I know I’m not even remotely the first person to say this, but it doesn’t make it any less true: change is hard. I am just over a year into my transition from modeling full-time to primarily writing, and this year has shown me what I’ve missed with my career change.
There are some parts of modeling that I didn’t notice until they were gone. Long gone. As in well over a year behind me. Maybe I’m just particularly unobservant like that.
However, I think that mostly has something to do with what we associate with modeling. Even though I’ve modeled professionally for eight years, I still find myself falling back on narratives and clichés when I think of it. I expected to miss the collaborations with other artists: writing is pretty solitary work, while modeling was always posing for somebody. Finished products were another: getting images back from a shoot takes a lot less time than writing a manuscript.
And of course, there’s the nudity. I miss the experience of posing nude regularly. There’s nothing quite like making art with just my body. It’s an addictive and empowering experience. It’s creative and an exercise in self-reliance. And like I’ve said many times before, it’s not at all sexual.
But none of those things prepared me for forgetting to go outside.
When I talk about a photo shoot, most people picture something in a studio, on set with artificial lighting and a seamless backdrop. In actuality, the majority of my images were taken on location. And most of those locations required a fair bit of hiking to get to them.
I have never thought of myself as a terribly outdoorsy person. A tomboy? Sure. But not one of those people that “commune with nature,” or who talk about the Great Outdoors with capital letters you can hear, or someone whose wardrobe seems to come exclusively from REI.
But when I stopped modeling full-time, I stopped going outdoors nearly as much. I stopped communing with nature. And I missed it.
Luckily, the internet sent me the perfect solution at just the right time in the form of Alastair Humphrey’s newsletter. If you don’t know Alastair, he’s a professional adventurer and writer. He’s even been named a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year.
I, however, follow him not for his large expeditions, but for his concept of microadventures. A microadventure is exactly what it sounds like: something that’s a little more short-term and close to home than your average odyssey. On previous microadventures, I’ve done things like sleeping under the stars and skinny-dipping in the ocean. (Okay, in retrospect maybe I am more outdoorsy than I thought).
This year, Alastair has been climbing a tree every month. “Aha!” I thought when I read it. “I haven’t climbed a tree since my last outdoor shoot. This is exactly what I need.”
That afternoon I pulled on my boots, grabbed a book, and headed out to my favorite childhood reading tree for a couple of uninterrupted hours.
The tree was shorter than I remembered, but just as secluded and comfortable. And the book, which was also a favorite from my childhood, was a page-turner. Now I too have a recurring monthly event in my calendar to go climb a tree. And I couldn’t be happier about it.
However, the whole experience got me thinking. Was going outside to climb a tree occasionally really all I had been missing from modeling? Or was there something more to the experience? Did it have more to do with changing my perspective and routines than just being a few feet off the ground?
As I’ve mentioned in previous essays, I have OCD. One of the ways I cope with my disorder is by creating what I think of as “safe bubbles.” I’m a checker, so I will often go back to light switches, faucets, and locks again and again. Being in a place I’m familiar with and following routines makes this process a little easier. I sit in the same chairs, use the same sinks, and fill up my car at the same gas station.
However, the problem with staying in a familiar place is that I get stuck in my bubble. And when I don’t push the edges of it, those boundaries slowly but inevitably shrink.
To be fair, I don’t think this is a problem exclusive to OCD. My mental health just makes it more pronounced. I think it’s normal for people to build routines and environments that make them feel safe. And I think pushing on those bubbles is one of the scariest things a person can do. After all, change is hard.
Modeling gigs were a built-in way to keep pushing outside of my comfort zone. They required me to go somewhere new, try something different, and take artistic risks. Each one was a new and unique experience, which meant that each one was terrifying and challenging—and good for me.
Writing, on the other hand, doesn’t require me to leave my couch. I have a very safe, comfy couch. I’m quite fond of it. And after a year of working from it, my comfort zone is smaller than a soap bubble.
So now I’m actively trying to expand my boundaries again by doing things outside my normal writerly routine. Like climbing trees, for instance. It’s not going to cure me of my OCD, or keep my bubble from ever shrinking again. Going to a new gas station is still going to scare me.
But it’s good to remember that I can keep practicing at pushing against my norms and routines, whether I’m modeling, writing, or just climbing a tree.