I used to love color. I lived my life in bright colors and bold patterns. My childhood bedroom was painted teal and my bed had a bright orange comforter on it. Nothing matched, and I loved it. My room felt like a place where I could be joyful and silly, and my friends and I loved playing there.
I used to wear mismatched socks. I always made sure to wear as many crazy colors and patterns as possible. No matter what outfit I was wearing, I always made sure my socks were visible. I told my mom that my socks were “my statement.”
I used to wear sparkly nail polish. More often than not, it was themed around whatever season it was, or some upcoming holiday. I loved looking at my nails and seeing bright colors and being reminded to be happy and cheerful.
I used to wear colorful clothes. In college, I had a pair of hot pink jeans. I loved those pants. They made me happy whenever I wore them, and I loved the idea that some of my brightness or happiness might rub off on someone else.
However, life, as it does, convinced me to change. I was suddenly “too old” for a teal bedroom with an orange comforter, or mismatched socks, or sparkly nail polish, or hot pink jeans. I felt like, since I was a “grown-up,” I was expected to dress and act a certain way. So I filled my room, my wardrobe, and my life, with more neutral, “adult” things. I missed color though. I’d gravitate toward a brightly colored shirt, or pants with a funky pattern, until I remembered that I wasn’t “supposed” to like those things. I would reach for a bright colored nail polish, and then convince myself that it wasn’t “mature” or “professional” enough. So I came to Denver for ESC, with a very neutral wardrobe, no bright, happy things to hang on the walls, and no sparkly nail polish. Because “that’s what adults do.”
Then we went on retreat. Call it divine intervention, fate, or sheer coincidence, but I ended up in a room with bottles of bright blue and purple nail polish and a few free minutes. Feeling comforted by the thought that I’d likely take the colors off my nails before being back in the “real world,” I painted my nails bright purple and blue. Confession: I was fully expecting to hate it. But shockingly, I didn’t. Every time I looked at my purple and blue nails, I felt a sense of joy and freedom. I loved seeing bright colors every time I looked down! And I felt a little like a rebel for wearing and enjoying something I felt so strongly I shouldn’t. I felt like me again.
It wasn’t until I reflected over why something as simple as the color of my nails had such a profound affect on me that I recognized this lack of color in my life. I realized I’d grown comfortable, although somewhat bored, in my neutral world. My lack of color had spilled over into other aspects of my life. I stopped playing as much, or allowing myself to enjoy certain things I used to love just because I thought I had no room for those things in my life. I realized I had shrunk myself to fit into the box I thought I was expected to fit in. I had this whole idea in my head of how I thought my life was supposed to go – things I was supposed to and not supposed to do, ways I supposed to and not supposed to act. I realized I almost decided not to even do ESC because I somehow convinced myself it wasn’t the most “logical” thing for my future career development. And then I decided that I’m done trying to fit myself into that box.
With my newfound confidence from my brightly colored nails, I did many more things on our retreat that I hadn’t done in a while. I wore a bright green (maybe yellow?) sweater, I sang out loud (in front of other people!!), and I even made (and enjoyed making) a collage. Creativity has never been one of my strong suits, so the collage was a pretty big deal for me! I loved every minute of it. It was liberating! I realized I could be an adult and still enjoy my life!
As I thought about my brief time in Colorado, I realized I’d actually played more over the past two weeks than I had in years. At the end of the retreat we listed personal goals and spiritual practices we wanted to include in our lives over the next year. I decided that one of my major personal goals was to get out of my perceived box. I’m done living my life based on how other people think I should act or dress or be. This year, I’m going to make laughter and play and color a spiritual practice. I’m going to go outside and play barefoot on the grass, I’m going to wear clothes with bold patterns, and make silly collages, and fill my life with all kinds of colors, and, of course, paint my nails bright purple and blue.