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  • Writer's picturebryan hendley

Back to Back With a Giant

Do you remember in elementary school, when you would measure yourself against your friends? You would stand back to back, and a third friend would judge who was tallest. Maybe if you were especially crafty you might try and tilt your chin just so, in order to gain another half an inch. Or if you were doing the measurement on the wall, you might want to try and prop your heels on the wall, just a little bit, in order to gain a slight advantage.

I never did any of those things, of course. But I've seen a few of those tricks in my day.

Have you ever stood back to back against a giant, someone noticeably taller than you? You probably aren't measuring yourself like that now, as an adult, but can you remember ever taking on that challenge with someone you knew was taller than you during your younger years?

Most likely, unless it was for some sort of humor or photo op, like you ran into Shaq at the gas station or something, you probably never did this. I'll bet that when we had the chance, being the rascals that we were, to measure up against someone that we knew we were taller than, we probably jumped at it. We liked the feeling of walking away from that match up, nodding assuredly, as if we had done something to earn our height, and we were somehow superior to the poor munchkin beneath us.

I'll also bet that we were totally cool matching up with someone who, based on the eye test, we knew we were close in height to. We might not be certain, but there was a chance that when we went head to head (or heel to heel) we would win. And we knew if we lost, that we could always argue that they had moved their chin, or placed their heels on the wall, or that we had recently gotten a haircut and that swayed the results. Or, best case scenario, we could live with a narrow loss, if it came to that, without being embarrassed.

But matching up against someone clearly taller than we are would be foolish, wouldn't it?

I played high school basketball with a guy who was 6'11''. I was probably between 6'2'' and 6'4'' in high school, which is a pretty respectable height, especially compared to the general population. But against Kwame, I was seriously undersized, in both stature and ability. We used to play one on one after practice, and I got destroyed. Always. The guy was 6'11", which meant he was supposed to be a post player. The problem was that he moved like a gazelle and had the wing span of a pterodactyl, not to mention his superior basketball abilities. Some (most) days, I couldn't even get a shot off.

But still, I persisted. I like to think it was good for me.

I often wonder why people spend time around others that drag them down. I used to think it was sort of a adolescent thing, but I know now that adults are nearly as bad at this as teenagers are. And you might think (and not entirely incorrectly) that it's hard for people to break old habits, or hard for people to step away from old friends, and on and on with the reasons.

You know what I think, I think it becomes easy to be around them. I think it becomes easy to stay. I think they become the short kid on the playground, or the ones that we know we can stand next to without being defeated. So that's what people do. I don't think it's always about hard, as much as it is about easy.

You know what's hard, measuring up against the giant. The guy you can't beat. Being embarrassed by the future NBA guy. That's what's really hard.

"When you dare aspire upward, you reveal the inadequacy of the present and the promise of the future. You remind yourself that you are afraid not because of life's challenges, which are undeniable, but because you do not want to lift your world up on your shoulders, where it belongs.

Don't think that it is easier to surround yourself with good, healthy people than with bad, unhealthy people. It's not. A good, healthy person is an ideal. It requires strength and daring to stand up near such a person. Have some humility. Have some courage. Use your judgment and protect yourself from too-uncritical compassion and pity.

Make friends with people who want, and bring out, the best for you."

I've added some of my own twist, for the emphasis of this article, to this quote from Jordan Peterson's book, 12 Rules for Life. (My adjustments are in italics, see the full, unedited quote below).

This is a challenge. It's easy as an adult, to write this or read this and think, "Yeah, this is really tough for young people." But the truth is, it's hard for us too, as adults. It's hard to seek out relationships, whether they be personal or professional, with people who are taller than we are. It's hard to stand next to people that intimidate us, for one reason or another. It's hard for us to feel inadequate, or to be forced to reckon with the fact that we need to improve, in any area of our lives, whether real or imagined, so we mostly just avoid it.

As long as we can hang with people who are right around where we are, then we can stay comfortable, and we don't have to think about improving, or striving, or consider how we might do a carry a bit more of our weight. You might think to yourself, "I'm not hanging out with any lowlifes. Nobody is bringing me down." And you might very well be right. But if nobody is forcing you up, even in the slightest, even in thought or stirring or slight but uncertain discomfort, then perhaps you should find someone that is a bit taller than you to stand next to from time to time.

You might also think to yourself, "What about helping others? Shouldn't I be the giant every now and then?" Okay. Don't kid yourself. Of course you may find yourself in position to uplift, to encourage, and to shine a light for other people with your example and the way you live your life. Perhaps you may be the giant from time to time. If so, good for you. Hopefully you honor that privilege and opportunity. But let's not hide behind this. Remember, if you are always the smartest person in the room, you might want to find a new room.

This isn't about some unhealthy or unattainable drive to live your best life or max out your true self. I mean, I'm pulling for you there, if that's what you are hoping for. But it's more about a desire to live a good life, on purpose. It's about fanning the gifts we have into flame, rather than letting them sit idle by while we fight against and complain about the struggle. It's about learning to carry the load we've been given with integrity and resilience.

And the way that we do that is to make friends with people who bring out the best in us.

We stand, humbly, back to back with giants, and we accept the challenge.

Much Love,


Full quote from Jordan Peterson's book, 12 Rules for Life

It is for this reason that every good example is a fateful challenge, and every hero, a judge. Michelangelo's great perfect marble David cries out to its observer: "You could be more than you are." When you dare aspire upward, you reveal the inadequacy of the present and the promise of the future. Then you disturb others, in the depths of their souls, where they understand their cynicism and immobility are unjustifiable. You play Abel to their Cain. You remind them that they ceased caring not because of life's horrors, which are undeniable, but because they do not want to lift the world up on their shoulders, where it belongs.

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