A Revolution of Self: A Creative Director's Year of Starting Over

Juliet Vo is creative director, stylist, consultant, and writer living in Los Angeles. This is her response to An Artist's Guide: The Art of Starting Over

I freed myself from old notions of who I ought to be and what kind of life I ought to have.
Image by Azrul Aziz

Image by Azrul Aziz

The year leading up to my turning 30 was an important year in accomplishing my goals. I had decided I would be good with turning 30. So I started killing my to-do list. All the things I had always said I wanted to do, I did. Crossing things off left and right, by the time September 24th rolled around I was gucci.

I was 30 and fabulous. Or happy at least. My 30th year became the year of making significant progress towards my future. Setting myself up for the next 5-10 years.

But shortly before my 31st birthday everything changed. My grandmother was diagnosed with cancer - she had maybe a month or six left to live. My salary job wasn't working out the way I had hoped it would. Nothing of value meant the same to me anymore and when I lost my grandmother... nothing really meant anything anymore. Here I was, stricken with grief after having been on this earth for 30 years...

31 was the year of starting over.

I had to relearn what life meant to me. I had to relearn what it mean to LIVE. I had to start over with being happy because I wasn't happy anymore.

This is the ebb and flow of life and our enduring human spirit.

I had to relearn what life meant to me.

For me starting over meant going back to basics. Going back over the core fundamentals of what happiness meant to me. Money? Security? Acceptance? Popularity? Fame? Success? Family?Love? The beauty of human existence?

Rather than start over with a weak foundation, I took time to re-evaluate everything and only built with blocks of great value. I learned about myself, this new self. I freed myself from old notions of who I ought to be and what kind of life I ought to have. I had to let my pain go in order to move forward to a future where I could be happy again.

I began with familiarizing myself with the landscape of grief and mourning. I was looking for someone to tell me what my next move should be.  To show me how to rebuild.

I read Joan Didion's  "The Year of Magical Thinking", as a template for structuring my mourning process. Through the author's personal account I was able to recognize the sense of loss I was feeling and understand her efforts to avoid painful emotional triggers.

This quote by Emily Dickinson, found at the end of the New Yorker article, "Good Grief" describes it well:

I wonder if It weighs like Mine—
Or has an Easier size.
I wonder if They bore it long—
Or did it just begin—
I could not tell the Date of Mine—
It feels so old a pain—
I wonder if it hurts to live—
And if They have to try—
And whether—could They choose between—
It would not be—to die. 

Didion had articulated my emotional state:

People who have recently lost someone have a certain look, recognizable maybe only to those who have seen that look on their own faces. I have noticed it on my face and I notice it now on others. The look is one of extreme vulnerability, nakedness, openness.

With this understanding, I realized I had a lot of serious work to do. I won't say that I was damaged and needed repair. But sometimes things just don't work out the way you thought they would. Or life changes so suddenly, so instantly in an ordinary moment that everything seems foreign.  Your own feelings seem foreign.

I looked back on the goals I had set for myself, the life I had been working towards, and I realized they no longer suited me.

To continue to hustle for success in the same manner as before seemed outright silly. I looked at my to-do list, and it now appeared to belong to someone else. It was not my list. The same things no longer made me happy. I had to come to a new understanding of life and my place in the world.  

It was a new paradigm in the makings.

A revolution of self.

Images by Juliet Vo captured in Scandinavia.

I began to go out on dates with myself. Hang out with myself. Spent nights staying in. I re-watched movies I loved to see if I still felt the same way about them. Darjeeling Limited was so OBVIOUSLY a film about mourning and moving on! I was more attune to mortality. More sensitive to the world. My empathy was unhinged.

I got to know myself again. Dance still brings me unbridled joy. Love is more intense than it used to be. I cherish emotionally intelligent company that creates a safe space and a nurturing environment. I still love chocolate and coffee, but now there's a new love of cold brew. And my work is my legacy.

Every experience is met with an open mind and a willingness to change for the better.

As we near the anniversary of my grandmother's death I can't help but reflect on how much has changed this past year. How much I miss her. How few of the goals and ideas I had envisioned for myself at the beginning of 30 came to fruition. How incredibly transforming my 31st year of life has been. It was unavoidable not to change. Not to begin again. 

I’m fucking PROUD of myself.

I really had one goal this year: BE HAPPY. As far as life planning is concerned, I feel a little behind but I look at how much I've progressed in dealing with grief and how much I've managed to live in the past year and I'm fucking PROUD of myself.