Sunday, September 19, 2010

Growing Into

Many, many years ago, I looked and acted far different than I do now. I wore baggy t-shirts and big clunky glasses, and people pretty much ignored me (or at least that's how it seemed). I was a shy nerd, quietly acing tests but afraid to make too much of myself. I did everything I could to hide everything I was.

And so it happened that I tended to surprise people. The teacher who set up high school graduation, convinced that I wouldn't be able to put two words together in front of a crowd, assigned me to give the welcome address (instead of the valedictorian speech, though I had the highest GPA). But, to everyone's surprise, my little speech was funny, and entertaining, and, well, really good.

When I auditioned for The Wizard of Oz in college, I walked up to sing a solo, and the director later told me she was cringing, anxious that I was going to totally embarrass myself. But then I sang, blew everybody away, earned the part of Dorothy. Yet she and so many other people had expected nothing from me. I'm not sure that I expected much more--I just knew I liked to sing.

That's the funny thing about expectations. If I expected myself (or anything or anyone else) to be perfect, I would likely be disappointed. Yet I have been lucky to go through life with people not expecting a great deal from me. Sure, I could have used that as a crutch, but I have grown to use it as a challenge. "Oh, you think I'm nothing?" I say to myself. "Just wait and see."

I just returned from an interview with my husband, one where I was almost as analyzed as he was. I feared I wouldn't do so well, that my nerves would get the better of me and I'd catch foot-in-mouth disease... but then I realized, with a shock, that I was expecting too little from me, that I was dismissing my capabilities. And when I was actually in the thick of things, I did fine. I did better than fine. I was good. And it was easy, maybe even easier than giving that graduation speech, easier than singing onstage. It felt natural. It felt like me.

Even a few years ago, I couldn't have done it. And if anybody had seen me in high school, they never would have expected me to do well, either. I would really surprise them now. But I've grown up a lot since then, and every day I become more and more my genuine, un-shy, beautiful, capable self. And I even sometimes surprise myself.

I guess I've grown a lot from that shy kid with the big glasses. Have you?


  1. Not so. I'm not surprised when you do well. I've seen you in far too many plays not to know you know how to handle yourself if you want to, whenever you need to.

    Thought so in high school, too, by the way. Everyone else might have thought you were truly shy and retiring, but I knew you could hold your own. After all, you'd gone toe-to-toe many times with your extroverted argumentative older sister. And held your own.

  2. You have an extroverted argumentative older sister?

    I've only met the shy one who refuses to speak her mind. :)

  3. I'm the second daughter of three. When I was younger, I was labeled as the not-too-bright, rebellious child. Mostly my mother and older sister put me in this box. I think I made a convenient scapegoat for my mother's disillusionment about her less-than-perfect familly and my sister's deflection of parental scrutiny on her.

    Now I am middle-aged and can see how easy it was for them to control me with their labels. However, the labels weren't accurate. Out of the three, I am the least rebellious. I've kept my parents' values. I have led the most stable and responsible life.

    This has been my secret pleasure, knowing that I rose above and did not fall prey to their low expectations. However, until recently, I had not made peace with the "dumb" label. Now in my late forties, I am well on my way to completing my bachelor's degree. I've been successful in my studies, and I am close to achieving my goals.

    My experience has been rewarding and surprising. I never thought I could be successful in the classroom, but now I help teach others. What an amazing change from where I was five years ago. Life is so much better now, and I contribute a large portion of my success to allowing myself to look past what others say I am and finding for myself who I might become. Change is never easy, but one is never too old to try!

  4. Sounds like you have a great deal to be confident about.

  5. Grown to become something different than I was as a child? Or grown to rise above what others expected of me as a child. To the first the only answer is "of course." To the second I grew to become the only thing I wanted to be as a child despite no one thinking it practical, realistic, or within my mental grasp.

    I became and I am a poet.

    Most thought I would do far better though, that I would at least be able to be a janitor.

  6. We all grow up. Those years we put in are worth something.

  7. Stephanie: I didn't say that NOBODY believed in me... but you can't argue that our parents expected very little. Still, it's nice to have a president of my fan club (as I am of yours).

    Relax Max: Yes, you know my argumentative sister better than you know me... mainly because I'm not much of an arguer. Don't like what I think? Eh. Ask me if I care.

    Nee Nee: You and I are in a similar situation, though I think many parents try to peg their children one way or another. But simplifying who someone is simply doesn't work. We aren't characters. We're far more complex than that, and we are also constantly growing. I don't think I've so much changed as I've discovered more about myself, a bunch of complexity that has been lurking inside, without my knowing. Your mother and sister seem to have looked for only signs of things they wanted to see. Happens too often. Thankfully, you didn't take their word for it!

    Thanks Jason! I just hope I'm not the only one who grows into being more than they expected.

    Walking Man: You and I both know that poets need to be able to see the world in a deep, thoughtful way. And most people in the world simply don't want to see it. They'd rather see what they want and devalue poets in general. Being online has helped me reinforce my love of poetry, for it's shown me that real poets are out there, writing every day, showing they will still speak, even if people would prefer they do something more "practical" instead. Nothing is more practical than seeing.

    The Mother: I wouldn't trade my experiences for anything. They have helped make me who I am, and I like who I am. I look forward to seeing what else happens, and how I shape up as I keep growing.

  8. I could totally identify with the shy kid in baggy clothes (except the glasses of course..)

    The only difference is that I remained shy, though have really worked hard on it, but still though love to sing but couldnt ever in front of an audience.

  9. I am basically the total opposite from you.
    I feel I can do anything and try and prove it any chance I get.

    No matter what anyone says, I believe in myself, even if I fail I know I can do it better and never give up until I prove it.

    I am glad you’re finding the power hiding inside yourself.

    Keep it up and best of luck.