You and Your Hats

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“You and your hats.” says a woman in my office with a smile as I pass her in the halls.

Me and my hats.

I get some version of this comment once a week.

“I like your hat!”

“You wear a lot of hats.” (So clever.)

“Hats just look so good on you.”

To be fair, I do wear hats a lot. I have three, what I would call “adventure hats” (you know the kind influencers wear while twirling through fields of mountain wildflowers? Yeah, that kind.) I wear them 2-3 days a week and all of my favorite outfits revolve around them.

Hats have become part of my identity, something I’m known for, something people associate with me.

I also love mac n’ cheese, am always outside, would be voted most likely to take you to the most hipster restaurant/pop-up/blacklight yoga studio and hate driving 15-passenger vans.

That’s me in a nutshell.

A tidy little memorable bundle.

But I wasn’t always that way. That little bundle is an identity that I’ve created.

When I was a teenager, I, like all teenagers, experimented all over the map. Was I fishnet stockings and chains? Neon tank tops and teal mascara? Was I a theatre kid? Was I a climber? Was I the party girl? Was I the DD? Did I like rap music with my base turned up so high I think I have permanent ear damage? Did I like edgy metal? Did I like cotton candy scented pop music?

My real problem wasn’t the fishnets or the teal mascara or the burst eardrums (though those were all definitely sub-problems), my problem was that I couldn’t commit.

I could never commit.

I changed majors six times in my first two years of school and wound up using all of my electives on upper division math classes I didn’t need. When I graduated, I popped from job to job. Maybe I wanted to do this. No, maybe I wanted to do that.

Sound familiar? It’s because my story is not unique.

I have friends who’ve known exactly what they wanted to do, who they wanted to be, from the time they were in kindergarten.

That certainty works for some people, but for others, the world is too full of possibilities, twirling every which way like autumn leaves when the breeze blows. You reach out to catch one and notice three others, the first slipping through your fingers as you spin in a circle, uncertain which direction to look.

When I was 22, I was tired of my job at a mortgage company and bored with the trajectory of our lives. We let the lease run out on our apartment, quit our jobs, packed all of our things into a 10x10 storage unit and set off to live in our ‘98 Subaru for the summer.

Then, I saw it as a way to find myself. When I got back, I’d have my life figured out.

Two months later, I was sitting in the guest bedroom of my parents’ house writing a blog post to sum up our adventures.

I passed the computer to Topher, he read it and then looked at me incredulously.

“This makes it sound like you hated it?”

I re-read it, frustrated.

It was the adventure of a lifetime, but there I was, exactly where I had started. I still had no idea what I wanted to do, no idea who I was or who I wanted to be. It felt like a failure.

Looking back now, I see it for what it was. It was a decision I made, that led to a life changing, growth experience. A tidy little bundle summed up in two (albeit, run on) sentences.

I am so often paralyzed by indecision. I wait so long to decide, that the decision is made for me and I’m upset at the results. I hem and haw and miss exits and hit snooze on alarms while sitting wide awake in bed and, for some reason, still have combat boots and a tank top that looks like Wolverine shredded it in my closet.

Who am I?

What is my purpose?

What is the meaning of life?

This existential gnaw.

Two and a half years ago, I was in a self-improvement workshop and we were tasked with crafting a purpose. A tangible statement that summed up the meaning of life in a tidy little bundle.

It was a workshop and not my gravestone, so without too much existential terror, I wrote something down. I had been blogging and found a love of the outdoors and so here is what I wrote:

My purpose is to inspire others to get outside and experience life while protecting the wild places I love to play in.

It sounded nice and it encapsulated a few things I loved, so I tested it out. I sent it out to a few people and suddenly I was a brand ambassador, I was getting blogging gigs, I found like minded internet friends.

So, I went with it.

It’s morphed some. It’s grown and it’s changed. But now I’m working for an outdoor focused company, inspiring others to get outside. I’m traveling. I’m freelance blogging. I’m living into that purpose.

I spent a lot of time this summer trying to give meaning to turning 25. A quarter of a century old. I looked back. I looked forward. I found myself in that familiar place of existentialism. Did I make the right choices? What do I want to do with my life? Do I like the person I am? Who do I want to be?

And as I was texting my sister-in-law, who just graduated from college and is feeling the same things as me, as every other aimless young adult, I found myself realizing that the advice I was giving her was the advice I so desperately needed.

There is no perfect life.

There are a million potential perfect lives.

There are hundreds, if not millions of trails your future can take. They are all probably equally wonderful and spectacular.

You can do your research and you can follow your heart, but if you spend all of your time in the parking lot, fretting over which trail is best, whether Trail A has bears or whether maybe you should be at a different parking lot all together, your outcome will certainly be shitty.

If you believe in God, or fate or a higher power, then you’re going to choose the predestined trail.

If you don’t, well, there is no perfect trail and action is the only path forward.

Make a decision. Do the thing. Assume the identity.

Maybe it’s you, maybe it’s not you.

Could my purpose in life have been to become a sustainable chef and own my own restaurant? To work for the foreign service and promote cultural tolerance and nuclear peace? Sure. All of those things sound great. They encompass things that make me happy. Any of those trails could have been mine.

And you know what? If this trail I’m on doesn’t pan out? I can always change trails.

My friend reminded me today of a quote I love but had forgotten about.

For what it’s worth... it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you’ve never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start over again.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald

Do I really love mac n’ cheese more than other forms of pasta?

Plot twist, the answer is no.

You don’t have to find your everything. Your raison d’etre. You just have to find something that you like, that brings you happiness mostly, and take a leap.

You’ll grow into it. You’ll become a hat person and your bio will say something about mac n’ cheese and you’ll be on a work trip and someone will bring you a jar of their favorite cheese sauce and you’ll have this moment, where suddenly it’s okay.

I don’t know what my purpose is. I don’t know who I’m supposed to be. I don’t know what my future is supposed to hold. But I am creating it. I am creating a life for myself and I am creating an identity for myself.

Looking forward, it’s scary and murky.

But looking back, it’s as clear as one of those glacier-fed alpine lakes.

I’m somebody. I don’t know if it’s who I’m supposed to be, but it’s who I want to be. And I like her.

Her and her hats.