Once upon a time, I thought I knew everything.
I thought I knew myself well. I had a strong personality and I didn’t feel pressured to follow the crowd. I was proud of my individuality, and I had things figured out. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
One day, I learned a lesson and I want to tell you about it. It’s a small thing, really, something that you’d easily dismiss if I told you over dinner. But maybe it’s something you’d tell your daughter about someday. Maybe it’s something my great-granddaughter needs to hear. Maybe it is something that will strike you on a sunny day, decades sooner than it struck me.
Here is my story.
I have always thought about my height. When I was younger, I wanted to be short. I thought it would be easier and the boys would like me more. I would have liked to have been a petite 5-feet-1-inch with tiny feet and cute little shoes.
It was not to be.
As it was, I was a solid 5-foot-7, with 8.5-sized shoes. Nobody ever said to themselves, I want to be 5 feet 7 inches tall. It’s no man’s land. It’s not short, it’s not tall, it’s just in between. So, when I got a little older, I thought maybe I would like to be tall.
I had a physical exam in which a nurse measured me and happened to say I was 5-feet 7-and-a-half inches. Well, 5 feet 7.5 inches is almost 5-foot-8, if you round up a tiny bit, so, once or twice I tried telling people I was 5-foot-8. If I couldn’t be short, maybe the opposite could work for me.
“Really?” people would say, incredulously. “You’re not 5-foot-8. I’m 5-8 — here, stand next to me,” and then they would turn to someone nearby and ask them who was taller.
Inevitably, I would lose. I wasn’t really 5 feet, 8 inches tall, I was in no man’s land with the other 5-foot-7s who wished they were shorter or taller.
Nevertheless, I was a little taller than most of my friends. And when I stood near them, I slouched. Constantly.
I don’t know why. I didn’t realize I was even doing it. Maybe some subconscious part of me really didn’t want to stick out, and so it pulled my frame down as though it could transform me into the short girl I had imagined. My shoulders slumped, and I tilted my hips and my spine kind of curved into my waist.
I had no idea what it looked like until one day — this year — I attended a wedding and stood next to my old friends and handed my phone to another person to take our picture. I looked at the photo and saw myself, shoulders rounding forward, hips knocking out to one side and another foot turned awkwardly to support my frame, and spine curving down and around my internal organs until it disappeared into my stomach.
Do-over! I said.
And for the next one, I pulled my shoulders back, I lifted my chin and I lengthened my spine up to the sky. It was a fascinating change. Suddenly, I felt as though I was a head taller than everyone else. I felt as though my true self had been set free. I realized what I had been doing to my body all of those years, subconsciously bringing it down, and I decided to stand tall.
I’ve been working on it ever since.
The funny thing is, this little lesson took me 36 years to learn. I thought I knew all about individuality, but I didn’t factor in the ways I had incorporated my insecurities into my bones. I had to truly let go.
So, why am I telling you this? Why am I telling you this weird, short, insignificant little story you’d easily dismiss if I told you over dinner? Because I want you to rise. Rise to your potential. Don’t think about being tiny, or tall, or blonde, or auburn, or athletic, or popular if you aren’t. Don’t sell yourself short, or bring yourself down. You’ll figure it all out. You’ll think you know everything.
And when you do, don’t slouch.