The Girl with the Red Shoes – How One Fairy Tale Restored My Wild Heart

“There once was a little orphan girl who made herself lovely red shoes out of scrap cloth, and they mean the world to her.

An old woman adopts the girl into a pristine world of gilded carriages and crisp white stockings where she is made to sit all the time, walk without skipping, and not speak unless spoken to.

Soon enough, her adoptive mother tosses her lovingly crafted shoes into the fire, causing immense pain that she must hide…”

When I was sixteen years old I had a vivid dream about a child who carried a small wick. It was only through the intensity of her existence that it lit and burned fiercely, setting all things nearby alight.

I carefully painted this dream over many hours; it was an expression of my basic joy, and another step on the path to discover my own wild way.

Through the years such spontaneous moments fight to be born each moment, because incrementally I’ve learned small – but sticky – lessons:

Aged 4: I’m the wrong gender to play with that toy. Aged 11: I wrote an essay from the heart, but it doesn’t fit in with the curriculum. Aged 16: I laughed a bit too loud for group. Aged 23: I gave a solution to a problem that is a bit unorthodox. Aged 26: I reach to touch a loved one at just the wrong time, on the wrong day.

Each lesson throws another scrap of those lovely red shoes onto the fire. The threads turn to ember, there’s famine in my soul, and a hush descends over my wild heart.

“…The hunger in the little girl’s heart causes her to reach instead for shiny red leather shoes, which soon enough attract so much attention and admiration she starts to love them.

Dancing in these beautiful new red shoes for all those who gawk and stare, they start to consume the girl’s every thought, and all her desires – she feels empty without them…”

I look for substitutes to fill the sense of emptiness in my heart – the heroic romantic partner, validation through my career, and travelling the circumference of the world, only to arrive right back face to face with the void.

The real desire is to rediscover my wild nature, and with it a meaningful life.

“…One day the girl with the Red Shoes met a soldier who told her “what beautiful dancing shoes!”, and so she twirled. The more people stared, the more she danced; once her feet started she could not stop!

Soon enough she wanted to dance left, but the shoes would dance her to the right, and then she wanted to dance around, but the shoes would dance her the other way around…”

Without full awareness, I am ducking to avoid my demons.

Failure is no longer accepted as part of the creative curve, but a nasty punishable act that will have – to my mind – devastating and crushing results. And so, I no longer skip joyously, flowing in the rich potentiality of each moment, but dance feverishly in the direction of the hoards; hoping to belong, and to be loved.

“…The girl was scared and wanted to take off the shoes, but they would not budge. And so she danced, she danced over hills, through valleys and gloomy forests, rain or snow, sunrise through sunset and the dancing itself was terrible, and the girl got no rest…”

I’m standing on the precipice of truth and it’s uncomfortable: Life has become a tame thing.

Creativity fades in a quest for perfection, pursuits that waste time are followed, and talents that showed potential are forgotten.

Fairy tales aren’t concerned with my comfort, carefully crafted story arcs, and rounded conclusions. They are designed to find the best entry point into my psyche in order to deliver urgent truths that will set me on a transformative journey.

With compassion, they will not deprive me of my deepest low.

Awareness of this deterioration allows me to understand that intervention is imperative: I must fight on the part of my wildish self. Though it will hurt, it is the most worthy battle I will know.

“…In exhaustion and horror she danced into a forest where the towns’ executioner lived.

He tried to cut off her shoes but they stayed on her feet, so she cried for him to cut off her feet, and so he did. And the shoes, with the girl’s feet, kept dancing and dancing through the briars, over the hills, across the moors and out of sight.”

The story of Girl in the Red Shoes made one terrible mistake: she believed that forces outside herself held the key to her happiness, and so she nearly lost herself. Her story is both short and brutal: she only had one shot and her feet, which are representative of her mobility, and freedom, were lost forever.

And so, I feel gratitude, because I am in a glorious position! Life ever-flows, and provides new waves of opportunity each day that overlap and flow toward me like chapters ready to written anew.

Long past the end of this fairy tale, I have learned that my value is not forged in the flames of collective agreement. Each day I remember to wear my own simple red shoes, and dance to the beat of my own imperfect life, joyous in its own wildish way.

And so I ask you, wild little girl: will you choose to dance, or will you choose your wild freedom?


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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  5. Lantz says:

    Though, great shoes don’t come inexpensive, and every period we find the same panaches in every store. If only they were a slight more fun or a little happier or had a slight more of the designer-chic style we see on the stage and the pages of fashion fortnightlies.

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