I remember once when I was young, maybe 10 or 11 years old, and I was over at my friend Andy’s house to play. We got caught outside in a rainstorm and, being kids, we made a total mess of ourselves in the mud. Andy’s mom intercepted us at the door, made us strip down to our underwear and take showers to get washed off. I didn’t have a change of clothes with me, so she gave me a set of Andy’s to wear. The only problem was that Andy was about two sizes smaller than I was at the time. I squeezed myself into his shirt and pants, but I was definitely 10 pounds of potatoes stuffed into a 5 pound sack. Once Andy’s mom had run our muddy clothes through the washer and dryer, I was able to shed Andy’s clothes and, to my relief, put mine back on. I’ve never forgotten how it felt to wear Andy’s clothes. Binding. Constricting. Unnatural. I couldn’t wait to get out of them.
I spent much of my adult life wearing someone else’s clothes. I attended the same college my dad went to. I went to law school because I couldn’t think of an alternative. I worked as a commercial real estate lawyer for nearly two decades. All that time, I was wearing someone else’s clothes. The clothes that my mother and father had laid out for me, the way they used to on Sunday mornings before church. The clothes that “Society” had selected for me. I was living into what I thought were the expectations placed on me by others. Those clothes were far more constricting than Andy’s ever were.
When I hit my mid-40’s, I had had enough of wearing other peoples’ clothes. And I figured out that we don’t need to have our own wardrobe fully coordinated in order to stop wearing hand-me-downs. It starts with recognizing that the clothes we’re wearing don’t fit and then refusing to put them on. If we wait until we have it “all figured out,” we may be condemning ourselves to a lifetime of constriction. Sometimes the only way to move toward something is to move away from the “not something” we know we’re stuck in.
There’s a story told in the Hassidic tradition about a pious rabbi named Zusya, who had a dream about his death and arrival at the gates of heaven. In the dream, the guardians of the Kingdom did not ask him, “Why were you not Moses, leading people out of bondage?” or “Why were you not Joshua, leading your people into the Promised Land?” What the angels asked him was “Why were you not Zusya?”
It’s important to assess our wardrobe on a regular basis. Whose clothes are hanging there? Even if we bought them ourselves, do they still fit? Or is it time to clean out the closet and take a trip to Goodwill?
Originally published at medium.com