Ruth Spencer

Ruth Spencer on reinvention and creating a life that fits

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4 January 2022

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Once, new Woman columnist Ruth Spencer was cool-adjacent, but now she wonders where her sense of self has gone. It’s time for a Reinvention.

You know that feeling when nothing fits? I don’t mean last year’s togs, although their heartless betrayal has been noted. I mean nothing fits. Your life has arrived but it isn’t quite what you ordered. The You you’re wearing has a scratchy tag. The elastic of your persona is too tight, making red marks on your soul. Maybe you used to be cool and do cool things, or maybe you always wanted to do cool things but the opportunity never came up. And now some years have passed and here you are, not quite the person you expected to be. That feeling.

I’ve never been cool, but I used to do cool things. I was cool-adjacent. I once sat alone in an abandoned meat locker holding a raw egg for Art. I performed a solo play wearing a bra made of hair.

I auditioned for True Bliss. I stood in a pile of freezing slush on the back of a truck in a street parade as the actual carnival Snow Queen. I’ve walked on broken glass, I’ve eaten fire, I once lost a sword fight to Simon Bridges. That’s not a metaphor for anything – he’s the superior fencer.

Now I’m older, and life is different. You can’t make a living holding raw eggs in meat lockers, unless that’s an OnlyFans thing I don’t want to hear about. We all have to let stuff go, even if it’s important to us. Maybe you gave up netball when your knee gave out, or quit the rock band when you had young kids at home and couldn’t rehearse until midnight any more. Deep down you’re still a mean wing attack or in a band called Wing Attack, but none of that is going on in daily life. Instead, you go to physio every few weeks and try to wear something you don’t mind getting glitter-glued to a toilet roll.

Career, parenthood, just getting a bit tired and focusing on the next cup of tea – these things rise in a gradual tide to cover the sense of self you used to have, maybe even the bits you used to admire and be proud of. Sometimes you break the surface to take a breath, only to discover the bright, buoyant lilo of your identity has floated off into the distance, just another piece of single-use plastic littering the ocean of your past. And your togs are riding up again.

So I’m going to do something about it – stop my vague browsing for meaning and actually try some stuff on. A Reinvention project. I’d love it if you’d join me in this, or at least tell me if my hairy bra is showing. I’ve looked it up and there are plenty of self-help sites with reinvention advice. Far too many of them think you should have a side hustle, when I don’t even have much of a front hustle and middle age is increasing my back hustle at alarming speed. So let’s start with the basics: drink water, eat a vegetable, go to bed on time, declutter your space. These are all the same things I tell my six year old, and she’s currently sorting her Pokémon plushies into Hogwarts houses. If that’s not living her best life, I don’t know what is.

Once we’re hydrated and rested and assigned to Gryffindor, we can get into the concept stage. Successful reinvention boils down to this:

  1. Sort out what you value.
  2. Do that.

They say self-esteem comes from estimable acts, which is to say if you want to like and admire yourself, do things you’d like and admire if someone else did them. Maybe there’s still time to play Evita in an amateur production, even if I have to stage it in the garage and have the cat play Perón. She’s a baritone and looks good in epaulettes; it could work. I might finish my heartfelt comedy novel, or less likely, start it. I might learn to read tarot or launch a YouTube channel. I could get proficient on the accordion or become a Lady Gaga impersonator. Both! [Be right back; googling “Bad Romance arranged for accordion”.]

Call it a midlife crisis, call it a postcard from the edge, I don’t mind. I’m not trying to recapture my youth – my accidentally drastic lockdown haircuts have shown me I can’t pull off a shaved head like ’90s me thought she could. I’m just interested in being interested again, and possibly even interesting, if only to myself. And in buying some new togs.

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