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How to Stop playing Small

Are We Really Safer on the Sidelines?

Sometimes my dog does this thing on walks where she stands in the middle of the field totally stock still and unmoving while another dog approaches. I think she is pretending to be invisible. She seems to think, If I don't move, they can't see me. If I stay still, they will walk right by and I will be safe. Move along, please, nothing to see here.

Photo by Hyunwon Jang on Unsplash

This is comical because we know that she isn't technically any more "safe" from imaginary predators standing still than she would be if she were moving. But we do this, too.

Though we have the intellectual capacity to know that others can see us while we're not moving, we play small in other ways. We don't take the job interview out of concern that we aren't experienced enough yet. We don't write the book because we are worried what other people will think about it. We don't build the business out of fear that it will ruin our finances.

I will stand perfectly still, not stick out, and I will stay safe.

We play small in the sense that we minimize our growth to avoid feelings of failure, rejection, or unease. It often feels like sitting on the sidelines of life, not fully playing in the game. We dismiss what we really want in our life in order to live into the momentary illusion that we are safe, secure, and in control right where we are. That is just a trick of the mind. It's not any safer in the now, it's just more known.

The feeling of playing small is believing into our limited thinking. We might hear the whisper of wisdom asking us to "play big" and then our intellect hustles in to tell us all of the reasons that this idea is impractical, selfish, or too aspirational. This limited thinking feels like The Truth so we behave accordingly. We play to our small-minded thinking instead of breathing life into the thoughts that feel bigger, more expansive, and more alive.

"People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.” ― Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

We are all seeking the feeling of aliveness, of living to our fullest potential, of being used up or used by life. It's easy to attach this desire to a certain outcome in the "real world" --- a business that makes a certain amount of money, or reaches a certain number of clients, or subscribers on an email list. We innocently believe these things will bring us the feeling of aliveness that we seek.

But the feeling of playing big has nothing to do with your job title, the money you make, or the number of things checked off your to-do list. As soon as we place the feeling of aliveness into a box called 10K followers on Instagram, we constrict the good feeling again and limit our possibility. Playing big is about living into the feeling of aliveness in any moment.

It doesn't matter which area of life we are addressing, it is the same underneath. We can play small or big in business, in health, or in relationships. Heck! We can even play small or big in the grocery store. Perhaps the grocery store is a great place to practice. Where have you been restricting yourself or limiting yourself? A chocolate bar? A latte? Does getting a case of Evian water foster a sense of aliveness in you? If so, start there. Notice.

We will feel the feeling of playing small when we act according to our constricted thinking. We will feel the feeling of aliveness when we live into our more expansive ideas of creativity and inspiration. We can stand still on the sidelines, pretending to be invisible. Or we can leap into the game of the unknown and dare to get a little messy. We are safe either way.

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