A few years ago I was watching my husband serve cake and I noticed that he gave himself the biggest piece. I started paying more attention to how things were distributed. When I made dinner (or dessert) I gave my husband or my daughter the most, the biggest, the best looking, and let’s be honest, the least burnt of whatever I was making. I kind of just assumed that was what every cook did. Not my husband. He gave himself the prime choice.
Then I noticed that, given the choice, my daughter did the same. She’d try to get the biggest or best of what ever was being offered. This didn’t just happen with food either. It happened with all sorts of things. At first I thought getting the smallest piece was just a mom thing. Mom’s sacrifice for family all the time. My behavior wasn’t anything new or special. This was completely normal behavior and something I could blame on socialization and uber capitalism.
Then I observed myself stepping aside so other people, even non-family members, could have the first pick, first opportunity, best seat, or most coveted of whatever was being coveted. I figured they probably wanted it more than I did or possibly deserved it more than I did. I’d pride myself on being polite. I didn’t seem to need the biggest or the best. I just sat back and watched everyone else trying to get it. On the plus side I never had to feel bad for taking what someone else wanted. I could make-do with the smallest piece of cake guilt free.
After a while I started to wonder about myself, what kind of person doesn’t try to get the best or the most of everything? Was this a sign of low self-esteem? Was I so afraid of disappointing someone else that I would happily disappoint myself instead? I started to think about all of the opportunities and experiences I may have missed out on by settling for second best. All of the opportunities that had gone to someone else out of etiquette. Should I be resentful? Angry? Sad? Was there any benefit to perpetually occupying last place?
The answer to all of my questions was yes. Yes, sometimes I have let people have things because I thought I didn’t deserve them. I’ve suffered from Impostor’s Syndrome and that has stopped me from asserting myself more, but I’ve also found great joy in watching other people get what they want. I like giving my husband the least burnt toast and my daughter the biggest piece of pie. I like to see their faces light up. I enjoy seeing people who have worked hard win.
Still, I know I am angry with myself over some missed opportunities. I am often frustrated with my incessant need to be nice while simultaneously struggling with feelings of guilt over the times I have chosen myself first. Those moment often appear in my thoughts when I go to bed. My personal, guilty boogey man.
Then I questioned if I was truly being nice. Maybe I was trying to avoid conflict. I’ve always found winning embarrassing. Maybe I just wanted to avoid the responsibility that comes with being or having the best.
I finally came to the conclusion that it was complicated. Navel gazing almost always is. It’s one of the quickest ways to exhaust yourself with mental gymnastics. There is no one answer and like most of life we are delving into many layers of gray and hoping to come out with something in black and white. I decided I should take action. All of this thinking wasn’t getting me anywhere anyway.
I gave myself the biggest piece of cake.
My family was shocked, but I think they understood when I explained that sometimes I want the biggest piece of cake too. The world didn’t end. I do, however, have to exercise more. The biggest piece of cake comes with a lot of extra, empty calories which means getting the biggest piece of cake may not always be what it is cracked up to be.