Yes, dear friends, before this, I was still toting around my trusty flip phone, texting with T9, scratching my head at emojis translated into rectangular boxes.
“How does it feel?” my friend Alissa asked when I sent her my first text from my new, shiny, fully-activated device.
“I feel like a real, grown-up lady!” was my reply, complete with the requisite slew of accompanying emojis.
When I made the decision to switch, I will admit that it felt like the end of an era. I was always the holdout. The girl with the flip phone. The millennial who didn’t need a smartphone, who didn’t even have texting until four years ago, who was just fine living the simple life without the added encumbrance of one more device, thankyouverymuch.
I realized that a lot of my hesitation wasn’t so much about making the change, but feeling like I was losing part of my identity.
It was, essentially, my trademark.
Something changed my senior year of high school, though. For some reason, I just felt like it was time for a change. I remember standing in the kitchen, my damp, post-shower hair gathered into a ponytail in the middle of my back, my mom asking me, “Are you sure you want me to do this?”
“Yes,” I replied. “I’m ready.”
A few snips later, she handed me the ponytail. The deed was done.
As it turns out, I loved it so much that a month later, I cut even more off, shortening my hair from mid-back to shoulder length. And I’ve never once regretted making the change.
I can think of many times where I’ve been through similar experiences — like finally embracing leggings as pants — but these examples feel rather insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
Letting go of pieces of my identity hasn’t always come without growing pains, though.
Recently, I’ve been going through the intense process of tidying our home, which was largely inspired by watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix. I’ve been slowly making my way through our possessions since January, choosing which items spark joy and keeping them with confidence, and also thanking so many things I’ve held onto for years and letting them go.
One of the most difficult parts of this process has been going through all my old teaching materials. I had boxes upon boxes of files in our attic from my teaching days — lessons I planned, projects and assessments I spent hours designing, student work I had saved as examples — boxes that were essentially full of what had been my heart and my soul and my life for the better part of a decade. Going through those things was incredibly emotional and difficult. As I held each item, I felt so overwhelmed with guilt. Guilt for all the amazing ideas that I had that never came to fruition. Guilt for all the things I know I could have done better. Guilt over deciding to leave a career I had imagined for myself from my youngest days to pursue another passion and calling.
As I stood in my garage one afternoon, a Banker’s Box of files balanced on top of a toolbox, pulling file after file out and dropping page after page into our recycling bin, feeling all of this negativity and guilt, it suddenly hit me — this is why I needed to go through these boxes.
In her book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo says, “To put your things in order means to put your past in order, too. It’s like resetting your life and settling your accounts so that you can take the next step forward.” Until I pulled out the physical remnants of that chapter of my life, I never realized how much I needed the closure that confronting those items — and the feelings they stirred up — brought. I can’t even begin to describe how cathartic it has been to thank those items and finally, finally let them go.
Would I change that part of my life if I could do it all over again? No. Absolutely not. Those years taught me so much, and all those experiences brought me to where I am now.
The common thread that runs through all these experiences is that I’m learning that change isn’t a bad thing. Growth is part of life. The essence of who I am doesn’t change just because of a new haircut, or a new style, or a new phone, or a new career.
I’m learning that what defines me is who I am on the inside — and I know that, deep down, I’m the same person I’ve always been.
I’m learning that what matters most is that I’m always working to be a better version of myself.