Playing Small

There’s something coming together in me, and I don’t exactly know what it is, yet.

I had a conversation with one of the hiring managers, for the position I recently didn’t get. He offered that he’d talk to me about what stood between me and the job, and I thought it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

The conversation was interesting— he said that I’m not quite there in terms of “leadership presence.” And then he admitted that he couldn’t define that. And that I’m growing in that area every day, and a different person than I was three months ago.

Fundamentally, this is why it’s good that I applied for the job even though they didn’t hire me. Even if they would never have hired me for it. Because people see such a small part of what I have in me, day to day. And part of that is my fault.

So many people have encountered this quote:

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, and 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 will not 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 is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.- Marianne Williamson

I feel very much indicted by this quote. I have intentionally played small, in my life, and I feel like it’s coming back to haunt me.

I remember being in high school. I worked with a guy, and he said that I was so “good” that it made him feel like there was no point. He could never be good the way I was, and so he felt like it wasn’t worth trying. I was embarrassed. I wasn’t trying to make anyone feel bad, I was just trying to do my best to get my life right— I thought that was the point.

I remember being in college. I was in Art Appreciation, which was a brutal 8 a.m. class in which the professor plunged us into darkness to show us slides. It was so hard to stay awake. My go-to strategy was to engage in the class discussion. I’d ask questions, I’d volunteer answers. One day, the baseball player in front of me (and at my college at the time, baseball players were like gods) turned around after class and said “M, you seem kind of cool. Like we could be friends. But seriously, none of the rest of us are answering questions because the professor will give up and let us out of class earlier. If you’d just shut up in class, we’d get along just fine.” I declined his offer, but remembered how my “doing what came naturally” made me unacceptable.

Later in college, I was a standout in my major, and my senior year, I lived off-campus with another standout English major a couple of years younger. It was a great arrangement— lots of books, we liked the same music and had the same friend group, we threw great parties and encouraged each other as writers. We edited the literary magazine together. It was a small enough college that we knew the professors well enough to invite them to our parties, and they often came. I remember standing in our dining room as my creative writing professor told me that, although I was bright and talented, my roommate would be great. He effectively predicted that I’d make someone a great assistant one day. My heart was broken, but a big piece of me believed him.

And don’t even get me started on the ways I was silenced through sexual intimidation and worse.

My whole life, I’ve been told to shut up and blend in. To play small and not offend. And, I promise, I’ve tried to do it that way, and still be the best of who I can be. But it seems to me that I offend without intent— minding my own business, living my own truth. And now, I give the impression that I’m nothing special. And without intent to offend, let me tell you that I can’t stand behind a lie that big. I can’t be the best of who I can be from where I am— I need to climb higher. And please don’t fall for the idea that I don’t have it in me. It was only ever a matter of time.


3 thoughts on “Playing Small

  1. Pingback: The Unsinkable Molly Brown | Adventures of Auntie M

  2. Pingback: This, Again, Only More So | Adventures of Auntie M

  3. Pingback: Women in Leadership | Adventures of Auntie M

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