I was lucky enough to spend my childhood at a small independent school that valued the education of its students to more than standardized test scores, hitting milestones, or reciting facts. Our course offerings included multiple electives in various subjects from criminal justice to media, geology, or comedy. Even our typical classes afforded the teachers freedom in the curriculum, allowing us to learn more than the average Jr. High or High School student. In addition to all of this we had a scheduled 40 minute “tutorial” in the middle of the day when all students and teachers were free. This time was used as a study hall, a social hour, or as my friends and I often used it, as a social hour in a class room with a teacher, spent learning how to communicate with adults as peers.
During one such tutorial a few friends and I were in Mr. Mangram’s classroom. He taught history, media literacy, and criminal justice. Most importantly however, he taught his students how to ask, and be asked difficult questions. I remember being an eighth grader, not more than 13 years old, sitting on a table with my friends in his classroom when out of the blue he told us this;
“One day, each and every one of you will dumb yourselves down, diminish who you are for a guy you like.”
“No way!” We all gasped. We were smart girls, we were proud of that, we weren’t the stupid girl twirling her hair, or the desperate one diminishing herself for approval from some acne faced boy. Absolutely not. Not us. Not ever.
“You will” he promised, despite our continued and adamant disagreement.
Within two years my career of making myself fit the approval around me had started.
I had no idea then that he was right. Furthermore, I was completely ignorant to the fact that even in his honesty he was belittling the truth. He chose not to tell us that actually, one day, each and every one of our lives would be about shrinking ourselves down to size. To someone else’s size. Not just boyfriends or husbands, but friends, employers, the city we live in. Like if Goldilocks had given up at the little bear’s chair with his cold porridge and sucked in until her hips went numb in his tiny little chair, complacent to stay where she was.
This isn’t to say that my life hasn’t always been amazing. It has been. And I have needed my experiences of too small comfort. I have made choices for this comfort though, choices to keep myself from feeling challenged or afraid. I have been more content making myself smaller than risking the pain of growing.
How much of your life has been spent shrinking yourself down to size? Not just maintaining, but shrinking. To fit the people around you or fit what they expect of you, or fit what they are capable of being for you.
What if instead Goldilocks went the Papa Bears chair and allowed herself time to grow into it, maybe not physically, but emotionally, intellectually, and even professionally?
I feel like I have suddenly realized that what Mr. Mangram was telling us wasn’t just that we would squash ourselves down, but that it is a normal stage to go through, he knew that it would happen for us. Eventually though I think it’s important to stop, to move on and surround yourself with people, jobs, experiences that force you to unbutton yourself and grow. Feel and even hurt.
I finally got sick of shrinking. It’s still a struggle every day, I still crave that tiny chair. But this finally feels right.
What would your life look like the next size up? I am really liking mine so far, despite the growing pains.