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Getting Bigger

Like a lot of people, I struggle with my size—and I’m not talking about my weight. Because many of us grew up in a time or in a family that encouraged us to keep our noses to the grindstone and not draw a lot of attention to ourselves, we learned early on to stay small and quiet. The models of good and bad were set before us and we either followed along or, if we couldn’t fit ourselves into that shiny mold, we turned it against ourselves and figured that remaining small was the best we could hope for.

In other words, there wasn’t a lot of reinforcement for exploring the possibilities or even different roles for ourselves until we found that one that fit best, and still gave us room to grow. In my age group, it didn’t help that most of our parents worked in the same jobs for their entire adult lives—whether they liked them or not. We didn’t see people trying out new things, either in their careers or even their personal styles. The ones who did were the exception, and I always looked across the room at them and wondered what it must feel like to have that much confidence. I was always in awe of people who made themselves large, who had agency. You know, those who moved across the country for a job or school, or believed in their skills and talents enough to find a creative way to engage with the world.

I find myself focusing more on what I might be able to do rather than what I’m afraid I can’t.

But there is comfort in smallness, and those of us who have practiced shrinking into our “nothing-to-see-here” boxes know that. There is a feeling of safety in simply doing what we know. We do it in our work, in our personal lives, in the way we look at our futures. It’s often easier to follow a known, well-worn path than to expand both what we do and what we believe we can do. And that’s what I’m thinking about these days—the ways that our ideas about ourselves sometimes hold us back without us really even knowing it’s happening. It’s funny that notions like this are becoming clear to me now, when a large part of my life is over. But that’s also what makes it that much more compelling.

For a lot of my life, my lack of confidence helped usher me to the safest edges. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve expanded my reach and that has let my picture of myself grow, too. And then suddenly, it seems, I’m less than a year from 70. I know why I’ve made the decisions I’ve made, and I hold the younger, more scared version of myself in my heart. But with time running shorter, I find myself focusing more on what I might be able to do than on what I’m afraid I can’t. And that’s a new thing for me. At my core, I’ve always kind of believed that I was lucky that my life has gone as it has. Only recently has it occurred to me that it was more me and my strengths and less simple good fortune.

Thanks to age, therapy, and perspective, I realize that I haven’t let myself fly much in my life. I’ve mostly made a lot of rules, held myself to many impossible standards, and chastised myself for not being perfect. I haven’t luxuriated in the fantasy of exploring all the things I might like to do or the different situations in which I might want to apply my skills. I’ve done the thing I’m doing and been "happy to help the ballclub."

Now that I’m coming close to my re-retirement, I’m letting myself enlarge a little in my thinking, realizing that I don’t have that much to lose, either in time or reputation. This many years into it, people think of me what they think. So, I’m letting myself grow—in my feelings about myself and in the confidence I carry forward in the world. I’m thinking that no longer fitting into a small frame is a good thing—a thought that’s never occurred to me quite like this before.


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