Why Self-Awareness Is More Important Than A 5-Year Plan

Guest Style Editor, Gretchen Jones, says her career hasn't evolved as she once wanted or expected – and that's actually a good thing.
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Image Credit: Gretchen Jones

Image Credit: Gretchen Jones

Our Guest Style Editor, Gretchen Jones, carries wisdom that goes far beyond the closet. Today, she shares a powerful message about the role of twists, turns and failures in any personal path, reminding us that it's okay if our lofty plans don't play out as we expected. Wherever you are in your own life journey, we hope you'll find comfort and clarity in her words. 

I never imagined my life would end up looking like it does today. I’m not sure one can plan out their future…though I once tried. 

I tend to be hard on myself, focusing on what I haven’t achieved yet, rather than what I have. This makes for a pretty tumultuous existence. When I reflect on the person I was, the person I thought I would become, and the person I am today, the only thing I know to be true is that planning out our lives is sure to be a letdown. Worse than that, perhaps – if I might be so bold – too much planning might inhibit us from appreciating all that we are and have evolved into. In turn, this can hinder the people we hope to become. 

This sounds a little sad, and in many ways, it is. I think we’re bound to mourn the loss of the visions we had for ourselves. What I am now realizing, though, is how freeing it is to let go of all that. That’s why I’d recommend you try to do the same. 

Five years ago, I was about to turn 30, had just put myself through the horror of filming (and winning) a globally televised reality show, ended a relationship, and moved across the country to the biggest city where I had ever lived, with hopes of achieving my biggest dreams. In so many words, I was a mess. How could I not be?! That said, I had somehow created a series of circumstances that enabled me to focus exclusively on myself, with the room to explore the opportunities I believed I desperately wanted. But the question was, is this what I really want? Or is this just what I want now

I think we all believe in sticking with things, staying on the paths we’ve chosen, regardless of whether we dig the scenery. Changing our minds (or changing directions) can feel like betraying ourselves.  

In hindsight, I take full responsibility for my circumstances, but I’m not sure the reality I found was ever aligned with what I truly wanted in my heart of hearts. My goals used to be much smaller: what I thought I wanted was to be able to support myself financially while working in the creative medium I adored. What I didn’t expect was to be shot into a trajectory that challenged my vision for myself, left me feeling somehow out of alignment with myself, and imposed even deeper personal expectations that made me feel nuts. I didn’t know it at the time, but my experience in New York was the best education possible for me. 

Long story short, I achieved much more than I ever anticipated. I can certainly admit that I’ve thought I was special (just like all our mothers told us we were). I knew I had the guts to go big or go home. And I did go big. I won. I achieved. 

And then I failed. I failed hard and fast, I failed slow and steady. I failed upwards and downwards, front and back. Don’t get me wrong – I did win, in certain respects. But I won because I tried really hard, not because I was special or magic or anything like that. I won because I got back up every time and tried again in a different way. I let new experiences in, I shifted and reversed. I took lefts instead of rights and came out ten years into a career, feeling like I, at the very least, achieved becoming the vision I created of myself as a teenager. 

And you know what? I am totally better for all the twists and turns and setbacks. I have a sense of self and clarity I didn’t know I needed. I feel more convicted and comfortable with who I am and where I am going than I even knew I could be. 

The question is…what now? One day in my office as the fashion director of a company (which I told myself I always wanted), things didn’t feel right. After many hysterical after-work evenings, literal tantrums of disappointment and confusion, I realized it was time to move on. Move on, and let go of my little girl dreams, and grow into the grown-ass woman it was time to be. But I didn’t quite know what that looked like. After all, in some ways, it meant starting again from scratch, effectively. 

I’ll admit my circumstances afforded me the luxury of choosing to let that job go and take a sabbatical to reflect and turn inward. (Also to note, I nearly lost my mother to cancer at precisely the same time…so suffice it to say, shit was intense for a while.) I gave myself one year to recalibrate and figure out what pool to dive into next. Did I mention I like uphill battles?

What’s interesting now is how different yet complimentary my ever-evolving goals have become. My medium remains the same – fashion design will always drive me – but my sights are set beyond the studio. My focus is on balancing my career and my personal life. A five-year plan also feels both ridiculous and elusive now. From all my adventures, I have taken away a single truth: you are what you do. But my interpretation of this is very different than when I was younger. 

Every day we have a choice to walk the path that’s ahead of us, the path we’re on (at least mostly) of our own free will...but every single damn day, we get to ask if we still identify with that path. What’s important is looking at the day ahead of you and speaking your truth right now. That’s how you’ll lead yourself to a happiness you never expected to find.

p.s. Did you catch Gretchen's guide to online vintage shopping