On a Thursday afternoon, while sitting awkwardly between my volunteer buddies and the chit-chatting of Medical Assistants around me, my caffeine-driven brain searched desperately for an entry point for conversation.
“Are those shoes new?” I glanced at Ryan’s white converse. And here goes another time-killer topic.
“Uh. Yeah?” He looked at his shoes, turning them side to side. He was on auto-drive. His eyes gazed blankly at the floor space, scanning for something interesting to join my efforts to kill time. His eyes landed on my feet and for a second, real Ryan kicked out auto-drive Ryan. He laughed, “I think you should get new shoes.”
I looked down at my one year old ultraboosts. The colors of my pink and green socks poked out at the corner edges. The holes have gotten bigger in the past few months — they’ve been stretching themselves out. Why haven’t I gotten new shoes yet?
About four months ago, I sprained my ankle whilst attempting to pretend that I knew what I was doing on a road bike. Then a few weeks later, in my blind confidence on my body’s self-healing powers, I walked the stage of my graduation in my roommate’s beautiful five inch heels. With a combination of stupidity and stubbornness, I ignored my torn tendons and sprained ankle and hiked to the end of the world with my friends. After three months of waking up to pains shooting up my heel, I decided to get it checked out.
At the look of horror on my podiatrist’s face, I’ve learned that I have a serious case of pes planus. Or in normal terms, flat feet. Apparently, shoes that “flex to harness and unleash the energy of light” and “let energy take over” are not supportive enough for my arch-lacking feet.
Motivated by the fear of never being able to run again, I charged into a runner’s store to get my feet fitted for running shoes. Here, the salesperson enlightened me on the greater width of my feet and the need for space in running shoes. He had answered questions that I have been asking for years now — so that’s why the inner plank of my feet burns after my run. That’s why I lose feeling in my left leg five miles into my runs.
The last time I hiked in these shoes, I admired the tears and holes that had worn onto them. These shoes, as beautiful as they were, were not meant for me — its slim fit, its lightness, and its size. The holes in the shoes showed me how they were not meant to fit me, regardless of the fact that they might have fit someone else. Perhaps someone who runs differently, who had smaller, narrower feet, and higher arches. The holes showed where the shoe just didn’t fit. The signs were pretty clear — my dead leg three miles into my runs, my aching inner feet, and these holes —but I ignored all of them. All this time, I thought the problem was me — that there was something wrong with my feet and I just had to deal with the pain. The thing is, there are shoes designed for my feet — these just weren’t it.
Growing up, I had always believed that there was a set path, a set mold that I had to fit into. I was expected to follow a certain direction and to keep at it. If I felt uncomfortable or unhappy, there was really just something wrong with me — I had to be strong and disciplined enough to be able to sit through the pain. I believed that the world was like Cinderella’s glass shoes and I was her ugly sisters. If you don’t fit, do everything to your power to fit —cut your toes, force it in. You have to fit, and it’s the only way.
But since college started, I have realized that my world was not as rigid as I had thought. I did not have to change and hide myself to fit into social circles — I could find friends who would fit into my world. I did not have to lose thirty pounds to squeeze into size twos — guess what, there are other sizes in the store. I did not have to cut out adventures and explorations to follow one stringent path — one that I had set for myself before I even really understood myself.
In the first quarter of my last year in college, I was terrified. I was terrified of making the wrong move — of following the wrong path. The educational institution puts you in a very planned out path. You don’t really get too many choices — grade school, middle school, high school, college. Then you just fill up whatever free time you have outside of your academic life with things that you are interested in — or things that you want your future admissions committee or employer to think that you are interested in. But when you come out of college, you’re free ranging.
The questions kept popping in and out of my head: Should I go to grad school? What if I study the wrong thing? Should I get a job first? Where should I live? What if I realize later on that I actually wanted something else? Do I want to get a puppy? What if I end up hating what I do? What if I die alone, having achieved nothing?
The month after I graduated, I went nuts looking for a job. Within three months, I found and lost three babysitting jobs, interviewed for waitressing, teaching preschoolers, and being personal assistants. I looked for both paid and unpaid work from biomedical research to social media marketing. I made and remade my resume for education, nonprofit, design, and research related work. I bought and prepared to studied for both my MCATs and my GRE. Basically, I spent all my time starting strings and leaving them untied. I woke up each day in panic of the seemingly blank and unwritten path of the rest of my life.
But recently, I’ve come to a realization that a lot of these anxieties are rooted in my fear of failure. I was afraid that if I followed the wrong path, I would not fit in it right. In a sense, I was afraid that I would choose the wrong shoes to buy and end up injuring myself. But what I realized was that even if I had followed the wrong path, there would be signs that it wasn’t right — much like the holes in my ultraboosts. As long as I acknowledge the signs and adjust for it, there really isn’t much to be afraid of. This path that I’m going is unclear, but it will become clearer through trial and error. The biggest enemy I have is my fear for the loss of time. I am afraid that I will waste time in all these trials. But what I realized was that all these trials are necessary for me to truly understand what path I actually fit into. In the same way, if I hadn’t ran a half marathon in shoes that didn’t fit me, I never would have learned that I needed a wider and bigger shoe size.
Through a lot of my conversations with my peers in college, I realized that a lot of us share this struggle. We try very hard to pursue something that we had thought was right for us. But in the midst of the pursuit, we sometimes ignore the signals that we didn’t fit right in this path. It seems that we somehow believe that there is a “one-size-fit-all” lifestyle — and that if you don’t fit, you are the outlier. We somehow believe that if we didn’t fit, it is too late.
But it is never too late to adjust your life — even slightly, even if it means that it is a little different —for it to fit you better. It is perfectly fine for you to go through some trials and errors, if that’s what you have to do, to find what you are really looking for.