Change Your Style, Change Your Life

change your style change your life

Most people are unhappy. Have you noticed that? I’m beginning to believe that it’s just part of the human condition to feel constantly restless, dissatisfied, and envious of others. We hang so much of our self-worth on comparisons: How do we measure up to other people in our income tax brackets? Neighborhoods? Social circles? And, when we’re feeling particularly vulnerable, how do we compare to the fabulously wealthy, tremendously successful, and impossibly beautiful? And that paradigm sets us all up to feel slighted and dumped-upon and unlucky.

And yet unhappy people are often terrified of change. The current situation may seem boring or difficult or unfulfilling, but doing something to alter that situation? That’s just opening Pandora’s box, right there. Changing a bad situation opens up possibilities for even worse situations.

As you may have guessed, observing this vicious little cycle makes me about as happy as stepping in a steaming pile of dog poo. I often feel the urge to take chronic complainers by the shoulders, make my eyes go all big, and say, “Do something or stop carping! Grow a spine and change your situation, or learn to appreciate what you’ve got!”

But I don’t. And here’s why:

Sometimes change does make things worse. Sometimes leaving your horrible, soul-sucking, dead-end job means you can’t find more work and have to live on Ramen for nine months. Sometimes ending a toxic friendship makes you feel so lonely that you cry yourself to sleep every night. Sometimes hiring a repairman to fix that long-broken light fixture leads to the discovery that your house is infested with termites. I get it. Change may be the only way to improve your lot, but it is undeniably scary.

Nevertheless, change is what powers life, and I believe that embracing change slowly and mindfully can be beneficial in a thousand indescribable ways. Finding small, manageable ways to change yourself and improve your outlook builds confidence, creates peace of mind, and opens you up to the possibility of, someday, undertaking larger, more daunting changes. For instance, I believe that making relatively small changes to your appearance, body, grooming, and personal style can utterly transform your outlook, attitude, and self-image. Such a minor-seeming, insignificant-feeling alteration can have a huge impact, setting off a slow but far-reaching domino effect of positive change that will continue for years to come.

If you’re feeling constantly restless, dissatisfied, and envious of others, change your look. Changes to career, relationships, geography, and finance may have huge, terrifying repercussions, mainly because those changes involve other people. But changing your look is singular, self-contained, all about you. It may elicit some curious comments from friends and coworkers and family members, but mostly it’s a change that is entirely within your control. YOU are the only person who decides how you dress, what you wear, how you wear it, when, and why. That’s a lot of power, and it can be used to shape your feelings about yourself as a participant in the world’s events.

See how confident and relaxed I look in the picture at the top of this post? That is not an act. I am confident and relaxed. And sure, that’s partly due to the fact that it’s my husband behind the lens and I’ve been doing outfit shots for more than seven years now, but I attribute the main to the changes I’ve made to my personal style. I used to be ashamed of my non-lingerie-model body and slunk through life in clothing that didn’t actually appeal to my tastes and preferences, but hid my supposed flaws from public view. I hated what I wore, but couldn’t see any other options. And although I could project an air of confidence back then, I didn’t feel it. I felt insignificant, boring, wrong, out of place. After years of attempting to change my body through crash diets, I finally realized that my body was what it was and I might as well work with it. My exploration of personal style made me more aware of my body and my health, showed me that there isn’t a single type of gorgeous body, provided me with a previously untapped outlet for artistic and creative expression, led me to blog which rekindled my love of writing, introduced me to a huge new world of stylistic thinkers and influencers, provided me with several new streams of income, unlocked untold amounts of personal confidence, and connected me to YOU.

I’m not saying that it’s the only answer or the perfect answer. I’m not saying that switching from heels to flats will transform you into Michelle Obama or Oprah. I’m saying that there is such a thing as gateway change. That tweaking your external appearance can, amazingly, spark the courage you need to make more substantive changes. That something as simple as honing your personal style can, eventually, lead to actions and choices that will alleviate those nagging feelings of restlessness, dissatisfaction, and envy. That investing time and energy in creating a style that makes you feel joyful, confident, and entirely yourself can lead to good, good things.

Changing your style can change your life. Take it from me.

*This is a revised post from the archive

Originally posted 2014-10-06 06:40:23.

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17 Responses to “Change Your Style, Change Your Life”

  1. Ronna Russell

    This is true. It happened to me, too. Those baby steps of confidence that come from embracing your shape and understanding yourself can lead to life transformations (which are terrifying and painful and so worth it). Thanks again for for nailing it.

  2. Celynne

    I think I’m on the cusp of a really big style change. My problem now is that I’ve acquired quite a few gorgeous vintage dresses over the years, but I don’t really connect with them anymore. I still look at them and see their unique beauty and love them still, but they don’t feel like ME dresses, if that makes sense. And I’m torn between parting with them and slowly starting a new wardrobe, or just clinging to them until perhaps this phase passes. I actually feel like wearing pants a lot of the time lately, and I spent years loathing pants. And maybe this is just the season but I’m no longer wanting to drape myself in garments so bright they’re near blinding, I’m down to wanting to swathe myself in earthy brown and green tones. I guess I can’t dress the same forever…

    • Emma

      I’m going through something like this right now too, and one thing that’s worked for me is to take the clothes that I’m attached to but don’t feel like “me” anymore and store them in a box for a while. Then I can make the decision about whether or not to keep them after I’ve tried living without them for a while. Maybe something like that would work for you too! Good luck and have fun 🙂

  3. Kate

    Thank you SO MUCH for this article. It’s exactly what I needed to hear. Also, that dress ROCKS!!! What is it?

    Thank you for being you, Sally! 🙂

  4. Jenn

    I am not generally unhappy, but I do agree with your point about making small changes. I was feeling very dissatisfied with my work clothing style. I was stuck in a black pants-cardigan-flats rut when it came to work and felt like the silhouette was dated and making me look older than I was. Eventually I slooooowly (to save money) transitioned to wearing a lot more skirts and dresses, then invested in some great riding boots and skinny work pants and longer-length shirts. Small changes, but I feel a lot younger and more stylish now when I get dressed. I also started playing around with lipstick, because I was stuck in a make-up rut too. It sounds silly, but changing that one thing made me feel a lot better about how I look. These small changes have made me feel more confident at work and in my personal life, more relevant in general, and happier with how I look.

    It’s like when you get a new haircut – maybe you just get a few inches snipped off, or maybe you get a radical change and go from long hair to a pixie cut – but even just trimming a few inches can really revitalize you and make you feel like a new person. A small change – no one is saying a haircut will change your life – but it can give you that boost that empowers you to actually change your life in more meaningful ways.

    I really think some people just get tied to a look that made them feel good at a certain point in life – maybe when they started their first job, or first fell in love with their SO, or felt young and attractive, or on top of the world. They think keeping that look will keep the way they felt then. That’s what I did. But eventually holding on to that look just makes you look older than you are, especially if the look is dated. Small changes that empower you to make bigger changes are a relatively easy way to change your life in increments.

  5. Anne

    I used to have this motto when I turned 40, “don’t diet, just wear higher heels.” It really means to me, don’t freak out about all of life’s changes, try to find positive ways to deal with them. I do believe that small life changes are the way to slowly make big change in your life.

    I’ve been stuck in a box myself lately. Both my parents died within a few months of each other after years of illness. I was so absorbed for so long in their care, then in settling their estates that I just kept removing things from my life: part time job, book club, biking club. I am just now trying to get back to my old life and I am finding the transition really challenging. I’ve been taking things back one at a time.

    Another thing I’m learning is that you don’t always comeback to exactly the same spot. It frequently leads me to the compare and despair game which I know is unproductive. I have this mantra that I repeat in those times: run your own race. It applies when I’m running a road race but also to every day life. I’m just taking things on at my own pace and trying to move forward everyday.

    Great advice Sally, and as usual it applies to such much more than just clothing.

  6. Ruth Slavid

    I’m also going through big changes in my life, waiting to see what happens next (that sounds passive, but I mean waiting to see what I want to do next and then doing it). I suspect this may influence my clothes. I am in a phase of clearing out stuff from my life not making big acquisitions but I can see that for once I may need to make a proper closet purge rather than ad hoc disposals in order to see who I am now. I don’t know where I am going but I would like to be different in some way in a year’s time.

  7. Roseblight

    I feel so moved for some reason 🙂 I’ve been reading since about 2009. You’ve helped me so much and it’s been such a pleasure, so thank you ♥

  8. Cheryl

    Great inspirational post. I think accepting who we are is a first step to feeling free to be who we are and not worry as much about what others think. We (people) do seem to fall into the habit of seeing the negative quite easily. I try to remind myself how lucky I am every few days in case I forget. 🙂

  9. Ginger

    Sorry that you’re surrounded by unhappy people!

    My take is that within their little habit rut most people are happy. Yes, they can be dissatisfied with their habits and themselves, but they aren’t all that unhappy because otherwise they’d change.

  10. Heidi/FranticButFab

    This is a great way to frame it. I totally agree that style changes can lead to huge changes in the rest of your life. If nothing else, it’s good “practice” for the process of making change in general and the rewards are immediate.

  11. Rachel

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post – it was very timely for me and have me much food for thought. I absolutely love the idea of altering one’s own outlook through considered dressing. Thank you for writing such a thought provoking piece. Rachel ☺ p.s. I hope you don’t have to navigate too many unhappy folk. Oh, and, that dress is awesome on you!