Dressing the Part

The last two days we’ve been living in a cacophony of shingle scraping, nail guns firing, and a dropped skylight (whoops) as we’re getting a new roof put on. The noise isn’t exactly the best for contemplative writing. But I’ll do my best, as I have an interesting idea to share here.

I’ve heard people say that if you dress for success, you can make a difference in your career trajectory. For example, you may be working from home and put on professional work clothes every day to remind yourself that you’re going to work, instead of just putting on comfy sweats and t-shirts because you’re at home. The idea is that you’ll be in a work mindset instead of a relaxation mindset, and things will go more smoothly.

I don’t know how this works for freelancers, who often work from home (or a coffee shop, or a library), and whose work ‘uniform’ can be any combination of clothes, but definitely isn’t ‘dressed up.’ Maybe it just means dressing like you would in public, even if you’re in the confines of your own home.

I’ve been thinking about this as I navigate my year-long challenge to get over my anxiety about hiking and walk several different trails close to my house. This month I’ve been walking at Cobble Hill ‘mountain’ (336 m high).

One of the things that has made me feel better about this challenge is wearing my small backpack. I use it to carry my wallet, keys, phone, and anti-anxiety medication, and to put my fleece jacket in when it gets too warm. I haven’t had the need to wear my pack in the past few years because I wasn’t hiking. But now that I am, it makes me feel like a ‘real’ hiker. Wearing the pack has given me more confidence in my ability to hike. I feel less anxiety on the trail, though I sometimes get a frisson of it when I climb the switchbacks and feel like I can’t breathe. And I’m careful on the downhill sections, making sure I don’t slip on loose gravel. It helps that I rarely meet anyone on the trail, so can be as slow as I need to be.

But the pack feels instrumental to my success. It tells me I’m going out to do something important. Usually when I leave the house to run errands I have my leather purse. I feel like I started using a purse around the same time I stopped hiking. And you don’t wear a purse while hiking—the two are incompatible. So wearing the pack brings me back to the time when I used to use it all the time, even when I wasn’t hiking. Going to work, or travelling; I always had my pack. Now I have my purse, which denotes a different person altogether. Someone I don’t feel is me. Someone polished and coiffed. Someone with a job to go to.

This week I added outdoor pants instead of jeans to my walking outfit. They’re a wine coloured synthetic material that is water resistant, with elastic at the ankles to keep ticks out, and two deep pockets. They’re held up by a drawstring around the waist. I got them at MEC two years ago for our 20th anniversary trip to the Rockies, but haven’t had much reason to wear them since that trip. So on Monday I decided that I wouldn’t just wear my pack, I’d also wear my outdoor pants to really complete my uniform. Field pants, fleece jacket, backpack. Perfect for climbing up a mountain. And I felt good in them. Better than in my jeans, which I’d been wearing on all of my other outings. I felt like I had a purpose, just like when I first started wearing my backpack.

I don’t know if it’s the outfit that makes me less anxious on the trails, or the fact that I’ve been doing the same trails on the mountain for three weeks. Even though I’ve been going twice a week, I struggle with the uphill sections and often have to stop and take a rest. My year-long challenge requires that I move to another location for April (one location per month). However, I feel I should stick with Cobble Hill mountain and get into better shape on the switchbacks up the side of the mountain. I’d also like to get to the point where I can try some of the more difficult trails—right now I’m on the easiest trails, and I find them challenging enough.

I’ll keep going, in my hiking outfit, which makes me feel more confident and prepared for the trails, though it doesn’t make them any easier. And I’ll probably use my backpack more in everyday life. It feels more ‘me’ than my purse. Maybe that’s one of the side benefits of all this hiking—finding the real me after all these years of illness and not getting outdoors nearly as much as I’d like.

Wish me luck with all those uphill trails.

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