A Shirt Too Small


One morning a few winters ago while preparing to fly out West for a weekend of interviews, I realized I needed to update my wardrobe with at least a couple items that looked like they had been designed in this decade and not the 1930’s. I’ve long favored a classic style, finding it complements my body type and look. I also often default to the jeans/t-shirt/hoodie mode when I know I’m not going to be seen by anyone other than my neighbors. Given that I was going to be spending three days with a search committee I felt I’d better at least look the part of a 21st century professional.

A few hours later I found myself at the off-price store of a major department store. Before I go any further I must admit something: I hate shopping. I mean, I really hate shopping. That’s why I love online retailers. I can find most anything I need without ever leaving the house. But not clothing. I’ve learned the hard way that sizing in the U.S. is a crapshoot. There seems to be no agreement as to what X, XL, 34/36, 16/34, etc. actually means. I find that I only go clothes shopping when I no longer have anything to wear. And even then I procrastinate and only with great effort and reluctance venture out into the world of retail. I know myself well enough to stay clear of department stores; just specialty shops, discount places, and maybe, if I’m feeling up for it, the Gap.

So, after having made my way downtown and into the afore-mentioned store, I quickly found and tried on a sweater, a pair of slacks, and a dress shirt that not only fit, but made me look like maybe I knew what I’m talking about. I was about to head to the checkout counter when my eyes were drawn to a chocolate brown Western shirt with raised little cream colored bumps—a sort of reverse embossing—with curved pockets and beautiful brown and white snaps rather than buttons. It was what I envisioned a contemporary male would wear when “chillin’” or “hangin’ out”, or “whatever.” Perfect for one of the dinners I knew I’d be having with the search committee.

There was only one problem: it wasn’t my size. However, I was not about to let that fact keep me from being fashionable, so I carried it into the dressing room to try it on. The color was perfect. The look suited me, even though I am of a certain age. In fact, I thought it made me look younger. Younger is better, right? The sleeves were the perfect length and the tails were just the right length to be left out. The problem was that it was too tight. I sucked in my gut, which then gave the fabric a break and allowed it to drape the way the designer must have intended. I turned my body at an angle while looking in the mirror and thought to myself, “I can make this work.” So into the basket it went.

Well, as you can imagine, putting it on at home and looking at myself in the bathroom mirror I absolutely knew it was too small. But I so wanted it to fit because I loved that shirt. I so wanted it to be one size larger. I wanted it to be the shirt that would make me feel younger, cooler, and more desirable. However, I had ignored all evidence to the contrary.

How often have I done this in my life? And not just with a shirt too small, but with wanting things to be a certain way when there was not a chance that that was going to be possible; with wanting a job to be the perfect job when it just wasn’t going to happen; with wanting a relationship to be that storybook-happily-forever-after relationship, but in reality it was just a nice, but temporary, romance.

This is how willfulness can harm us, especially those of us who’ve had to harness our self-will in order to stay alive. It’s difficult for us to let go of our desires, wants, and preconceptions and let Spirit guide us and lead us to the places, people and situations that are the right ones for us—the right fit, the right size.

I wore the shirt once. It was tight and uncomfortable. It kept riding up my torso after I could no longer hold in my gut. And you know what? It really wasn’t the shirt for me. I was trying to be someone and something I’m not.

Maybe I’m good enough just the way I am.



  1. How has your own self-will helped you?
  2. How has it harmed you?
  3. Do you ever try to conform to an ideal image you have of yourself rather than accepting who you actually are? How’d that go?


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