the art of staying in

Bolinas Ridge Trail | Photo by Michael Levenson for Emily Mitnick

With my 30th birthday quickly approaching, I’ve been reflecting more than usual on the last decade. The infamous 20s. Years defined by milestones like graduating from college and graduate school. Falling in love. Falling out of love. Getting engaged and married. Unparalleled moments of self-discovery and growth. Career direction and traction. Exploration. Experimentation. The years in which I’ve stepped fully into myself and embraced my presence, my truth.

I’ve begun to notice a trend: big changes in my 20s — changes in perspective, behavior, etc. — have mostly happened in the past few years. Definitely after graduate school. Maybe even after 26. It’s funny, because the changes I’m thinking about, a couple of which I’ll describe below, seemed to creep up. There was no decisive moment in stepping from Place A into Place B. Without reflection, I may not have even realized that I’ve changed my preferences and habits. One day, they were just…there.

This dawned on me recently, but came to light last night, a Saturday evening, when I found myself alone for the evening. I smiled to myself, having just finished a glorious (and perhaps gluttonous) bowl of pasta while watching a travel show about exotic luxury hotels, and about to settle into my meditation coloring book with an animated favorite, Sing, playing in the background. I chose this, I thought to myself, and I couldn’t be happier about it! Really, I was happy, and five years ago, I likely wouldn’t have been. At 24-going-on-25, I would have probably made plans. And if I found myself alone, it would have been because plans had failed to materialize or someone had bailed at the last minute. And I would have been unhappy to be “missing” a night out. As if staying in could never be satisfying. And in all fairness to my 24-going-on-25 self, maybe it really couldn’t have been satisfying to be alone on a Friday or Saturday night. But I remember feeling like a loser if I didn’t go out. And I wish I hadn’t been so hard on myself.

As I mentioned earlier, I can’t figure out when this change occurred. It wasn’t about “settling down” — at 24, I had already met the man who would become my partner — and to this day, as comfortable as I am in my lifestyle with him, I hate that term: “settling.” What is it meant to suggest? I suppose I think of sand settling to the bottom of an ocean, finding its place at a distance from the pull and chaos of the waves, but I can’t help but equate it to “the exciting parts of your life are over.” Anyway, perhaps part of the shift came with finding friends who loved to congregate with glasses of wine around a coffee table more than breaking out moves of the week on the dance floor. And don’t get me wrong, I love to dance, but usually, I want to do it at home in my underwear, and to songs that typically aren’t played by today’s DJs (think: Broadway’s power ballads, Disney hits and the occasional “vintage” pop tune). Maybe the shift came when I realized that focusing on comfort elevated the quality of my life as well as my general output into the universe. Who knows. Whatever the reason, I’m certain it wasn’t simply that I just “got older.” It was about feeding my soul, knowing the ingredients that would best do that and being confident in my choice. Maybe it was a development of self-intelligence. Better listening skills. Something like that.

The same is true for my clothing choices. Twenty-four-year-old Emily had recently embraced both hippie and hipsterdom in her daytime wear but still wore heels and tight tops/bottoms for evening social outings. Today, I sport heels once in a blue moon (okay, living in mountainous San Francisco has definitely accelerated that change) and the tightest clothes I wear are my stretchy yoga pants, built for flexibility and comfort. Most days, I wear sneakers (thanks to Allbirds) with jeans and a t-shirt and cozy outer layer. I realize that working for myself and often meeting remotely with clients, gives me this luxury of choice, and it’s one I greatly appreciate. Comfort starts in our bodies. If we don’t feel comfortable in our clothing, how can we feel comfortable being ourselves? I was thinking back to my first long-term job out of graduate school. My boss wore a suit and bow tie every day. I followed suit (pun definitely intended)— and felt completely uncomfortable. While I’m definitely serious at times, especially when it comes to my work, I’m not formal. Everyday, I’d come home, and in the style of Mr. Rogers, do a wardrobe change. I’d not-so-carefully kick off my shoes, delicately take off my suit and button down shirt and hang it up so I wouldn’t have to iron it, and put on my jeans and t-shirt. Ahhhhhh. There’s no better feeling than softening into your true self.

Softening into your true self, whoever that may be, is a delicate art of bringing self-understanding into the realm of action. It requires time and patience, and above all, honesty. It takes an ability to say, yeah, this feels right, and that doesn’t. It’s not about “giving zero fucks,” but rather, really caring — giving all the fucks! — paying attention to the needs of body, mind and spirit and nourishing accordingly. I chose the word softening deliberately and thoughtfully: when I was younger, I hardened into someone I wanted to be, denying the legitimacy of my values, and today, I soften into myself, melted by my intuition and the light that makes me my truest self. I’ve never felt more real.

Here’s to the close of one decade and the start of a new one. And here’s to all of those who have found — or are journeying towards — the art of staying in, whatever that might mean for you. Shine on.

Om Namah Shivaya!
(I bow to the light within myself.)

Many thanks to those who have loved and supported me through the decades. You are the ones who inspire me to dig deeper and live boldly in my truth. I love you!