It didn’t take much to impress me as an eight-year-old and the servers at a local restaurant ranked at the top. They stacked plates on their forearms, balanced them as they made their way to the table, leaned over to place them one by one without dropping anything. Amazing! They made it look so easy.
And that is why I offered to help my mom serve dessert one evening when we had guests for dinner. My mom watched as I balanced a piece of pie on my arm and added another. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. Just make more trips.” (She was so wise, and I should have listened.)
“I can do this. It’s easy!”
As you most likely have predicted, the pie ended up on the floor before I reached the table. My dad looked at me, head tilted down and eyes boring a hole through me over the tops of his glasses. “A little too big for your britches, don’t you think?”
He was right. My confidence had outweighed my reasoning, my skinny forearms, and gravity.
Instead of enjoying the anticipated praise for my feat, I was embarrassed, and mom was aggravated that I had wasted a piece of pie. Now that I make pies and understand how much work they take, I’m also aggravated that I wasted a piece of pie.
Sometimes our desire to impress others gets ahead of our common sense and we begin chasing grand feats, leaving our correct size of britches in the dust. We make ourselves more important, smarter, and more insightful than anyone else.
If you’re familiar with Shakespeare’s Macbeth character and his wife, Lady Macbeth, you will remember the terrible time they had pursuing their blind ambition to make Mr. Macbeth king before his time. He was in line to eventually inherit the throne, but the Macbeths hurried the process by murdering the King Duncan as well as a few others in the process. Mr. Macbeth, struggled to “screw his courage to the sticking place,” and Lady Macbeth spent the rest of her life trying to wash the blood from her hands. The glory and prestige the Macbeths sought ended in tragedy and disgrace.
I guess no one had told them that true greatness is maintaining humility, generosity, empathy, self-sacrifice, and integrity on the journey as well as at the height of success.
Allegedly, the satirical poet, Juvenal, wrote this statement about Alexander the Great: “The world was not big enough to contain Alexander the Great, yet in the end, a coffin was.” (Actually, most scholars doubt Juvenal said this, but it’s a good quote all the same.)
In the end, our viral TikTok videos will eventually fade, our fabulous Facebook posts with a multitude of “likes” will be forgotten, our illustrious professional accolades will be edged out by someone else, and the awards hanging on our walls will not mean anything.
Those ephemeral successes will disintegrate in the coffin, but the equity we build in others will be everlasting. We all need to check the size of our britches from time to time.