Random Messes

Playing it Small

“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 doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you…. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
-Nelson Mandela  

So here’s a funny thing. I’ve had this quote sitting in my drafts for the better part of a year.

With the passing of Nelson Mandela last week, there’s been much reflection on his inspiring words and incredible actions throughout his lifetime, and I’ll admit to scouring the internet for the perfect quote for my next blog post. It’s only kismet that I happened to click upon this draft today.

Apparently this quote is not Nelson Mandela at all, but my very favorite Marianne Williamson. Sorry to have led you astray, faithful reader.

What’s even more curious is that I clearly have not been feeling in tune with the above sentiment lately. No, the quote I was looking for was going to be something more along the lines of strength and perseverance. Something that might shadow my recent sufferings in the light of someone else’s pure but unexpected sacrifices.

Yeah, funny how that works.

I met someone last night at a party and we were discussing our little girls. He was chatting about how his daughter was being taught by her maternal grandparents to be “modest:” to work hard and do things well but be very heavy handed with the self-effacement. This was an intellectually foreign concept to both of us. Let’s face it, meekness has never been my strong suit. But at the same time, no one taught me to be bold… hence the reason it took me 20 years to start writing, and why I’m still completely insecure about it.

Are we feeling small, or just playing small?

Poise and modesty are virtues held in very high regard in women, especially those here in the South. But if you look around, many of us are toting coffee mugs that say “Good Girls Rarely Make History.”

So which is it?

How scary would it be if we embraced our strengths and led by example? Would people scoff at us and our boldness? Yet, aren’t we all out there looking for strong female role models, who are nothing more than people who are giving us permission to be powerful?

Power doesn’t have to be all Sheryl Sandberg-y. It doesn’t have to be Oprah. It can be nothing more than raw authenticity. Breathing into our brokeness and obsessions and owning them. And we don’t always do that alone.

Do you think Tina Fey considers herself powerful? Hell no! Read Bossy Pants and you’ll learn that she thinks she’s neurotic and maladjusted. When I ran into an old crush at the gym in New York over Thanksgiving, and subsequently FELL ALL OVER MYSELF, it was this GIF that brought me solace (and left me giggling like a fucking mental patient)

Tina doesn’t shrink into awkwardness. She doesn’t play it down so as to make others feel more comfortable. She owns it. It just happens to be her thing. And we LOVE her for it. Because she inspires us to breathe into our own awkwardness and THAT is powerful.

Someone told me the other day that I am “owning” this breakup. Ha! Now, she did’t say I’m coping well or moving on like a champ, because that’s kind of bullshit. But she pointed out that what I am doing is saying yes to everything. Everything I’m experiencing and everything that’s in front of me : the crying in Pottery Barn, the invitations to hang out even when I don’t want to, the binges, the angst-fueled runs outside that make my knees hurt for days, the cathartic writing sessions (both what I publish and what will never see the light of day). All of these activities scare the shit out of me, and they scare the shit out of others too!

But… this is where I’m living right now. If you know me, you know that I’m no good at hiding what’s going on with me. I’m wearing this heartbreak like a fucking busted tiara… and I don’t know how to play it small.

So, like Tina, I’m hoping that it’s this kind of realness, as embarrassing  and uncomfortable as it is, that inspires people to “own” whatever it is that they happen to be going through or whoever it is they happen to be. 

As we look at who we are and what we present to the world, are we being fearlessly authentic?

Do we let people see us hurt? There’s power in that. Do we downplay our gifts so as to not appear boastful? That’s playing small. Are we putting ourselves out there, if only to give others permission to do the same?

Who will you inspire today with your power?

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