Your playing small does not serve the world.
– Marianne Williamson
When I first read this declaration 20 or 30 years ago, it chagrined me that it sounded so right. I worried that it was yet another message from the Universe, cajoling me (we have that kind of a relationship, the Universe and I) to be out there in the world more than I am. To have more social horsepower than I actually do. Create a large group of friends – you’ll live longer! Join choirs and book groups and serve on boards. Get out there and stop playing small!
Fortunately, my ability to think things through (and through and through) eventually helped me see what Williamson was trying to say. “Playing small” isn’t about how involved we are; it is about stopping ourselves from growing into individual fullness. It’s about holding back from being one’s freest self. When we are truly ourselves, as influencers we’re gigantic. We exert tremendous wattage of power in our little corner of the world, and shed a great and warming light.
Even if we feel kind of small.
I should note here that I’m not saying that clarity necessarily comes with being your “full and freest self.” I think, in fact, that it’s much more about being able to tolerate the evaporative quality of clarity, being able to tolerate the messiness of the whole ride of life. It’s a rollercoaster, right? It’s a rollercoaster and you’re carrying a glass of hot tea in one hand and a drippy ice cream cone in the other. When you’re being you, it’s worth the spillage and the sticky ick and the wide-eyed ride – it’s thrilling even so. When you’re not being you, it’s just… a hot and sticky mess.
Other people can help you recognize when you are your most authentic self, though few will tell you so in so many words. It’s something they smell more than hear or see. You can smell it in others, right? You have this feeling that, in the moment, the person you are talking with is giving you a rehearsed self. The words sound real, but there’s an aliveness missing. It’s like that stuff that is supposed to taste like maple syrup. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but something is off. Are you with me? Surely you’ve tried that syrup.
When you are having a conversation with someone who is authentic, you begin to feel more authentic, too. You are both sharing a real Vermont maple syrup moment, and it is so delicious.
Here’s another way I think of it: we are each a kite on a long string. If the kite isn’t linked to something on the ground, it gets caught up by passing breezes and currents, loses all direction, and very quickly gets lost. It’s actually not a kite then; it’s flotsam in the sky. Given an anchor, however – a point tethering it to the ground – the kite is able to fly and dip and actually extend its reach in a lovely, purposeful way. So it is with feeling anchored in what is authentic to you.
You can see that part of what is authentic to me is a fairly constant fountain of images and metaphors and kites and ice cream and very hot tea. That I can’t seem to stop. What, within you, can’t you seem to stop? What arises naturally from you that brings light and delight (either to yourself or to those around you)?
The start of school marks the beginning of our Personal Journey work together, Quiet Ambassadors-in-training. You already know that you’ll be meeting either with me or with the wonderful Daisy Swan. No matter the content of our sessions, the larger arc of our time together will be about helping you not play small. But I want to reiterate (here I am speaking as a deputy for the Universe, which really can be quite friendly) that it’s not about the activity level of your life, the number of students or colleagues you influence every day, the number of committees for which you volunteer, or the number of social engagements in which you’re included. It’s about how you influence the people around you, how you live your freedom, how you inhabit the life you have and how you become the you that you were born to become.
Your students need exactly this from you. They need to see authenticity in action. They are desperate to see you increasingly free and creative and real so that they know it is possible for them to take the same kind of journey. They need to taste real maple syrup when they are with you.
It is this “small” goal I set for the work of the year together. The intent of our time together will be about helping you become gigantic. We will be playing with the big, wonderful truth that as long as we are moving toward who we are meant to be, we can serve the world, no matter how large or small our own particular corner.