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You Don’t Have To Be Who You Were Yesterday

October 16, 2017
You Don't Have To Be Who You Were Yesterday | Tiny Ambitions

If I asked you who you are, what would you say? I promise that’s not a flippant or loaded question. A lot of what we think and feel about our physical belongings is intimately linked to who we are, and more abstractly, who we think we are.

In case you are wondering, I promise I’m not having an identity crisis. Fellow blogger and friend, Lisa, over at Lisa’s Simple Life Experiment wrote a review of Goodbye, Things by Fumo Sasaki recently, and one phrase from her post stuck out for me.

“I have no obligation to be who I used to be.”

Woah. What an incredible phrase. It struck me to my core. In fact, I nearly burst into tears when I read it because I realized that, until recently, I’ve been gripping tightly onto certain past identities. I haven’t allowed myself the space to become who I am now, in this moment.

To give you some context, in the past 10 years alone, I’ve been an anthropologist, an international developer, a girlfriend, a geographer, a Masters student, a yoga teacher, a partner, a marketer, and, most recently, a blogger, photographer, podcaster, minimalist, web developer and social media manager.

That’s a heck of a lot of identities to be bound up in. What’s more, each one came with its own unique ‘things’. It’s how I ended up with so much stuff in the first place.

Lisa’s post made me realize that my entire approach to decluttering and minimalism this far has been about letting go of my all of my former selves.

You Don't Have To Be Who You Were Yesterday | Tiny Ambitions

During my Master’s degree, decluttering was about letting go of four years worth of B.A. notes, books and assignments (and lots of god-awful bar clothes). When I finally left school for ‘real life’, I went through the process of decluttering the most intensive project of my life, my thesis. After putting so much time into it, it was emotional to let it go and move into the next phase of my life.

But, the most painful identity I’ve had to let go of, and also the most recent, is a yoga teacher.

I trained as a yoga teacher during grad school and quickly accumulated a lot of yoga stuff (this period was just on the cusp of my minimalist awakening). I had it all: dozens of books, a chest full of props, three mats and an obscene amount of yoga clothes.

This all happened over the course of a year and a half. The problem was, I only taught for about a year after I graduated, before we moved away from my home studio. And I haven’t taught a class since.

Up until this past summer, I was holding on so tightly to my identity of yoga teacher that I was smothering myself. My internal dialogue included questions like: “Why am I not teaching?” “Why don’t I practice more?” “If I was a ‘real’ teacher, I’d be more engaged in the yoga community.”

I was berating myself daily for not doing something I used to do, something that was a very meaningful part of my life.

This berating continued even though my life situation had changed so drastically that it no longer made sense to cling to it anymore.

Enter this summer when I finally caved and sold a bunch of expensive yoga clothes I’d been holding onto, but hadn’t worn in (literally) years. Part of this was to downsize for our big move, and also because I recognized that holding onto them wouldn’t magically make me able to teach yoga again. I also donated my entire collection of yoga books with the exception of one book I use when I practice and two anatomy books that would be pricey to replace.

What changed for me to get to this point? I finally realized I was causing myself more pain by holding onto my identity as a yoga teacher, than the pain I would feel by allowing myself to let it go.

What I’m trying to get at here is that people change. But, not fundamentally. Who are you are your core (i.e. your values) don’t change much (unless you have a transformational, once-in-a-lifetime experience). If you’re a selfish jerk when you’re broke, you’re probably going to be a selfish jerk when you’re rich.

What does change is your exterior identity, the thing that the outside world sees most.

Maybe that’s why its hard to let go of past identities and the stuff that goes along with it. We spend months, years, even decades carefully cultivating exterior facades to shape how we perceive ourselves and how we want others to perceive us.

So, when we no longer have that same facade we’ve spent so long developing (because of a career change, family shift etc), it can be incredibly painful. In these instances, we are literally losing a piece of ourselves. And that’s obviously going to hurt.

But, it also creates an opportunity for growth. I know it sounds terribly cliche, but you can’t fully enjoy the present moment if you’re living a past that may never be a reality again.

While painful in the moment, once you are able to let go of an identity that isn’t actually who you are anymore, you may find it’s easier to deal with that loss because you are no longer trapped by it.

Remember, you don’t owe anything to old parts of your life. And, you don’t have to be who were you yesterday.

Have you ever struggled with letting go? Are you holding onto something right now that doesn’t fit into your life anymore? What would need to change for you to be able to let it go? Share in the comments below!

If you missed last week’s episode of Tiny Bites, all about the challenge of not imposing minimalism on others, you can listen to it here. Stay tuned for a new episode on Thursday (or Wednesday night if you’re on Anchor). You can catch up on all past episodes of Tiny Bites here.

Image Credit: Tiny Ambitions


  • Laura November 12, 2017 at 5:21 am

    A very nice article, Britt. But I have to say that, in a period of years that I really struggle to find myself, I’ve found comfort an relief by listening to music and trying to remember who I was fifteen years ago, whe I really was tuned with myself. I know that I am not the same person (I’m older, I’m a mom) but I need to find my trueness and going back for a while is making me be good. Thanks again for this article, I’ll be a visitor of your blog!

    • Britt November 12, 2017 at 12:32 pm

      This is a really good point, Laura! If you were more yourself in the past than you are now, then tuning back into that can be very helpful. I’ve never felt that way personally, but I’m sure a lot of people have. Thanks for reading!

    • rhinophile November 12, 2017 at 3:35 pm

      I’m glad you brought this up, Laura. I, too, have been looking back to earlier days to gather together some clues in an attempt to further explore that big question, ‘who am I?’ I have also found ‘answers’ in the music I loved. I am reminded that it doesn’t have to be either/or. We can look back and choose those things that enliven us, and leave the detritus where it belongs, in the past. Thanks again to Britt for bringing this discussion into being!

  • Amanda November 3, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    My first thought reading this was “OMG I still have ALL my text books from university and grad school, and haven’t touched them since graduating almost a decade ago”.

    My second thought was “why am I still holding onto these books?”. And it’s because I’m struggling to let that part of my life go.

    I know most people say college was the best time of their life, and I’m no different. I thrived in university – but I don’t mean the school part. I got good grades, but my life as a whole at the time is what I’m holding on to. I had a great part time job that made me financially well off for a student. I had so many friends and a healthy social life. I broke out of my shell and actually become a leader within my sorority and the university campus.

    I was genuinely happy, and I was successful.

    I haven’t been able to say the same since graduating. So I hold onto these relics of my past because of what they remind me of. But it’s time to let that go. I know that the textbooks aren’t somehow magical and will one day bring back that feeling. It was me – my actions were what made me feel happy and successful. Maybe finally letting them go will help me let go of the past and focus on the future?

    • Britt November 3, 2017 at 3:18 pm

      I love this, Amanda! These are some really interesting observations. It’s great that you recognize that your textbooks can’t make your life like it was in university. If you were holding onto those books because you loved your studies, then that’s obviously a different story.

      And I completely agree. Letting go of the past is the first step to focusing on the future! Thanks for reading.

  • Brittany October 21, 2017 at 12:36 am

    Great post, Britt! I struggle with what to make of my past identities at times. To make a long story short, or maybe a short story long…I went to school for sleep medicine & ended up finishing at the top of my class. I was really proud of that accomplishment but once it came time for me to actually work in the field, I was incredibly stressed, so unsure of myself, and hated every minute of it. I ended up quitting after two months. I was embarrassed but happy to be out of that stressful environment. My brother then ended up attending the same school, he too finished at the top of his class, but he went on to become incredibly successful (not to mention score a great salary). Just recently, he was invited gave a lecture on sleep medicine at a top university hospital. His amazing success alongside my epic failure in the same field was hard, especially at first. I ended up trying to pretend this identity never existed (I leave it off resumes 99% of the time). But every once in a while, the skeletons of this former identity come creeping out of the closet. This post helped me to see that letting go of past identities doesn’t mean burying my head in the sand. I can recognize my experience for what it was worth and then let go of it and all of the guilt and embarrassment associated with it. Thank you!!

    • Britt October 21, 2017 at 12:48 pm

      I can’t even imagine having a shared identity with a sibling. My sibling rivalry is fierce enough without us being in the same industry. I’m so glad you’ve gotten to a place where you can let it go of it. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy road!

  • Amy @ More Time Than Money October 20, 2017 at 3:04 pm

    I’ve decluttered a lot past identities too. The good thing about this process is that I am now recognising when I’ve moved on more quickly. I’ve already started to let go of things related to a community education role I’ve been doing for the past 3 years and I don’t finish up for another six weeks. Previously, I would have kept hanging onto for a good few years after I finished.
    The real difficulty I strike is with my fantasy self (I don’t know who coined that term, but I find it so useful) – stuff I have relating to who I want to be. This was particularly applicable to all my craft stuff. Yes, I dream of being that crafty, but I had to get realistic.

    • Britt October 20, 2017 at 3:07 pm

      Fantasy Self is such a good term! I think we all have stuff in our lives that we only have because it represents how we want to be, rather than who we actually are (or, who we’ve been). It’s awesome you’re at a place where the Letting Go process so quick! Thanks for reading!

  • Corinne October 17, 2017 at 9:22 pm

    This really hit home. Thank you for sharing. It gives me a lot to think about and consider – and some things to forgive and understand better in myself too.

    • Britt October 17, 2017 at 9:23 pm

      Don’t forget, we’re all on a journey. I’m glad it resonated with you. Thanks for reading!

  • Lisa | Simple Life Experiment October 17, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    Britt, thanks for the mention of my post but even bigger thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic! It’s great when reading something sparks a train of thought like that, isn’t it! It’s wonderful to have so many like-minded people out there to inspire us and give us food for thought. I loved reading in more depth about your own experience with this. You really have been through a lot of identities over the last 10 years, so I can see why this hits home so much – especially with your yoga as it sounds like that has been such a huge part of your life. What a great discussion! Thank you again for sharing 🙂

    • Britt October 17, 2017 at 7:55 pm

      Thank you for giving me the inspiration! Now I just need to find Goodbye, Things, my local library doesn’t have it. 😢

  • James McSherry October 17, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    Yeah nice one. I like the idea of possessions being tied in with identity(ies). I had never really thought about that one before, and it definitely gives me a different perspective. God knows I’ve gone through enough identities and possessions in the last 10 years, much like yourself by the sounds of it. I see the minimalist/simple living part of me as a kind of overseer, a wiser uncle that watches over the more impulsive sides of my personality. Doesn’t always win out 🙂 Great post !

    • Britt October 17, 2017 at 12:55 pm

      Haha I love that! I think we can still have multiple personality traits (I.e. minimalist or impulsive) at once. External factors governing which one prevails on any given day! Thanks for reading, James.

  • Erin October 17, 2017 at 11:53 am

    Thanks for sharing! I’m not necessarily struggling to let go of a past identity at the moment, but more thoughts and habits that don’t and never have served me well (thank goodness for therapy haha). That’s been super difficult and painful, and that’s just thought patterns, not a full interior AND exterior identity, so I can only imagine how hard that would be!

    • Britt October 17, 2017 at 11:59 am

      I’m so sorry you’re going through that process right now. It is incredibly painful to rewrite old patterns and beliefs (and even knowing you have them is a battle in and of itself).

      I’ve been there too, especially during my YTT (it’s basically one breakdown after another haha). I promise, it does get better. That kind of deep embedded behaviour doesn’t change overnight, so don’t feel discouraged if it seems like it’s taking forever. Thanks for sharing and reading!

  • Amanda Page October 17, 2017 at 11:47 am

    Holy heck I have been talking about this a lot lately. We both seem to be right in the thick of this and it is wonderful if not difficult to let go of those past identities that no longer serve? suit? are a part of? us. I’ve been thinking about it in terms of seasons – a season to become someone new, a season to let go of the old you, a season to get to know the new you…but I love the notion that there is no obligation. It may only suit people from our past – the staying something we once were in favor of becoming who we really are…or, who we really are for this season. Great post!

    • Britt October 17, 2017 at 11:51 am

      Thanks, Amanda! I love the word ‘season’ to describe this, I think it perfectly captures the natural transition and change that happens when we grow and evolve. I also think you are bang on in terms of identities we hold onto for the benefit of other people. Whether that’s a conscious decision or not, it doesn’t really help us if who we are now isn’t compatible with who we were. Thanks for such a thought-provoking comment!

  • rhinophile October 16, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    Thanks for sharing the way you have wrestled with letting go of times and occupations that were important in your past. I’m now wondering if I will ever go back to playing the drums. I have two full drum kits that have been sitting idle for some time now. Since investing in a cajon, which is much more portable, I have lost the desire to use the full kit. You have definitely given me much to consider. I’m getting better at letting go of the small things, and will now to turn my eye to the ones that insist that they are still part of my life!

    • Britt October 16, 2017 at 5:23 pm

      Thanks for reading! If you really feel like your full drum set won’t be a part of your life anymore, maybe consider selling it? I’m not an expert, but I know there’s a big market for good quality, used musical instruments.

    Hey! I'm Britt. I write about living a tiny, simple, intentional life. Because life doesn't need to be lived big.