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The Opposite of Small is Not Big

“Don’t play small! Play Big!!”

I often hear (or read) these words in my world of professional, leadership, and personal development.

I’m all about not playing small. We do ourselves, and the world, a disservice when we hold back, shrink the space we occupy, damp down our potential, keep our thoughts, opinions, and gifts hidden, or hide our lights.

But I cringe at the idea of juxtaposing big and small when it comes to how and where you choose to play. When presented as an either/or – if you’re not playing big, you’re playing small – the underlying message is that BIGGER is BETTER.

Hogwash!

A step back in time …

Seventeen years ago, I was participating in a leadership retreat and chatting with a handful of my cohorts. I’d recently launched a new program, and shared my excitement and how much I loved working with the ten participants.

“Congratulations” and “That’s awesome!!” were quickly followed by:

You should expand this to big groups.

You should take your program to corporate.

You can reach more people, have a bigger impact, and make more money!!!

You need to play BIG!!!              

I knew they meant well, and I truly believed their intention was to support me. But when I told them that wasn’t what I had in mind, I got a chorus of, “You’re playing small! C’mon, you’re missing the opportunity to play big!”

It’s not that I’ve never played small. Fear and discomfort have won out more times than I like to remember.

This was not one of those times.

Staying in the corporate world I’d in lived for years would have been the path of least resistance. I’d have stayed firmly entrenched in my comfort zone and been much more certain of the financial outcome. But I consciously chose a different path, an alternative to the path of least resistance. I was being bold and playing big.

Seventeen years later, I believe even more deeply that being bold, going for what you want, and brightly shining your light is critically important. It makes the world a better place and boosts success and happiness.

But when scale, scope, and size become the yardstick for measuring whether or not you’re playing big, the critical element of happiness gets left out of the equation.

In my case, my happiness is inextricably linked to connection and intimacy. I’m fully capable of presenting in front of several hundred people and bringing my programs to the corporate world, but it’s working one-on-one or with small- to medium-sized groups that makes my heart sing.

Impact comes in all shapes and sizes. And so does playing big, whether that’s:

  • Having the guts to be the lone dissenting voice in a meeting
  • Throwing your hat in the ring for a promotion even when you’re worried you don’t meet every qualification
  • Leaving your executive position to start a small consulting firm in order to have more freedom and flexibility
  • Stepping back into a sole contributor role after being a manager, because that’s where you do your best work and are happiest
  • Setting your sights on becoming a CEO
  • Writing the novel you’ve dreamed about for years
  • Exiting the business you’ve built, loved, and nurtured because it no longer brings you joy

That’s a smattering of examples :-).

Any time you tip-toe, step, or leap through fear and discomfort to reach for something you want, you’re playing big, no matter how large or small your move looks to someone else.

YOU are the only one who gets to decide where and how you want to shine your beautiful, brilliant light.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.” ~ Marianne Williamson

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Sherry Essig