To some, autumn signifies the end of summer. It’s an unwelcome thing that a lot of people resign themselves to, reluctantly accepting the seasonal transition, already wistful for the warmer weather.
I’m not one of those people. To me, that undefinable sweet, smoky scent that suffuses the cooling air heralds change, promising new beginnings. I smell the approaching autumn before I see it, and it fills me with a tingly anticipation for things to come, as yet unknown. I find it such an exciting time.
Indeed, it’s the time I made the most exciting change of my life: I moved to Paris on 13th October 2017. A Friday, incidentally, but I’ve never felt luckier. On this exact date (15th October) four years ago, I found myself starting a new job in a new country, having stepped onto the Eurostar two days previously and left my native England behind. I was 23 years old, just finished my postgrad studies, and ready to embark on the adventure I’d been dreaming of for as long as I could remember.
Since that time, almost everything in my life has completely changed again; the adventure has unfolded in ways I could never have anticipated. It’s not always been easy — life isn’t — but it has been exciting and interesting and pretty damn beautiful.
Above all, I have changed, more than I ever would have believed possible. Oh, my “essence” is still much the same, but the way I think and feel about the world around me, and about myself, has altered radically. Most significant are the changes in the relationship I have with myself (something I didn’t even consider “a thing” a couple of years ago), and my outlook on my own life. I look back even just a couple of years, and I hardly recognise the girl I thought I was.
Not that I was unhappy with her per se. She had plenty of good traits, and I like to think none of those have been lost along the way. But now it feels as though she barely knew herself at all; she seems such a pale imitation of the woman I have become — a woman who is so much more confident and curious and passionate and determined to take every damn day and make it something special.
I’m looking at life now the way I looked around me the first time I ever wore glasses, seven years old and hitherto entirely unaware of just how abysmal my vision actually was. “You can see the individual leaves on the trees!” I marvelled, awe-struck. I hadn’t realised there was anything especially lacking in how I (literally) viewed the world, but suddenly it was all crystal clear — details I’d been oblivious to now startlingly sharp, the contrast between colours taking my breath away.
“You’ve changed” is so frequently levelled at friends and romantic partners as an insult, and I find that strange, and a bit unfortunate. Of course, it’s not always for the better, but change itself is continual and inevitable and essential. Often — in nature and in ourselves — it’s so gradual that we don’t even notice it’s happening. Until one day, we wake up, and the trees are suddenly aflame with blazing reds and soft golds, or the first blossoms have burst into bloom, or something that used to frighten us doesn’t seem so scary anymore.
It can mean we no longer fit neatly into the little nooks we occupied before — tidy boundaries we constructed for ourselves or boxes others placed us into. A natural consequence of growth, but the adjustment can be uncomfortable. The way I see it, though, if we’re not forever changing, even ever-so-slightly, that suggests we’re not really living. After all, who we are is shaped by the experiences and interactions we have with the world around us and the people inhabiting it. The things we see, hear, taste, feel; the words we read, and listen to, and exchange with others; the skills and lessons we learn, intentionally or otherwise. Life should change us, if we’re doing it properly. And we should embrace that.
In January this year, I got a tattoo (my first), depicting a couple of autumn leaves, floating freely on the breeze. I wanted to mark the particularly dramatic changes that had happened in my life, in me, over the 18 months prior. It would serve as a reminder of how far I’d come; how I would always allow myself to keep changing; and that the potential for new beginnings — for adventures — would always be just around the corner, as long as I remained open to them.
It’s been the better part of a year now, and I still get a warm glow every time I glance down at my right wrist. I immediately feel a little bolder, a little freer. Excited for the things to come in the future. Empowered by the potential of the present. And above all, absolutely, unequivocally me.
Because I say that I’ve changed, that I’ll always keep changing. But I don’t believe for one second that this means moving away from myself. Rather, it feels overwhelmingly like I’m moving closer to who I really am. “Finding myself”, if you like. I’m pretty sure it’s a lifelong endeavour, but I’m committed to the journey. It’s shaping up to be a hell of a good time.