I’ve seen the quote below in many different forms and permutations in the past few years and honestly if I had wanted a tattoo bad enough, this is probably the quote I would have tattooed.
Don’t shrink yourself for someone else’s comfort! It’s so simple but so profound right? Here’s the kicker though, as much as I have loved this quote, it has never stopped me from shrinking when I felt vulnerable. Since accepting this adulthood mantle, I have found that there are more situations where I feel like I need to protect myself and my default is to either shut down or divert all attention from myself. If they don’t see me, they can’t attack me right? See, I’m a logical romantic (yes that’s a thing) and I love to listen to my feelings until I have a clear and defined reason why I should not. That reason hit me tonight.
To this point, she’s done alright for herself! She’s smart, survived the education system in 2 countries, navigated multiple projects with nothing but intuition as her guide and had fun while doing it. Before she goes much further, I’ll tell her not to shrink for someone else’s comfort; she will thank me for that advice and I wouldn’t have helped her in any way :). Ah yes, because you see her reason for shrinking will not be to make others feel better about mediocrity, or because she doesn’t believe she is worth more. She will shrink in spaces because she can’t fathom a scenario where someone guiding her might not know MORE than she does.
Let me break this down; for most of my life, I have been the youngest in many of the rooms I have been in. In each of those scenarios, I simply took it as fact that others were older and inherently wiser and I had much to learn. Approaching life with this learner’s perspective, I excelled because I truly had a lot to learn from others and if I could outperform their expectations, even better! I felt no added pressure to “puff up” because I already felt like I was exceptional being the youngest one to sit in a room with these wise souls. This resulted in a very balanced view where I felt neither small nor arrogant. I challenged perspectives with ease and thrived because I saw no reason not to. While this was effective, it was incomplete and I’ll tell you why but we’re not there yet.
Why this approach doesn’t work as well in adulthood is I can no longer assume as a blanket rule that older=wiser. We all have a plethora of experiences once we cross that adult threshold that shape us in so many different ways. Wins and losses, highs and lows, delays and fast tracks are in every way chipping away and refining us into these bespoke units of human experience and there is no baseline. There is no objective way to say that a person who is appointed in any leadership position over me is perfectly equipped to respond to every question I could have about my lived experience because there is simply no rubric. Maybe there never was.
So what’s my point? Shrinking for me was never about making myself small for someone else’s comfort, their comfort is and always has been inconsequential. I don’t say this to be dismissive of feelings but rather in reference to my belief that constant comfort is not conducive to growth. Shrinking for me was instead about a change in power perception. For the first time in my life, being the youngest in the room wasn’t celebrated as a show of potential and capacity for more responsibility, it was framed as a disadvantage. I actually remember the first time someone told me not to reference that I had recently graduated lest the client loses confidence in the team. At the time, I accepted this perspective as pure fact, surely, this person who was older than me and had worked longer than me must know more about how one must conduct themselves in a professional setting right? WRONG!
It is not that their advice was ill-intentioned, it just wasn’t right for me. I have learned now to come into rooms not with the expectation that the person leading me knows more than me but instead that they know different things than me. This change in perspective has been a game changer. It leaves me open to learn from them without absorbing their bias as fact. They have a unique set of skills that they have gained through their personal experiences that I can learn from; however, and critical to my positioning, I also have a unique set of skills and life experience I bring that they can benefit from. It’s not about either one of us holding more power in a situation but instead celebrating what’s strong in both of us to build productive relationships.
Going forward this is my philosophy; shrink or shine, this is your daily choice. Winning at adulthood will be about showing up fully, ready to teach and ready to learn. One does not precede the other, the capacity for both exists and your harmonious delivery can change your world