A story about acceptance.
About 3 months ago, during one of my rare visits to Target, I stumbled onto a very neat stack of white tees. Something prompted me to reach for them. I ended up buying five long sleeve white tees and five short sleeves white tees.
This is where our story begins. But first let’s give you a little backstory. For those of you who know me, I take great pride and joy in my wardrobe. It is one that has been curated over the years with choices of vibrant colors, fabrics and prints. I also have an enviable collection of shoes, (stilettos, being my favorite go to shoe for many years), bags and other accessories. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a compulsive shopper and I am definitely not someone who is obsessive about my appearance. I quite simply like beautiful things and have been very lucky that I have been able to buy these beautiful things often while on vacation to beautiful places around the world.
I was working at Intuit, having a great time as I had finally found a company that I loved working at. It is here that I realized that my wardrobe choices were a source of joy and inspiration for others. At this point in my life, I was the mother of 2 young kids under the age of 5, had lost about 100 lbs post pregnancy, was really happy to be starting my new job at Intuit and overall, doing well in life. Looking back at the pictures from these years, I have to say, it is the best I have ever looked in my entire life! So it’s easy to say that I was in a good place, feeling happy had a lot to do with looking good. My wardrobe choices reflected that happiness. It wasn’t until one day in the kitchen area of my building, a woman walked up to me to say that she loved my green shoes. She said she had been watching me for days and was always looking forward to my ‘outfit of the day’. She went on to share her story of having lost her mother, having been through a difficult pregnancy and being in a place of not feeling too good about herself or her body. I could relate to some of this as I had been there not too long ago. From that day on, we would meet regularly in the kitchen for coffee. The group got bigger each time we met. You could see that the people on the floor dressed better, connected on a personal level (even if it was for a conversation about shoes), and it felt so good to be a catalyst for that. To think that it all started because of a gorgeous pair of parrot green shoes! These shoes have since been retired after bearing many years of wear and tear! Sigh!
A few years passed after this incident. I went through some rough years with my health and with that the wardrobe choices changed. The stilettos sat in the back of my closet gathering dust, the outfits didn’t fit any more because I had gained a lot of weight and with that I didn’t really want anything to do with my wardrobe. Over the next few years, things changed. As I felt better, I was able to re-engage with that part of myself that I so loved. A few beautiful pieces of clothing and accessories entered by life by accident. I enjoyed them but feeling good was always a struggle. It never felt right. No matter how beautiful a dress, a shoe, an accessory was, it didn’t make me feel good.
A couple of years ago, I landed (again, by accident) at a place of work as a contractor to work on a project for 3 months. It was an interesting project that would leverage my supply chain knowledge with my product management expertise. This had never happened before so it was exciting. But I was aware that I was not in a good place in my life. I was probably the sickest I had been in a while but knew that I needed this job to get my mind off my health issues. I showed up for the first few days of work , did what I needed to do and left for the day. I did not bother interacting with too many people, or getting to know my new colleagues. I thought of myself as a contract worker. I didn’t need to act like an employee. I remained disengaged for a few weeks until that one day when I was standing in a corner working on my computer in the kitchen area. Someone walked by me but as they walked by, made eye contact and smiled. I was stunned because I thought I was invisible. I thought I had done a great job hiding and pretending no one saw me. In that kitchen, I was reminded that I existed, someone was looking at me, someone was smiling at me. It reminded me of all those fun times in the kitchen at Intuit. I had lost count of the number of coffees I had made for people, or the number of cakes I bought for celebrations or the homemade food we shared at lunch time. It all came flooding back to me. I had ceased to be invisible.
The following week, I made the effort to dress the part and show up at work as a colleague. I said hello to people in the hallway, smiled a lot, sat with people at lunch and that’s when the healing process began. I started to feel like myself again. The outfits magically appeared every morning. Then one day, a colleague walked up to me with a big smile and said, “Do you know how happy it makes me to see you every morning? I look forward to seeing what you will wear today!”. In that moment, I was back. She had reconnected me to the person I was deep down inside. It was not about the clothes or the shoes anymore. It was about me. She saw me. I was there. I was still there. What followed was a profound sense of healing in every possible way. My 3 month assignment lasted for 18 months. In this time, I was declared cancer free, I found my purpose in life, and I had finally reconnected with the person that I am, and learned to love her!
So let’s get back to that day at Target where I bought all the white tees. I felt an overwhelming sense that I needed to simplify my life. At this point in my life, I had spent almost 2 years in isolation with my family, the work wardrobe was once again gathering dust because I had nowhere to go! I had also started by own company with a mission that was keeping me occupied day and night. So I decided that I was only going to wear white from now on. I wore the same white tee (meaning the same type, not the same one) every single day with a pair of jeans or leggings. I turned in my many pairs of colorful shoes for a comfortable pair of white AllBirds shoes. Before you think it, let me just say that this is not an article about embracing minimalism or becoming a genius. I am aware of the ‘billionaire’ , ‘ genius’ hacks of wearing the same outfit every day. Trust me. I am not trying to be like them. I am not a billionaire and definitely am not a genius. I am also not one to advocate for minimalism. I own too many things and am accustomed to a life of dependency on material possessions. A minimalistic life is a distant dream at this point.
So what the heck is this article about?
At first I thought I was simplifying my life. It did make it a lot easier to jump out of bed, shower and get into the same outfit every day. It made me a lot more productive every morning. A related consequence of this was that I began to give up all the other activities in my life that were sucking up my time. Some of the changes I made were — I stopped coloring my hair, I stopped wearing make up, I stopped eating meat, I stopped drinking alcohol, I stopped engaging with people that I didn’t need to engage with, I stopped caring about what people thought of me or how I looked, I stopped worrying about things that I didn’t need to worry about, I stopped wanting, I stopped trying to control outcomes. There is one thing, however, that I have not been able to give up. That is my morning cup of coffee. To me, it’s more than coffee that I have to give up. It’s the experience of drinking coffee that I do not want to give up. But I am getting to a point where I am detaching from it which means I should be able to give that one up too.
In case you are worried about me. Don’t be. I am not becoming a hermit and moving to the Himalayas. Well, not any time soon. What is happening is an interesting phenomenon called ‘Acceptance’. In it’s purest form, it is a state of being where you accept yourself as you are in your purest form. Without your clothes, your shoes, your accessories, your identity, your social standing, your money, your professional standing, your ego. It’s like embracing pure whiteness. It’s like the thick white fog that envelopes the big, beautiful and very orange Golden Gate Bridge and reduces it to nothingness. If you have driven over the fogged in GGB, it’s almost like it isn’t even there!
So, from that day at Target to today, the lesson I have learned is that by embracing white, I have learned how to embrace myself in my purest form. The person I am inside. It’s been over 3 months in this avatar and I feel like it all makes sense to me. My beautiful wardrobe is frequently dusted as I do indulge in the occasional ‘outfit of the day’, that splash of red lipstick and mascara, that pair of bright pink stilettos, and the perfectly colored blow dry of my lions mane. But on most days, I am sitting at my very white desk, in my very white tee, embracing the purest white form of my existence.
Embracing white and it’s effect on my work.
I work with young people (ages 18–25) who are people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities. These guys know a thing or two about being invisible. What I have learned by getting to know them is that the ONLY way to make it through life is through radical self acceptance. There is no other way for them to survive. Some of them were born with Cerebral Palsy and Down syndrome. Accepting this is the ONLY way to live. Their problem is not their own acceptance of their disability. The biggest barriers they face in life is the environment in which they live in. Acceptance has not come to them in ways it has come to us. Even today, in 2022, there are people, lawmakers, educators, employers who haven’t fully understood or accepted what it means to live with a disability. We have not accepted the fact that disability is a human experience. Disability impacts all of us. Some more than others but it touches ALL of us.
My beautiful colleagues have taught me such valuable lessons about self acceptance. A lesson I needed to learn. A lesson that only took about 45 years to find me. My team despises my ‘all white’ avatar on our daily calls. They have urged me on several occasions to bring back the old me with my colorful outfits. Perhaps I might reconsider the all white avatar a few days a week. But little do they know that embracing white in the physical form has a deeper more spiritual consequence. One that was much needed in my life. One that only came from my work with them.
I hope that as a collective, we can begin to practice radical self acceptance. It is from this that acceptance of others will come more naturally. This more than anything is what we need in the world today.
And on some days, embracing white is about letting go of who you are.
Just like the GGB, as she stands in her full glory, only to be rendered invisible by the fog.