Playing Big

user Darren Gold

What is it about our willingness to stay small? Have you noticed it? In yourself? In your teammates? The need for safety, for comfort. The aversion to risk. The fear of failure. The propensity to shrink in the face of challenge and opportunity.

To be sure, there is an admirable humility in self-effacement. In rightfully acknowledging the contributions of others. In creating space, not taking space. But there is something lost in staying small. The unwillingness to play big is not just unfortunate, it is ultimately selfish. It elevates the protection of self above all else. Playing big is the most selfless of acts. It allows the majestic gifts in each of us to be brought forward for the benefit of others. And, as leaders, when we play big, when we are big, it serves as a powerful example for others to follow. 

No one has captured the essence of this better than the author and activist Marianne Williamson:

“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 were 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.”

Staying small is a function of our biology – we are wired to survive and avoid risk – and our culture – we adopt the limiting belief systems of our families and environment. Playing big is the byproduct of reconstructing our identity-based beliefs, thereby reshaping the very concept of who we are. But it’s more than that. Staying small or playing big is embodied.

There is an unforgettable scene in the most recent Bradley Cooper remake of the movie A Star is Born. Bradley plays the character Jack Maine, a famous country rock star battling alcohol and drug addiction. He stops in a bar one night after one of his performances and meets Ally, a waitress and amateur singer-songwriter, played by Lady Gaga. After spending an evening together, Jack invites Ally to be a personal guest at his next concert. In the middle of that concert, Jack walks backstage to a shocked Ally and announces to the crowd that he’d like his friend to join him onstage. After some hesitation, Ally steps to the microphone and begins to sing the song of a lifetime. It is at the song’s crescendo when something unmistakably powerful occurs. Ally stretches her arms wide open as if to embrace the entire crowd. Perhaps the entire world. It is this physical act that represents the transition from staying small to playing big. It is a physical act that is available to all of us.

Take a look at your life right now. Where is it that you might be staying small? And where is it that you are being called forth to play big? How can you occupy more space? Not in the sense of closing space for others. But in the sense of allowing the world to experience the full range of your gifts and magnificence.

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