What I Did to Stay Average

I was tall in middle school. Taller than the girls, most of the boys, some of the teachers. And I didn't like it.

The world five inches below me was where the good stuff happened. And I wanted in. Earnestly and desperately.

I knew coffee stunted your growth, but I couldn't stomach the taste. So I ate spoonfuls of my father's coffee ice cream after everyone had gone to bed. And I slouched.

I would ice cream and slouch myself down five inches. And end my above-averageness.

Then something unaverage happened.

With no warning, I got a lead in the mandatory 8th grade musical.

I had butterflies. My voice cracked. I was too tall for my costume. I got - as Buddhist Monk Pema Chödrön would say - thrown from the nest.

And in the wide open air, I found a bit of myself. A bit of myself that I was trying to find in the dense thicket five inches below.

James Bryant Conant grew up in the working-class town of Dorchester. Forty years later, he was working nine miles northwest of his childhood home as President of Harvard.

“Behold the turtle," the man from Dorchester liked to say. "She makes progress only when she sticks her neck out.”

In times when we don't yet know who we are or where we stand, there is some part of us waiting to be found. Some part that can only be found by sticking our neck out.

It's tempting to slouch ourselves into the dense thicket. But we likely won't find ourselves there.

The good stuff is happening out in the wide open air.

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