I used to have a pair of fire-engine red sweat pants. I “borrowed” them from my high-school sweetheart when I was fifteen. They already had a hole on one thigh. In college, they became my go-to pants for lounging around the dorm. They kept me mostly warm (except for the hole) on the last cold days of the soccer season. At seventeen, I wore them every day during mid-terms and finals, expertly combining them with a star-studded hair ribbon and a baggy red Pelé T-Shirt which proclaimed “No fear!”.
My future mother-in-law was appalled the first time she saw me in them. It was my first Christmas morning in Germany and my red pants were not her idea of a proper wardrobe. But I was twenty-one and they were Hanes heavy duty, so I wasn’t about to toss them because of a few more holes. At twenty-two I hadn’t learned much. I wore them to work on a whim. My then boss called me into his office and kindly asked me not to show up for work in holy pants. This time, I was appalled – and humiliated.
By twenty-five I realized that I and my pants had grown apart. I packed them away and as soon as the chance presented itself, I bought some new red pants. Brick-red, flannel, boys’ boxers with little penguins from the GAP. Two sizes too big, they were a no-pinch fit made in heaven. I loved them! Since I had learned from the past, I only wore them at home. Seems the older we get, the more we tend to hide our favorite items of clothing from public scrutiny.
But even at home, one is not entirely safe. At twenty-eight a guy friend who was staying with us for a week asked me why I was wearing those red boxers everyday. And at thirty-two, again it was my mother-in-law who happened to notice them in the clean laundry pile. She couldn’t believe I was still wearing red pants with holes. I thought they had held up pretty good considering how many time I had washed them in seven years. She thought I should throw them away immediately.
Next month I’ll be turning thirty-five and I still have my red pants. When my husband heard I was going to write about them, he practically begged me not to post a picture, stating possible career damage and personal embarrassment. He is probably right. They are so old and tattered that they are hardly recognizable anyway.
In life, we wear a lot of things that don’t fit to our current selves. Things we got from others. Things that are too big or too small. Things that are used-up. Things that got us through important times and critical situations. Things that gave us comfort and made us feel at home. It is good to honor these things (ways of acting, feeling, being) and to hold them lovingly in memory, but it is also good to let them go – when it is time.
Today I am putting away my second pair of red pants. I am sad in a way, but I can hardly wait to see what I will find to replace them. Something more me – for now. Something new and hopefully red – but maybe not.
What are the red pants in your private life and in your job?
Have a look at the excersise I have attached to this post. I designed it to help my coaching clients reflect on their personal “wardrobe”. And it may give you some insight on what to keep, what to put away and what to delegate in your life.
Until we meet,
Acknowledgements: “The Role Wardrobe Grid” is roughly based on the “Roll compass” by Dr. Thomas Bachmann.