I have two pairs of cowboy boots–one black and the other red. I have noticed a particular phenomenon when I am wearing either pair: my attitude changes. It is subtly different even when I wear the red ones versus the black ones. With either pair I am making a statement of sorts; but with the red ones in particular I am definitely saying to the world around me, “I know where I’m going and what I’m about; don’t mess with me.”
The other day I was checking in at the security checkpoint at the airport. The woman who was checking my boarding pass and ID said to me, “You’re looking sharp; you must be blessed and wealthy.”
I smiled at her and replied, “Blessed yes, wealthy no. I simply wear it well and look like I’m rich.”
“You wear it well indeed,” she remarked, handing me back my items. “Stay blessed.”
I nodded and strode off. And stride I did. It’s what I do when I wear my boots. That day I was wearing the red ones and a broad-brimmed, straw gambler style hat. I’m sure I looked some kind of way that caught people’s attention. I try not to make it an ego thing, or a “look at me” type of arrogant narcissism, but it’s like this: when I wear my boots, especially with certain other clothes (today it was bootcut dark blue jeans, a polo shirt–popped collar, of course–and a lightweight cardigan) I feel a certain way, and that affects the way I act. Now, lest I come off as shallow and overly concerned about fashion, I want to assure you that I am not (some people might suggest that I am unconscious when it comes to fashion.) But what I have discovered to be true for me is that what I wear definitely has an impact on how I feel and that in turn affects how I interact with the world.
At first glance, this might seem an odd thing to be writing about, and I suppose it sort of is. But as someone who has at times struggled with depression in my life, it’s important that I notice when I feel good, pay attention to what makes me feel good and do more of that. If wearing my cowboy boots makes me feel a particular way that is positive and affirming, then I need to be doing that. I recognize that true power comes from within to be sure, but sometimes you just have to wear how you’re feeling, literally wear your heart (or your attitude) on your sleeve.
“Walk with your head up,” I remember someone telling me once, “Act like you have someplace to be, something to do. Walk with purpose.” And much of the time I tend to do this. But when I wear my cowboy boots I can’t help but walk with purpose, and yes, with attitude. I’m bad, don’t mess with me. I’m not angry, or mean–I don’t walk around with a scowl on my face and am as likely to nod and smile at anyone I pass with whom I make eye contact. It’s about walking with a measure of confidence that I am not faking; I feel it. In my life, this is a relatively new phenomenon. And I am loving it.
In the first half of 2011 I experienced what I call my “series of unfortunate events.” Near the end of 2010 my father died. The following January, my significant other ended our six-year relationship. Two months later, on Saint Patrick’s Day, I lost my job. In May I moved out of my home of six years and found myself jobless, partnerless, and living in a rental condo off the beaten path from my previous life. In short I was reeling. For the first few weeks I sat rudderless and floundering in a fog of miserable uncertainty. What on earth happened to me and what was I going to do now?
Much to my relief I didn’t allow myself to take up residence in the fog. In the middle of June I started volunteering at the local food pantry, helping distribute groceries to people who needed food. My life felt scrambled and a bit out of control, but I knew if I could work on behalf of other people I couldn’t sit and feel sorry for what was happening to me. In so many ways working at the food pantry saved my life. I worked with a dedicated group of caring and compassionate individuals, and while serving others I was able to gradually emerge out of my pain. The other thing I began doing was writing a daily gratitude blog; focusing each day on something I was grateful for and making that public forced me to always look for the good, even on those days when I felt like nothing was going right. I wrote that blog throughout the nearly 18 months of un- and underemployment, chronicling a wide variety of insights and events for a small but appreciative readership.
Those two things brought me out of a place of struggle to one of greater (if not complete) acceptance of my life as it is. I learned how to let things unfold and remain calm if I didn’t know what direction my life would take. After all, I really only needed to know what direction it might take that day or week. For most of that time, my cowboy boots remained tucked in the back of my closet.
As I emerged into the world of full-time employment, slowly my sense of competence and confidence began to return. I’d never really brimmed with self confidence, and the events of 2011 had left the little bit that I did have deeply shaken. I can’t say that I’ve fully recovered; in some ways my life will never be the same as it was (thank goodness.) But there’s a certain maturity that comes from walking through the fire and emerging on the other side. Winston Churchill is reputed to have said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.” I guess that’s what I did, and I have emerged as a much stronger, wiser, more compassionate human being as a result. The old folks say, “Wouldn’t take nothing for my journey,” and I reckon they’re right. And while I wouldn’t necessarily want to relive the events of 2011, I wouldn’t trade them for what I gained from having lived through them.
So yeah, I am blessed and I do wear it well and I’m not ashamed to say so.