Shedding the Layers of Your Old Self: Necessary, Temporarily Uncomfortable, but Absolutely Worth It

Jul 12, 2021

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“Throughout our development, we form adaptations to cope or deal with pain and fears. Yet these adaptations, which initially served as survival mechanisms, later come to limit us.”—Lisa Firestone, author of Conquer Your Critical Voice (2002)

It takes 27 days for our skin to replace itself, to be fully exfoliated, revealing the new skin – radiant, anew and ready to best care of us – perspire, breathe, protect.

Exfoliating with scrubs and doing so regularly can be quite soothing and blissful, but if we haven’t been tending to our skin properly, not only will our skin look dull, but the dry skin wishing to be removed can prompt itchiness and an uncomfortable feeling even when we’re wearing clothes we love and going about our daily lives in a normal fashion.

In more severe cases, if we’ve had a sunburn, as the skin begins to heal itself, the old skin begins to peel and visibly ask to be removed as it looks out of place and no longer serves its purpose. I share all three of these examples today as I currently finding myself and my life in the middle of the ’27 days’ of losing old layers of a previous life and not yet full exfoliated, to continue the analogy.

Over the weekend, I took some time to make a list of each of the areas of my life in which something was being removed or let go to either be replaced or make space for something new and better in alignment with the life I have consciously chosen to live. The list was far longer than I anticipated, and staring at it revealed the reason for stress I have been feeling as of late that I may not have fully acknowledged to myself.

Now don’t get me wrong, most of the items on the list were chosen, desired, long-anticipated and hoped for, so to feel any stress doesn’t sit well with me and thus why I may have been unconsciously denying its emotional toll.

Early the next morning my mind needed to be calmed down as the discoveries observed after making the list were lingering still. I went outside into the garden and finished weeding my herb garden. How in the world, you may be wondering, Does weeding have anything to do with shedding layers of our old self?

Let me explain . . .

A small portion of my garden – three feet by maybe seven. I love this area on the south side of my house. The herbs love it too – well watered (next to three sprinklers) and oodles of hours of sunshine. Now the space also includes a couple of tomatoes both of which are reaching for the sun and look happy in their home. The bird’s breakfast café is situated here as well, and everberry strawberries provide the natural edge. The grass from the lawn also loves this space and has spilled over into any free soil pockets, creating a messy, grassy-with-some-herbs plot.

Sometimes our lives work well, so well in fact, that ‘hangers-on’ creep in and become a part of the space. They aren’t horrible, these ‘hanger-oners’, but after a while, they take over, absorb the space and crowd out what we fell in love with in the first place. An extraction, or exfoliation, must happen (not a perfect analogy, I realize), but along our journey we meet people or we pick up habits that may have helped us function – the friend who was there when you were struggling, but as your inner-strength and confidence in yourself and your journey grew (not into arrogance, just a steady sense of self), your friend’s insecurities and jealousies reared their head. However, if we aren’t mindful, these habits or people become limiting and thwart growth – we begin to feel bad for feeling good and shrink ourselves to stay in the friendship as our friend has a fixed mindset about their lives (the grass growing into the herb garden overtaking the ability for the herbs to grow well and even be seen in some cases). Compare the lawn to our need to eat food. Our old unhelpful habit we wish to shed is overeating or eating unhelpful foods as they bring us temporary comfort, it is not food (the grass) that is bad. It is the overeating that is bad (too much grass, growing where it wasn’t designed to be).

A significant reason it is difficult to shed our old selves is that most of the time, these layers are not wholly bad or evil or destructive. They possess some value and positive aspect or wonderful memories we hold dear. To let go, we might tell ourselves, is to be ungrateful.

However, if you accept that in order to live well growth must be involved, no matter what our age, then layers have to be shed from time to time. If we shed layers regularly, it isn’t difficult, but routine – healthy and non-disruptive to ourselves and others. However, if what we are shedding is something that has not changed in years or ever, than there is no doubt it will be hard. You held on to that relationship, that job, that habit for a long time for a reason; however, now you have the self-awareness to know it no longer serves (maybe it never did, but you didn’t know that at the time) the life you want to live.

Now you may be asking, how do I know what to shed, what to let go?

In 2012 author and psychology expert Firestone wrote an article detailing the process of knowing how we are limited by baggage and what baggage we must relinquish. While I will list them generally here, I encourage you to explore her entire article for more specific anecdotal examples. Let’s take a look.

  1. Identify the critical inner voices in your life not only about yourself and your own abilities, but the world at large and others. Firestone’s definition designates such a voice to be wholly negative and unhelpful. To engage or to not tame or remain unaware of the stream of negative thoughts is a destructive pattern and habit that “forms an anti-self that discourages individuals from acting in their best interest”.
  2. Identify the negative traits and behaviors of early caretakers that you saw as your only model to how to engage with the world. Again, we are all influenced by our caretakers, and hopefully we had predominantly positive, growth mindset individuals rearing each of us; however, sometimes there are traits that while not defining the entire person, exhibit a behavior that would not be healthy or helpful to model in our own lives. The next step once you have identified the negative traits is to acknowledge you practiced them in your own life and change course moving forward. Self-awareness is a super power, and one we can all learn, but in so doing, we will have to acknowledge truths about ourselves that may make us bristle. Keep in mind, the bristling is a part of the growth in the direction you wish to go because you see how such behavior was not helpful and you wish to change.
  3. Now it is time to start shedding the unhelpful layers that allowed you to adapt, cope and even survive situations you had no control over or thought you had no control over at the time. Did you have to put up rigid walls to protect yourself because those around you took advantage for their own gain whatever kindness you extended? If you are following these listed steps, in #2, you began to make changes. Some of those changes will have required you to let go of people, permanently in some cases, that were hurtful, perhaps in actions more passive or manipulative or simply unknowing, but they are not changing. You have removed yourself from the chronic unhealthy people and/or habits, and are now opening yourself up to new people with a new you to present to the world.
  4. Develop your own moral compass and meaning for life sans outside influences. Interestingly enough, #4 can be happening as you navigate through the previous three items on the list, and it is important to remind yourself to have patience as you find the courage to embrace and share your true self with the world. In episode #307 of The Simple Sophisticate podcast, inspired by the book The Way of Integrity, Martha Beck writes about the benefits of stepping into your true self, and in particular, I break down how exactly to do that. It’s not easy, but it is simple, and it becomes easier as you experience the rewards and the freedom in choosing to be who you innately are and can be.

Shedding the layers of your old self is easier when you are no longer in the environment you now acknowledge is not helpful – you’ve changed careers, you’ve moved to a new town, state or country, you’ve left the relationship. What makes shedding old selves difficult is when everything else, the people, our routines – personal and professional – are not changing. I have written more than a few blog posts on the topic of change and how to make it stick (explore the titles here), each of which address the latter dilemma – an environment that doesn’t drastically change.

Let me take my own experience of choosing to shed so many layers at the moment and what motivates me to continue to see through the ’27 days’ and arrive on the 28th to savor the exhalation of relief and appreciation:

  • I had temporary real-time, real-life experience of the life I am now building permanently and know and felt the positive change it gave my days, my mind, my well-being. I return to these memories and moments often, especially during times of impatience or frustration.
  • Visualization – on my last day of school, the last day of teaching in my teaching career, during one of my AP classes, one student inquired if I was moving to France upon retiring from teaching as she had heard something to that effect. I smiled widely and corrected her, stating while I hope to visit France more often and throughout the year rather than during only summer, I will be living in Bend; however, (I also said), it has always been a dream of mine to live in France for half the year. Another student piped up, ‘Visualize and it will materialize Ables.” I smiled yet again and nodded my head because I know her words hold a truth I am experiencing in my life at this very moment. See the life you wish to live in your mind, how you hope to feel, how you want to behave and interact with others and the world, return to these visualizations often (I am doing this currently with the renovations to my bathroom and it calms me down immediately as currently all of the new items are boxed up in my garage :)). When you do, you propel your gaze forward and steady your wavering enabling you to keep stepping forward letting go of what is holding you back.
  • Write out your values – explain to yourself why you are desiring to let go and move forward. Make a list of how you feel whenever those habits or people you are letting go were part of your life and the contrary feeling and way of life you wish to create. Return to these lists for reassurance, add to it as you gain more clarity and begin to experience clear differentiation between the before and after and how it benefits and eases you as you build the life you are striving into.
  • Which brings me back to why I went out to weed my herb garden in the early morning after making the list shared above — to engage in activities that hold me in the present moment firmly and in a way of productive or good healthy habits. Gardening, cooking, walking, yoga, meditation, sipping tea whilst sitting in the sunshine garden under the cherry tree. Each of these and many more are what I remind myself to engage in when my mind begins to question choices I know are best for living well. I remind myself I am in transition and change takes time, but the change, if it will be lasting, should take time. Read this post for more inspiration on marrying Awareness + Being Present = Deep Contentment & Peace of Mind.

The Herb Garden, after grass which invaded it, was removed. Seemingly a small change (I don’t have a before pic – argh!), but actually quite significant – I can see my herbs – sorrel, chamomile, more sorrel, and the tomatoes along with the newly added Siberian Irises (strawberries too).

Joseph Campbell’s words ring in my ears and fill my mind whenever I contemplate stepping courageously into a new way of living, “We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” In fact, these words inspired podcast episode #41Letting Go & Hanging On: What Falls Where?


Part of the reason I chose the name Le Papillon for my house was to serve as a reminder daily of the benefit of courageously choosing to grow, navigate through uncomfortable, even difficult times so long as the reason is to grow into my full potential.

Today, if you too are in the middle of stepping into a new approach to living in any way – large or small – know it is significant as it will change the quality of your daily experience with life. During the transition period, it will be uncomfortable, sometimes extremely, but continue to practice patience and explore the four strategies for calming your fear that the shedding of your old self you have chosen may not be worth it. It is, it will be and when your 27 days are up, the quality of your life will cement your confidence your decision was wise.



24 thoughts on “Shedding the Layers of Your Old Self: Necessary, Temporarily Uncomfortable, but Absolutely Worth It

  1. Thank you Shannon for this wonderful post! I am in a transitional stage in my life and found a lot of inspiration in the actual steps to take to move forward. I also read Lisa Firestone’s article and keep returning to the question “do your choices represent the things that really matter to you?” Time to pull out my journal. Have a wonderful week!

    1. Sharon, Thank you for sharing how this post and Firestone’s article resonated with you. 🙂 I am excited and confident for you as you step into your new direction. Have a lovely week.

  2. This post came at the perfect time. I am 53 and am starting my life over soon as an empty-nester. I moved back to my rural hometown 19 years ago to be with my sweet mother who was ill. I raised my wonderful daughter here as well. She just graduated and is off to The Ohio State University this fall.

    I was previously living in Columbus, OSU’s setting. It had always been my plan to move back since I left. I put it out there for the universe to hear and my prayer was answered. My house sold in two days and over asking price. I’m now in the process of closing on a beautiful townhome (no more yard work!)

    My daughter will live on campus as we both believe it’s time for her to leave the nest. I already have family and old friends in the area who are welcoming me back. It’s an exciting time but also a very stressful time. Sometimes I ask myself what I’m doing with my life! Yet my friends remind me that moving back to Columbus had been my plan all along, and that it’s great that my daughter will be there, on her own, as well.

    Shannon thank you for the inspirational post.

    1. I am incredibly excited for you. You have great awareness and sounds as well wonderful communication connections with your daughter and close friends for constructive growth and celebration. Thank you for sharing your journey and what it entails. I have no doubt you have inspired others to examine desires they may be harboring. 🙂

      1. Ecomim2002 – Greetings from Ohio. Wishing you all the best on the new chapter of your life. The housing market in Ohio is crazy right now. There was a house two doors down from my home that sold less than one hour after being posted in the MLS. It sold well over the asking price.

        1. Sounds like my experiences looking for a new home in Columbus! It’s a great time to be a seller.

  3. Shannon! Thank you so much for this very timely post! As I have been alone for this month of July (my partner is abroad for work), I found myself contemplating about my life. I feel that I am also in a transition as I feel the uncomfortable ‘in-between’ state. Today particularly, I was thinking of my friendship I have lost so abruptly. Your words reassured me that it is normal as I find my true self, the other person does not necessarily grow with you due to their limiting beliefs! Some dear old friends did not come with me as I was starting to a new chapter of my life. I still often feel sad due to memories that I cherish. However, with the help of articles just like this one, I understand and accept the process of growth and change! Just like Sharon, time to pull out my journal too!! 🙂

    1. Gulden, The in-between time can be disconcerting can’t it? I am right there with you. 🙂 I am sorry to hear about your friendship, but it sounds like your reflection is sharing its wisdom and thus providing strength to do what you need to do to live well. You certainly can hold those lovely memories forever and who knows down the road as life ebbs and flows, you may meet again and strike up a different relationship. Either way, you have to chart your own journey and they theirs. And journaling always seems to help. 🙂

  4. All of this completely resonated with me! I am in the midst of mulitple transitions, which will take at least a year so navigate through. I was thinking I was losing my way a bit because I am quite excited about the changes, but have found myself worrying, sometimes to tears about the details. I am woken up in the middle of the night about how it will all play out and have I lost my mind? Despite my heart telling me there is great peace about these changes and I have wanted them secretly for 15 years, I still find myself very uncomfortable. Yes, it will involve the probable loss of a relationship (that deep down I truly feel we fullfilled our destined place in each others’ lives) a cross country move “home” (while I know you can never “go home again” I still find deep peace in the thought of returning to where my heart is happy even if it is totally changed after 15 years)and yes, my initial caretaker will not be pleased at all. I am trying to use a very logical approach to make sure I am not leading strictly with emotions and wants, but despite having it all thought out, I do find myself in a state of worry! I shall re-read this over and over to soothe my soul as well as my brain and hopefully, it will bring some more peace! thanks so much for your insights!

    1. Michelle,

      The first thing that comes to my mind when I began reading your comment was your foresight and wisdom to understand these changes require time to come to fruition. Your mind (in the middle of the night) is still in the present and for me, as I shared in episode #307 and what my counselor has reminded me is our mind can remain where we are and are trying (and will change), but it takes time for it to ‘jump the tracks’ so to speak. I know the nights you speak of, and I appreciate your courage for sharing as I think others will find comfort in reading your words. Your heart is wise and you are trusting it. Take comfort in its guidance. 🙂 Perhaps speaking with an objective voice of wisdom would help to quell the ‘state of worry’ you find yourself. I find that when I am left alone with my thoughts for too long and do not take in other perspectives, my worry can grow in a way that is not true of the situation. As soon as I either engage with the world in other projects with other people, sit down with my counselor or a loved one to talk about other stuff and just be present with them, my worries deflate. Thinking of you and cheering your on from Oregon! 🙂

  5. What a terrific article, Shannon! My husband & I are STILL transitioning into retirement almost 3 years after the fact — it feels interminable! We actually had a long, serious discussion this very weekend about some changes we want to realize, including ending a business relationship that has not worked out the way we’d hoped, & taking some concrete steps to deal with his younger sibling’s chronic financial dramas that will lead to some hurt feelings but at the end of the day is better for everyone involved & has the support of everyone else in the family. And some small things, too, like my decision to shed more clothing clutter in my quest for the ideal minimal post-career wardrobe! LOL! I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with transitions: I love the promise they contain, but hate the upheaval they invariably bring. Good luck on yours & remember to breathe. In another year or two you’ll look back & wonder what all the stress was about because (in retrospect) it was all so obvious 🙂

    1. Thank you for stopping by Susanne and sharing the current transitions and ‘shedding’ you are going through. Having someone, in this case your husband and your husband you, to support each other through these beneficial shifts is helpful to add perspective and objectivity (at least more than the other may able to have due to familial ties). I love your sharing that you are having discussions and working through why it began, the intentions and how it is going, being honest in order to move forward well. These things take time, but when we are honest, we see what is the best way forward even if it causes some hurt feelings. As far as with your wardrobe, you’ve got this! 🙂 I am gradually going through my own wardrobe and quite excited about the clarity I now bring to what I actually love and what actually looks the best on me at this point in my life. Knowing I am doing something that will bring more confidence to my days is my motivator. 🙂 Thank you again or your comment and all that you have shared. Wishing you strength and courage!

  6. Hi Shannon~It is sometimes uncanny how timely your posts are! This one for sure. After a couple of post-work years spent actively building a new life that’s true to myself (in process!), I am experiencing turbulence in trust with a close friend, and the signs may point to the possibility of some jealousy.

    I find myself “taking the high road” after feelings of hurt. While I’m tempted to open an honest communication, I think that the situation isn’t my work, and I am at peace with where I am. The situation is pretty low impact emotionally because of all the roots I’ve been putting down into a lifestyle I truly love.

    So …. what your beautiful article is helping with today is the thought process around adjustments….making a plan to continue to offer loving and loyal friendship while keeping myself safe emotionally.

    And there is sadness to realize that someone I love may need or enjoy more needless drama than I do, some at the expense of others.
    Oh life lessons, they reappear when we least expect them!😘
    Thank you Shannon, for sharing your thoughts and feelings in ways that provide help working towards insights!

    And, your herb garden is dreamy, happy snipping and cooking in your beautiful space! 🦋

    1. Liz,

      Thank you for sharing your friendship journey and your realizations. I appreciate immensely your reminding us of the importance of keeping ourselves safe emotionally. This is a need, not a luxury and your reflection and self-awareness is your strength as you navigate through this time. And you are absolutely right! Life Lessons appear unexpectedly and when we didn’t realize we needed to learn them. The good news is we are capable and can learn them. Bon courage! Thank you for your words about the herb garden and bonne journée. 🙂

  7. As I read this quote from author Armor Towles (Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow) I thought of you as you live and write about living a life of integrity. I highly (highly, highly) recommend his books if you have not read them yet.

    Amor Towles: When I was in first grade, a poet named David McCord came to read some of his work to our class. By the time he was finished, I knew I wanted to be a writer. That night, I read one of his books and began writing poems that were inspired by his. From that point forward, the mission of my life was simple: Read, write, repeat. I read and wrote fiction in high school, read and wrote fiction in college, read and wrote fiction in graduate school. But when I arrived in New York at the age of twenty-five and entered a career in the investment business, I set aside the writing of fiction—telling myself that I’d get back to it soon enough. Five years went by. Ten years went by. New York was thriving. Our firm grew. My circle of friends grew. I got married. We had children. In short, I had no shortage of things for which to give thanks. But at the same time, I understood that I was betraying myself. Or at least, betraying my younger self. Betraying the boy who knew with such avid certainty that he was going to be a writer. That he was a writer. So, in what spare time I could carve out, I started a novel. It took seven years to complete, and it was no good. But my childhood mantra remained with me as an encouragement: Read, write, repeat. I took what I had learned from the failed novel and started something new. That book was RULES OF CIVILITY, published ten years ago this July, when I was forty-seven. I have many people to thank for the success of that book. My family and friends; my agent and the team at Viking; the independent bookstores who supported it; the readers who took a chance on reading it; you, perhaps. But what I am most grateful for is that on that day ten years ago, the goodwill of this collective community allowed me to become who I had always hoped to be.

  8. I turned 33 on Sunday and so many changes occurred in the weeks leading to it. A lot of it involved shedding many layers, many relationships, and my own limiting beliefs. To read your words during this time of confusion, hurt, and optimism gives me so much comfort! To move forward and transition into the life we envision, we must truly learn to shed and let go.

    Thank you for sharing your home and your garden with us- it often reminds me of the beautifully luxurious things in life!

    1. Carla, happy belated birthday! 🥂 And thank you for all that you have shared. Sending your courage and calm, something it sound# you have found you have in spades for yourself, more than you may have realized. Wishing you well. 😌

  9. Shannon, congratulations on your last day of teaching! That is quite an accomplishment to retire early! Is there another article where you went into detail your decision that I missed? I am interested in how you were able to make this happen and what you plan to do now as many of us aspire to retire early…I would love to read more how your structure your days now with the free time and how this has changed your life so far :).

  10. Bonjour Shannon,

    Thank you for this wonderful and inspiring post. I can see you are enjoying the beginning of your lovely post-teaching era. Your message immediately hit me because I recently decided that I would like to go by my middle name, Alexandra, rather than Gretchen, the nickname given to me since birth (you can guess what my real first name is—never suited me anyway). Honestly, I never liked the name Gretchen (no disrespect to other Gretchens or who has a loved one with the name) because there are just other names. Also, painful memories of my school years (mostly social) come back to me every time I hear my name. For so long, deep down, I really wanted to go by Alexandra—it rolls off my tongue more easily than Gretchen. As a relatively new empty nester during the pandemic, I found this time a wonderful time to get to know myself better. The recent conversation about names with my mom prompted me to reconsider what I want to go by now. I no longer want to be the naive, miserable, timid, pouty, angry (and often picked-on) little girl named Gretchen. I want to be the confident, sophisticated woman named Alexandra. (I wouldn’t mind being called Alex for short.) As a start, I changed my Facebook name to Gretchen Alexandra. I know this transition will be awkward at first, especially for people who have called me Gretchen since they first met me, but I am sure at least most will respect my wishes.

    Just as so many people loathe their jobs, unfortunately, you can say the same about their names. You are the owner of your name, so don’t be afraid to change what you want to go by or even to an entirely different name. (I will not change my name legally though, thanks to my middle name, which I adore.) Life is too short to be called a name you dislike, so it’s never too late to do so! You change, so why not your name?

    1. Bonjour Alexandra (Alex),

      I appreciate immensely all that you have shared and wholeheartedly understand and honor your courage to make this change which aligns with who you know you are. Bravo! We have a family friend we have known for years by one name and then at a particular period of her life when she had her reasons (which is all that is needed), she shifted her name and we shifted too as it was her choice and not something for us to have an opinion about. If the people around you who have known you for a long time wish for your to be happy – your definition, not theirs, they will adjust. They may slip up from time to time, but it will become natural to them sooner than they realize because they will see your response of appreciation.

      Thank you for all that you have shared Alexandra and have a lovely weekend.

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