An Ill-Fitting Dress

You’re a mother, but you want to be a doctor.
You’re a chef, but you want to be a hair stylist.
You’re a tattoo artist, but you want to be a writer.
You’re a student, but you want to be a musician.
You’re a musician, but you want to be a student.

You’re a this, but you want to be a that.

Listen. You can do that, if you want. You can be that, if you’d like. You don’t need permission, not from me, not even from you, but here it is anyway.

When I started blogging over a decade ago (Internet Old Maid Alert), I was an art enthusiast, a design aficionado, a stylist by day, writer by night, living and working in Los Angeles, weaving through galleries, museums, street performers, exhibitions, art installations, collecting inspiration by the bucketful.

Eventually, my blog became an online art gallery. Shoot, I had become an online art gallery. I’d wake up with the sun and dive into a darkened rabbit hole of artist portfolios from Amsterdam to Zurich, of graphic designers dotting coasts like confetti on the floorboards. I’d dig, dig, dig, discovering something new with every opened Safari tab.

I’d share it all.

Along the way, I launched an independent art magazine. I curated a few online exhibitions. I designed a few products. I filmed a 2 year show for I kept collecting.

Every morning, it was this: Let out the dogs. Open the windows. Coffee. Safari tabs.

This, for eight years.

It was incredible.

I grew tired.

I started complaining about small things. I started feeling like I was stuck, like I’d be doing this forever, like this amazing/incredible gift of a job no longer suited me, like my life had shrunk down a bit, or I’d wanted it to shrink down a bit, and this operation, this whole big wide dress of a gig was too big. I was swimming in fabric.

I told myself my feelings were normal, slightly entitled even. It’s called a job, Erin, not a joy. You don’t have to love it.

And you don’t have to love it, sure. Jobs are jobs.

But what if I could shift it, just a little? Tailor the dress? Take it in an inch, maybe two?

Could it fit again? Was this salvageable?

I stopped collecting art. I went on hiatus from the show. I started writing more, about whatever the heck I wanted to write about: parenting, minimalism, truth, beauty, faith.

Stay in your lane, some said.
Stick to design, others said.

Be grateful for the dress, they screamed. So what if it doesn’t fit perfectly? Straighten your spine. Stand tall. Make it work.

This is where a mother pitches the paperwork for her PhD application.
This is where the chef puts his shears on a shelf and goes back to making sandwiches.
This is where the tattoo artist picks up his needle and closes the Word doc.
This is where the student sells his guitar to buy the textbook.
This is where the musician sells his textbook to buy the guitar.

Straighten your spine.
Stand tall.
Make it work.

But of course, there’s another way.


You’ll risk screwing up, sure. You’ll risk ruining it all – the skills you’ve acquired, the small notoriety you’ve been given, the general comforts of knowing what the heck you’re doing, of feeling comfortable, of feeling good, of feeling right.

Editing the dress, the job, your life is a risk. It might never look the same.

But then again, it might never look the same.

Changing your life isn’t about having faith in your ability to fly, to rise above, to conquer your dreams.
It’s about having faith that the fall won’t kill you.

It’s realizing that a failure elsewhere is better than a success here.

It’s not about tailoring the dress.
It’s about tailoring the person wearing it.

Last week, an interviewer asked me this:

Q: How did you know it was time to shift your online presence to a less of a design expert into more of a personal narrative?

A: When I was no longer afraid of it not working. When I was no longer worried about what readers would think, about “losing my audience,” about ruining everything I’d worked eight years for. When those questions stopped being scary, I knew I was ready to risk it all. I knew I’d enjoy happily floundering around in failure more than smiling my way through success doing something I didn’t love.

When I stopped thinking about what the dress looked like, and started to think about how I felt in it.

I don’t know what sort of crossroads you’re walking toward. I don’t know if it’s a relationship, a lifestyle, a diet, a career move, a parenting decision.

Maybe you just want to start singing opera. Maybe you just want to quit singing opera.


How do you feel in the dress?



p.s. If you feel great in the dress, congratulations! Stay right where you are.

  • This is so beautiful – and needed – to read this morning. Thank you! I’m glad you’re making the dress yours.

  • As always, your words are perfect. I’m currently living in the process of editing the dress–and it is a bit of a roller coaster–but one I am so thankful to be on right now.

  • Yes yes yes. “Changing your life isn’t about having faith in your ability to fly, to rise above, to conquer your dreams.
    It’s about having faith that the fall won’t kill you.

    It’s realizing that a failure elsewhere is better than a success here.”

    You’re anazing Erin and I love how you are able to put it into words …

    Can’t wait to read the book!

  • I read your blog diligently. I’m usually sitting here nodding my head, thinking “Yes, she just hit the nail on the head.” However, today as I’m reading, tears flood my eyes because you’re talking to my heart. I’ve been wearing this dress for far too long. It works, it’s easy to put on- no one understands why I don’t want it anymore. It’s time for a change, I’m just not sure where to shop. Thanks for sharing your heart. It’s exactly what I needed to hear today.

    • Raven, this is SUCH a kind note! Thank you for your sweet encouragement, and I totally understand the need for change but not knowing how/where to move forward. Praying you’ll feel peace soon enough!

  • Oh man. I’m not exactly sure yet how this will affect me after reading it, but I am digesting your words and something seems to be stirring inside. …tailor the dress or tailor the person in the dress? Sometimes when I am feeling on edge, it’s a sign of something greater in my life that needs to be readjusted.

  • I recently discovered just how beautiful I, and my dress, truly are, just the way we are in this moment. And that as long as my dress still feels good, I’m good. And if the dress doesn’t feel good, I could find a new dress (no drama, no recriminations, no explanations) that feels better. To me, for me. Love to you! = )

    • Oh Jamie, you’re always spot on with your perspective! And YES TO THIS:
      “no drama, no recriminations, no explanations”


  • So so good. I was thinking the other day that there really are no wrong decisions..I mean as long as we’re not harming ourselves or others…just choices we make that give us new learning experiences. I like the idea of not caring how the dress looks, but how we are feeling in it. So wise!

  • Hello, dear Erin. I’ve been uncomfortable in the dress, I should say. A couple of weeks ago, I admitted on my blog and social media how hard it’s been for me. I finally took the leap and declared the end of a blogging era for me. I had been holding out, because heck, this has been six years of my life. It’s grown with me like my eldest child. But the “success” left me always struggling for breath, especially lately.

    It’s been two weeks so far. I feel much better. People have said “Why?” To which I have responded “why not?” :)

    • Ah, I hear you Martine! I’m so happy you’ve made the decision that works for you. Sending hugs from wayyyy across the pond. ;)

  • Always such profound and beautiful writing, Erin. I’m so inspired but also speechless, which literally never happens. Gorgeous. Thank you.

  • Thank you for this divine whisper of encouragement to let go. Making an existing situation work eventually wears one down and in the end doesn’t work. I’m worn down. Like the human body shifts and reshapes itself no amount of altering the dress will allow the dress to be worn. Truth cannot be denied. Your whisper reminds “Yes! It’s true. Now put down this dress and begin making your new dress. You CAN sew.”

  • I think I came upon your blog around the time of this change, and I followed and loved your blog since, so absolutely, following your gut on these things is so important. I have made a few 180 turns myself career wise, and I couldn’t agree with your post more! xxx

  • Erin, thank you for writing this. I didn’t realize I was right in the middle of this but apparently I am unsure if my dress fits it. I don’t know what it means. I’m not sure what to do about it. But I am starting to ask and starting to explore every road that seems scary. I know at some point something will not seem that scary anymore. At least, here is hoping!

  • Oh man Erin, I am feeling this! I always look forward to reading your blog & today I needed this post. Thanks for sharing your heart with us all…you have this amazing gift of helping people through your writing!

  • Erin,

    Life and success are both about taking risks. Sure there will be consequences along the way. People may think you are crazy for leaving a good job, but ultimately you must be happy with your self. We must have faith in God and ourselves. He will guide our paths to the correct fitting dress.

    Blessings :)

  • I am so grateful to have landed on this post! YES, YES, YES! I alternate between days that I am wearing a dress too small and days were the dress is too big. It seems that I keep going back to the store because the dress doesn’t fit. Maybe that isn’t MY dress. Maybe. Thank you!

  • This is SO good. I’d started feeling constructed in “the dress” and find myself with similar sentiments. I couldn’t breathe anymore so I’m just giving myself the space to breathe doing whatever beings air into my lungs, not the one thing everyone expected from me.

  • This is a great read but I have one question, how do you pay for the alterations if you need to change the dress? I always love to read stuff like this and have always stopped short simply because I have bills to pay and need to put food on the table.

    • Oh Helen, I hear you. I’m always hesitant to write things like this because yes, it is an immense privilege to be able to make a change, to take a risk, to leap and hope a net catches you. Personally, I like to tailor things behind the scenes a bit. When we lived in l.a. and I worked a zillion different jobs I hated, I promised myself I’d always allow time for one step toward my goal of quitting those jobs. Sometimes it was eating PB&J for a week to save money, sometimes it was taking career tests to find a better fit, other times it was skipping out on my lunch break to do side work or research an alternative job, and other times it was simply communicating with my boss to find out what wasn’t working and what we might be able to change. We don’t always have to tailor all at once, and certainly not alone, and sometimes those tiny adjustments make a big difference. I hope this helps, a bit. And know that, sure, it takes great strength to make a change. Other times, it takes even greater strength to stay the same. Big hugs your way.

  • gah! This post stopped me in my tracks and nailed me in the chest.This sums up my life for the past 2 years. Feeling like Im having an identity crisis while part of me is dying to thrive. Its so true, why do we allow ourselves to be afraid… thank you for sharing. So glad I stumbled upon this beautiful space!

  • I love my dress but I’ve changed it over the years like you did. And I never would have loved it without taking that risk. Thank you for this beautiful analogy, Erin. It describes the scary parts of changing (and the beauty as well) perfectly!

  • Another one I thought I’d commented on but hadn’t! What a perfect analogy, Erin, will be sharing to give people I know that push to see if another dress would fit better. Or even just a nip and tuck here and there. ❤️

  • This was beyond comforting and empowering. Thank you so much! You have a gift and I am so grateful to be able to experience it!

  • I type, “perfection” as I nod my head vigorously. And as my shoulders relax from being lodged up near my ears.

    Thank you. I can’t wait to share this with my sister and girlfriends.


  • Truly lovely writing, enough to make this Midwestern thirty – something girl wonder a little more about all the ideas she can’t quit wondering about and think “maybe, just maybe…”. Thanks for the needed inspiration.

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