for it; the right tools for the job.
Speaking of tools, if something has happened in your life that’s thrown you for a loop, or taken you off your path, then you should probably grab my free Setback Survival Pack. It’ll help you get your feet back under you.
And if you’re ready to supercharge your process of discovering, rediscovering, and breathing life into those “lost” parts of you, then you might be a good candidate for personal development coaching with me. Click here to schedule a free consultation with me, and we can talk about it!
And finally, Lynn Ferguson, the storytelling coach extraordinaire who I mentioned, can be found here.