If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit…
Parallel lines are fascinating. How close they can run to each other, yet never in infinity meet, not even once. Similarly, I find it fascinating how close we can be to something we want, but actually quite far away because the measurements are a millimeter off. I was recently putting together a TV stand for my new apartment, and if you’ve ever put together an Ikea or Wayfair item, I’m sure you can relate to the head-scratching, hair-pulling frustration if/when pieces don’t fit together. Because then, you have to figure out if you did something wrong, if the manufacturer cut the pieces or holes wrong, and if you’re going to put yourself through the excruciating pain that is customer service or just say f**k it. After about an hour of trying to figure out why the screws in a vertical board wouldn’t attach to the top horizontal board, I was very proud of my solution: if the screw doesn’t fit, don’t use it. My 55-inch will be just fine… I hope.
My sentiment about boards and screws reminds me of the popular phrase, “If the shoe fits, wear it.” Typically, the phrase is used to suggest that if something applies to you, accept it, but it’s not often you hear the flip side of that phrase, being “If the shoe doesn’t fit, honey, don’t wear it.” This, I think, is something that is a bit harder for us to accept, right, because the shoes might be really beautiful, with a killer heel and a delicate sparkle, or they may match your personality to a tee. There are about a million reasons why you want them to fit your foot, how people will look at you when you wear them, how you have the perfect outfit already in your closet to match, or how you’ve never seen anything quite like them.
But, either they don’t fit or they don’t have your size. And maybe you can acknowledge that, so you don’t buy them, but you can’t stop thinking about them. And now not only are you left with no shoe, but you’re left thinking about what that shoe could’ve been, what you and that shoe could’ve been, and the shit you could’ve gotten done with those shoes on your feet.
You might be getting the sense here that I’m not just talking about shoes, and I’m not. I would endure wearing a shoe that’s a size too small for a night in exchange for how incredible they make me feel. I think we’ve all made that sacrifice once or twice. What I’m getting at is how graciously we let go of not only things, but moments not meant for us, no matter how much they sure seem like they are and how much we want them to be ours.
When Covid-19 hit, I was working in the catering industry as an Operations Assistant, helping the company I worked for cater dozens of events a week. It was early March, and a few clients had already cancelled their events out of fear of the rumors swirling about the pandemic. We had all begun to worry, so the management team met to discuss what that would mean for the company, as well as the employees. My boss came back from that meeting and reassured me. “Don’t worry, amore,” she said (she’s Italian), “your job is safe.” Woofta. That was Wednesday.
On Thursday, one of our most important clients cancelled their 1000+ person event day-of. My boss came to me an hour later nearly in tears. They had to lay me off. One day my job secured, and dually assured it was secured, and the next, I was unemployed. Truthfully, I was among the fortunate; I was laid off early on, so I was able to get a head start on filing for unemployment, and I had a stable family and S/O backing me. But I still had a few days of panic and tears.
I had only been in that role with the company for a month or so, and I felt like I was finally hitting my stride in San Diego. A 10am-4pm job with the opportunity to increase my hours, a boss I adored and looked up to, a desk of my own, and a ritual protein shake I drank on the commute to work.
When I came to realize that we would be spending A LOT of time at home for an undetermined amount of time, I did what most people did: I tried to pick-up a hobby. And not just any hobby. Per usual in my life, I picked up a hobby I had no business picking up. What I mean by no business is I LITERALLY had no business. I’ve done this to myself numerous times before. I find myself perusing the aisles of Hobby Lobby when suddenly, a “brilliant” idea strikes me that I should start making earrings. $90 later and I have some mediocre supplies that I spend 2 hours meticulously organizing into a compartmentalized box, only to find that I don’t actually know how to make earrings, nor are any of the supplies I bought actually cute, so I shove the box into my closet until I give the whole set away to a random friend 1-2 years later.
The same rules apply to this scenario, only this time, it was painting. To be fair, I had taken a painting class in my senior year of college and really enjoyed it. I told myself I was going to devote an hour a day to painting, and I just knew this was going to be what kept me occupied and sane through it all.
I lasted all of a day and a half.
I couldn’t decide what to paint, I didn’t like what I painted, and I realized that I didn’t actually know all that much about painting. Mostly, I was frustrated because the paintings were not good enough. I kept asking myself, “Would someone want to buy this?” and the answer was always, in the words of Mercedes Jones, HELL TO THE NO. Similarly, I also tried to keep up a diary during the early days about what was happening, about how I felt, etc., with the goal that one day I could either a.) sell it for big bucks, or b.) (perhaps a little more humbly) read it to my grandchildren. That one I got a little farther with, maybe 7 entries, but that diary soon had a permanent spot in the drawer.
Painting and journaling are not inherently bad. In fact, I think most people would agree that they are good, fun, [insert a positive adjective here] activities to do. However, if you come at those activities just a millimeter off with your intentions, they likely won’t serve the purpose you’re hoping they will. In this case, I told myself these hobbies were supposed to get me through quarantine, when in actuality I started both of them in the name of showing others what I had done, to sell them, to feel accomplished, etc., instead of doing them to bring joy or add value to my life while I was doing them.
But to be fair, finding a “new” normal amid lockdown/stay-at-home orders has been difficult for all of us. In a society where our motto is you can do anything and be anything you want, the factor of circumstance is often thrown in a box in the closet, buried under piles of clothes, and forgotten, or ignored. Even if we have the best intentions, goals, and dreams in the world, things don’t always go as planned for reasons out of our control, and I think we too often forget that.
There’s been a meme/quote circulating for a while now that has really been working my nerve. It’s this whole “Choose your hard” trend that goes like, “Marriage is hard. Divorce is hard. Choose your hard.” Or, “Being in debt is hard. Being financially disciplined is hard. Choose your hard.” There are a ton of variations on the quote, pretty much choose any yin-yang relation and it’ll fit right in there. While I understand the sentiment of the quote, that life is hard no matter which way you slice it and you get to choose what you make sacrifices for, on the whole, I think the trend is a bit exclusive. There are SO many other circumstances that affect our ability to choose our life, and while some of them are in our control, many are not. For example, I’m fairly certain that most people don’t wake up in the morning and say, “You know what, I’d really like to plunge myself into the crushing depths of debt today.” And also, the “marriage is hard, divorce is hard” thing is under about a hundred assumptions that I don’t even want to get started on. All I will say is that life is much more complicated than that.
Most, I won’t say all, but most of us, and I have to constantly remind myself that this applies to me too, are just doing the best we can. I do want to pause and mention here that I am a very privileged individual and there are many people that are suffering immeasurably and disproportionately who are absolutely at greater mercy to their circumstance than others, and it’s not fair, and if it applies to you, I hope you have room to be extra kind to yourself. When we look at those around us, especially right now when there’s not much else to look at, and we see folks getting in shape, finding their calling, getting that dream job, or even having financial stability right now while we don’t, it’s easy to forget that it’s not for lack of character or grit or value that we don’t have those things too. Because can I just repeat this for those standing in the back? WE ARE ALL DOING THE GODDAMN BEST WE CAN.
Yes, we can set our intentions and rise above our circumstances, but no matter who you are or where you’re from, we are all dealing, and will always be dealing, with things, including mental health struggles, financial struggles, fulfillment issues, loneliness, etc. We’re all trying to find meaning in this finite life, with finite resources and finite time, so if you’re not where you want to be, it’s ok. Be gentle with yourself.
I have heard so many people lately telling others to be gentle with themselves during this time. Most interesting to me was when a groom made that statement to his limited guestlist at a wedding I was working at in October. Usually during those kinds of speeches, the couple profusely thanks their friends and family for gathering, followed by some version of “Let’s party!” For the longest time, I waved the phrase away, like your friend’s warning to “Be safe!” on your drive home because although they have good intentions, it’s usually just something people say.
Flash forward to me now, 9ish months into the pandemic, after going through an excruciating break-up, the lowest depressive episode I’ve experienced in my life, and a move, and I think I mostly understand what it means to be gentle with myself. It means, “Carpe Diem”.
What has been getting me through more recently has been checking in with myself everyday and seizing the day by doing WHATEVER will bring me joy that day. I say this because I have spent way too much time sacrificing what I want now for what I want later. I know that may seem backwards for some people, but in the wise words of Taylor Swift, “I was so ahead of the curve, the curve became a sphere.” I was at a point, a moment or millimeter of differential, where instead of listening to myself about what would make me happy, I put earmuffs on and tried to guess the song I thought was playing. It’s scary because from the outside looking in, what you’re doing may seem alright, so no one can raise a flag of concern for you. Most people would’ve concluded that buying a paint set for myself was well intentioned, especially given the circumstances.
Life is both fragile and a balancing act, and right now, when it feels, at least for me, that there’s so much to be unsure of, the only thing I can be sure of and 100% confident in is how I feel and what I want in this moment.
When I was younger, I really resented my parents. My sister practically raised my brother and me because my parents were always focusing on their careers, my dad even taking a job 4 hours away from home and only coming home on the weekends to see us. I was really hurt, and at one point felt ashamed of them. Everyone else had parents who picked them up from practice, who sat them down at the table every night for dinner, while we ate all of our meals in front of the TV. And for the longest time, I thought my dad only valued me for my basketball ability. It seemed as though it was our only way to connect, so when I decided I didn’t like it anymore, I thought that meant we wouldn’t have a relationship anymore.
For the record, my mom talks about my dad a lot on this blog, and I don’t think it gets said enough, so I want you all to know that my dad is wonderful. My parents are wonderful. They are amazing human beings, and I love them so much, and now that I’m older, I understand that when I was younger, 1.) they were doing the best they could given their circumstances and 2.) they made a conscious choice and had the clear intention of being able to provide for us, which meant they had to focus on their careers when we were young. And by doing that then, it gives them the ability now to be there for me and my siblings at the drop of a hat. They are able to be a stable support system for us, and one they truly believe that their children are the best thing they’ve contributed to the world, not their careers.
I believe 100% in this moment that my parents are great, even though a few months ago I wasn’t so sure, and even though I know relationships are changing all the time. In the middle of my battle through my break-up and depression, I knew my parents, especially my mom, would be there for me in some capacity, but I wasn’t sure to what extent, and I was especially unsure of how my dad could be there for me. Both of my own doing and through the words of others, I had it in my head that my dad and I had an estranged relationship that symbolized everything that was wrong with me as a human being. That I was a coward who couldn’t pick up the phone to fix something, that I wasn’t capable of growth. But it didn’t matter how I had perceived the relationship for years because when intention, circumstance, and lastly timing are right, that’s when it’s your moment.
It took an hour long phone call with my dad. I went for a walk to the grocery store to clear my head, and I wanted to talk about my relationship. My mom would’ve been my first choice, but as fate would have it she was asleep, and my dad offered to talk. What the heck. Why not? In an hour, I was reminded of how much my dad has always understood me, and always cared about me, and just like that the daunting task of “patching” our relationship, when more so it just needed a rekindling, was done. From that conversation I gained perspective on who my parents were for me, and I for them, and my parents became my biggest support in my journey out of my depression, and my dad also gave me some of the best advice I have ever received when going through my break-up, and that was a shock. He even got me to go for a run with him when I was visiting them in Florida, and I really hate running.
My parents reminded me that the people who are willing to meet you where you’re at, and appreciate and adore you for who you are in the present moment, are worth keeping around. They may give you “gentle” nods of encouragement or motivation, but they understand that if you could feel better, do better, be better, you would, and they are more than willing to sit in the suck with you. And even if time gets the better of both of you and you lose touch for a little bit, they will still be there and you can pick back up wherever you are.
This is another part of being gentle with yourself: trusting that the universe, God, the world, the vibes, or whatever you call it, has your back and that everything has an appointed time. This can sometimes run counterpoint to the people, external forces, and even yourself who tell you it’s time to get up off your ass and kick it into gear. That the time to start is now. The day to commit, make a change, and start achieving your goals, is today. Again, I love the sentiment, but only if you can also accept that “you are exactly where you need to be at every single moment.” You’ve tried getting into a workout routine, but have failed 5 times? Your career path was clear, but then covid hit?
Listen very carefully. DON’T SWEAT IT, BABE. Your time is coming.
I tried exiting the relationship I was in about once a year for 4 years straight. Of course they say hindsight is 2020 (no pun intended), but the time the break-up actually stuck felt different. It wasn’t necessarily that I was different, that I’d done the work or done my time, but I set something in motion for the 5th time, and it was this time that I was able to accept that the shoe didn’t fit, and that I had to take it off.
Looking back, 2020 was my time to end that relationship, and there’s no point in beating myself up about the 4 times before because it simply wasn’t my time yet. And even though I believe I made the right decision, that doesn’t mean everything is rainbows and butterflies on the road ahead.
Are there times now where I lay in bed lonely? At least once a week. Do the memories of the last 5 years sting? Uh, yeah. Is it bittersweet to think of everything that relationship gave me and taught me, while also acknowledging the work I have to put in to heal? Absolutely. Do I also feel the happiest I’ve been in a long time. Yep.
There were days, weeks, and months between March and now where I didn’t think I was going to make it out. I was without an apartment, without a job, without the motivation to find a new one, without a sense of self, and without a sense that anyone knew what I was going through. And even though I had so little then, it is with the same energy that I’m doing the best I can now and am feeling so much better.
Life is always shifting, and I’m working on being ok with that. When things are good, I struggle with the fear that the good will eventually wear off, and I struggle with patience when I’m waiting for the bad to subside. I overthink far too much about the future, and I can’t say I know how I’ll feel tomorrow. But I’m also really grateful for where I’m at, especially when I look at the progress I’ve made. I feel like I’m in shoes that fit me now, no longer running parallel to where I want to be but actually there, trusting that the lines that intersect with mine are meant for me and are up ahead, although I can’t see them yet. All I can see is me as I put one shoe in front of the other, and I like it.
Isabelle lives in sunny San Diego, and when she isn’t working in catering and restaurants, she’s freelance editing (website for This Iz Now Editing coming soon). In fact, she’s the editor of this blog!
In her free time, Isabelle enjoys cooking/baking, talking out her feelings, learning new things, and playing with any dog that walks by.
To connect with Isabelle, find her on Facebook @IsabelleRothbauer or by email at email@example.com.