Do You Want To Keep Playing Small?

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. – Anaïs Nin

Why is courage so important in creating the life you want?

One of the current catchphrases in the personal development world is “playing small.” Although that expression was not part of Anaïs Nin’s extraordinary and sensuous vocabulary, whether you choose to play small or play large is the underlying question.

I frequently write about how both cultural and family legacies limit our ability to speak up, speak out and advocate for ourselves. The impact of culture and what we are taught by our families set the stage for whether we will play small or play large. But you can step off that original stage and create something bigger and better that allows you to live a more authentic life. Once you understand that the original limits are not fixed but are fluid, the sky’s the limit!

Our parents did not intend to limit us or restrict us to following the lives they led. When they taught us to follow the rules, seek approval from others and not to stand out from the crowd, they were trying to keep us safe. Big news: playing it safe is the equivalent of playing small.

How do you shift from being small, obedient and unsure of yourself to expansive, authentic and visible? You need courage.

Couragesilhouette of a people

What is courage? Courage honors your personal values. It does the right thing at the right time. Courage comes from listening to yourself and valuing what you believe in. And choosing what’s right for you situation by situation.

We celebrate the women who fought for women’s right to vote during March, Women’s History Month. Beginning with the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, the 1st women’s rights convention, and ending with the 19th Amendment passed in 1920, women’s suffrage was unpopular, uncomfortable and led some women to take radical action. Although many women who fought for suffrage were willing to be patient and conciliatory, other women took to the streets, were arrested and imprisoned, placed in solitary confinement and held a hunger strike that led to their being forced fed for several weeks.

Our personal fears are just as substantial as the fears that radical suffragettes faced when fighting for women’s right to vote. Today, professional women report being interrupted when they are speaking at business meetings and they find it scary to reclaim their right to keep speaking. What if you could recover the attention you need and do it with both grace and authority? Other women feel stressed out and anxious about saying no to a son, daughter, brother or sister who asks to borrow money, even though they know in their gut that no is the right answer this time. What if you could say no with courage and compassion? Taking even tiny steps out of your comfort zone takes courage.

Courage implies stepping out of your ordinary comfort zone to break into new territory, whether that territory is in the legal and political world, or the inner world where we deal with our personal demons, negative thinking, and self-sabotaging behaviors. Courage doesn’t exist without fear.

Facing Fear

When we want an expansive life, we find our courage by facing our fears. A way to deal with your fear that I teach in my seminars is how to steal fear’s energy and use it for yourself.

Skills and strategies are necessary when you want to start living large. Skills like:

  • Knowing what to say
  • How to say it
  • Planning a strategy
  • Finding support
  • Thinking ahead of time about consequences
  • And knowing how to deal with different possible outcomes

These skills and many others are all necessary. And they are not sufficient.

It’s equally important to do the inner work: finding your authenticity and honoring it and anchoring to it. That’s what gives you the courage to face your fears and do the work – whether that work is speaking out for human rights or claiming the respect you deserve.

When you decide to stop playing small, you will be afraid: that’s normal. Fear is also a sign that you are getting to the edges of your comfort zone. I used to believe in just crashing through my fears and doing it anyway. I no longer believe in “powering through” to get to the other side.

I won’t be the one to tell you to just jump in and do it anyway. I am now more comfortable with talking with my fear instead of trying to obliterate it. I prefer to

  • Feel my fear.
  • Sit in front of it.
  • Name it.
  • Ask how it can help me.
  • See how fear can be an ally instead of an enemy

You can steal the energy back from fear and begin to use it:

  • Dare to be yourself.
  • Grow your courage.
  • Stop playing small.


Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell was born to Cuban parents in France where she was raised. She was a contemporary of the writer Henry Miller. Her best known writing are her diaries or journals which span several decades and provide a deeply explorative insight into her personal life and relationships. She was born in 1903 in Paris and died in 1977 in Los Angeles.

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