Since my emphatically dramatic teenage years, I’ve tried many times to reinvent myself. I went from clean-cut kid to nerd, from nerd to metalhead, metalhead to grunge kid, and back to nerd — and that was just at 15.
From the time I was 25, however, I became more or less settled into an identity that was kind of a non-identity. I was overweight, always had facial hair, and was identifiable by my long, tied-back hair. I wore the same glasses for nearly a decade, my gait was always familiar, and I was just me.
I always said that I wanted to change, but my efforts at doing so were always half-hearted. I wanted to go back to school (or so I told my girlfriend, who wanted me to go back to school), but I never sent any applications. I wanted to lose weight, but couldn’t even make myself walk into a gym. I wanted to start writing, but couldn’t get past a blog post.
I’m a purist at heart; I don’t watch Doctor Who because I can’t watch every single episode (some early episodes are no longer extant), and I don’t change myself much because I’ve always felt like there was just too much to change. I let the idea flounder around in my brain like a fish that needs water until it just dies for awhile.
So, for the last ten years, I stayed roughly the same.
And then, I got a haircut.
Co-workers didn’t recognize me, and my new photo got dozens of likes on Facebook (which is considerably more than even my most witty status updates warrant). I went from hair that was more than halfway down my back to, well… pretty short.
The reality was that I had to cut it off. As it turns out, we don’t often see the backs of our heads when we’re getting ready in the morning. I knew I was losing some hair, the result of a genetic curse that runs down the line of men in my family. I just didn’t realize how bad it was. A co-worker helped me out with that, subtly pointing it out by way of a photograph of me from behind.
I booked an appointment with a barber a couple weeks later, when I got tired of wearing a baseball cap everywhere I went. I walked into the barber’s, sat in her chair, and said, “I trust you.” She did me proud. Balding heads look better with shorter hair, and she made me look pretty good—which, in turn, made me feel pretty good.
It was a small change. It was also a big change, and just the beginning of even bigger changes to come.
After I got that haircut, and was receiving compliments (not just from people but from attractive people, who apparently know something about attractiveness), I was walking around with a bit more confidence. I was still overweight, and couldn’t dress to save my life, but it was a start.
It turns out that all we need is a start. A small start, like a haircut.
As the weather was still cool, I pulled out my workout clothes. I started eating half the portions I was already eating. I started running. I changed my attitude about myself, moving from “I’m not worth much and nobody wants me” to “fuck that, I’m awesome and you’d be damn lucky to have me.” I started to say what I wanted to say. I started to dream bigger and make attainable goals. I started to put money away. I started to write again. I published a book. I vowed to quit smoking (the actual quit date is less than a week away, at press time). I vowed to be a little more awesome each day—not in the cocky, macho way some people mean that, but in the “I give a lot to people and I know I deserve these amazing people in my life” way.
People have asked me, “what happened to you?” They want to know what inspired this turnaround in my life, why I’m happier now, why there’s an extra bounce in my step. Am I in love? Did I get laid? Did I win some money? Those closest to me knew that I didn’t really know. How did I make such a decision to just get up in the morning and be someone new?
Now I know. After decades of feeling not good enough for so many things, of thinking I could never change because there’s too damn much that has to be molded into something new, it’s funny now to think that all I had to do was sit in a metal chair and let a nice lady take a sharp instrument to my head. That was the tiny little spark that started a fire that’s burning down my life and making something new.
And if you find yourself in the midst of that same spark, just ask yourself, “what could I do with this wildfire?” When you think of the possibilities, remember that they’re all within your reach, especially if you can just go get a haircut.