Don’t Play Small

Mrs. Bowman, my 6th grade Science teacher, passed back our Science tests.  She hadn’t recorded them yet, so she wanted us to tell her our scores when she called out our names — in front of the whole class.  She said if we were uncomfortable with our scores we could walk our papers up to the front and just show her.  Since my last name started with an ‘S’, I had heard most of the scores before me and I was uncomfortable sharing my score.

See I had gotten a 100% and I didn’t want to be the smartest kid.  I was still a cool kid at that point and that 100% didn’t feel cool.  I didn’t want others to feel bad, and I thought it would be kind of funny. I was showing off for the rebels in the group.

Photo courtesy of Spanish & Illinois

So when Mrs. Bowan called my name I sheepishly walked to the front of the room and I showed her my 100%.  Let’s just say, it didn’t go over well.  She scolded me in front of the whole class and told me I should not be ashamed of excellence — that 100% was nothing to hide.

I learned a valuable lesson that day:

Never pretend to be less, when you are more.

Since those days, I have learned this to be true.

My favorite quote in the world is by Marianne Williamson agrees.  (I told you you would see it again.)

“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. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

(Oohh, remind me to tell you how this quote helped me to break a board with my bare hands.)

This quote is saying, When I rock it, it gives you permission to rock it as well.  We all benefit when we reach our potential and do our best.

I played small that day back in my 6th grade Science class.  I shrunk so that others wouldn’t feel bad.  But all that did was make others uncomfortable to be great as well.

I have been reminded of these same thoughts over the past few weeks as I have been teased / belittled a bit for some of my talents.  I was just going about my business doing my thing, but others kept harping on me and bringing my abilities up over and over.  I was so confused on why they cared what I did — I wasn’t asking them to put in more time, I wasn’t asking them to spend money; I wasn’t asking them to do it for me.  I was just doing the best that I could do and what came most naturally to me.  They for sure didn’t appreciate it, and to be honest, it felt like they actually resented my efforts.

After another taunt, I may or may not have gone off and declared, “You wouldn’t ask a singer to sing off tune and you wouldn’t ask a basketball player to miss a shot.  So don’t ask me to do less than I can do so that you feel comfortable.”

We shrink every time we downplay a talent, a skill, a relationship, a feeling, a prompting, an idea, a thought, etc.  And all we do when we shrink is encourage others to shrink as well.   I am not saying to brag or boast or flaunt; but I am saying to be exactly who you are even if it makes other people feel uncomfortable.  In the end, when we “let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

I will not play small; I learned that lesson in 6th grade.

11 thoughts on “Don’t Play Small”

  1. Well put! As I read this, I thought of all the times that I have done this or this has happened to me. Just this week in fact. I needed to read this, TODAY. Thanks! I am going to continue to be ME! You are Awesome and I appreciate your blog!

  2. Excellent! 100%! :0)

    Thank you for reminding me of this. I love this quote by Harry Emerson Fosdick as well:”. . .there are two kinds of hypocrisy: when we try to appear better than we are, and when we let ourselves appear worse than we are.”

  3. Thank you for not playing small and sharing your talents through your blog…you have inspired me in many ways to better my life and strengthen myself, my home, and my family…the quote is true. We all have strengths and talents to share with others. It blesses us all when we share our talents and embrace those gifts from others. It makes us stronger. When we belittle ourselves or others for their strengths, it weakens us.

  4. I can’t tell you how many times I have had these same thoughts. Good for you. I never play small and neither should anyone else! 🙂

  5. Amen, sista!! I don’t remember this day in 6th grade, but I do remember that because of your example, you always made me want to do my best. Thank you for letting your light so shine so that I would want to also!

  6. I love this. It is right on the money! I have a copy of this pinned to my bulletin board where I can see it everyday. I’m curious, mine is said to be a quote taken from Nelson Mandela’s Inaugural Speech in 1994. I wonder who said it first. 😉 Either way, I’m glad it was said. Thanks for the post.

    1. Korri, It is my understading that Nelson Mandela used the quote in his inagural speech but that he was quoting Marriane Williamson. Like you said, either way, it is awesome!

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