How to stop playing small

How To Stop Playing Small

A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.

John Augustus Shedd

For the past few weeks I’ve felt tired. Bone tired and a little bit cowed. I didn’t really know why – but I put it down to ‘life is sometimes hard’

Which it is. But we can make it even harder than it needs to be.

I’m not a shiny ‘just think positive and everything will be great’ coach. In fact, I’ve often said that optimism isn’t my default position.

So I know I’m not always going to be bouncy and upbeat. But these past few weeks have been … different. I’ve been second guessing myself, spending way too much time on tasks that don’t really warrant the amount of attention they’ve had. And I’ve been procrastinating. Boy have I been procrastinating.

I was asked to put some course overviews together for a prospective client and somehow all last week they made it to the bottom of my To Do list. Whenever I sat at my computer to do them I would get a wave of exhaustion sweep over me.

A thought started to form.

“Perhaps my resistance is a sign that this isn’t the right thing for me to be doing.”

No, actually that’s a lie. The thought wasn’t nearly that well formed or adult. I was actually closer to,

“I don’t wanna…it’s scary and I wanna have a nap and forget about it.”

When I reminded myself that this wasn’t scary really (well, no more scary than any other potential new piece of work) my thoughts shifted.

“It probably won’t lead anywhere anyway so it will be a big waste of my time.”


“It’ll be a nightmare – I’ve never done a course quite like this before.”

Translation=It won’t be perfect.

Even though I actually thrive of new and challenging – especially when I’m coaching and training. It made no logical sense but as the days went on I felt like I was crumpling inside. Shrinking inwards, getting smaller and more scared each day.

“This is proof you can’t do this. Proof you’re not up to it.”

I started to worry that voice might be telling the truth.

I was becoming locked in a spiral of self doubt. And fear was winning. I was believing everything it said.

Thankfully I’m a coach – who has a great coach! And that coach asked me a fantastic question:

“Is this your gut or your fear talking?”

And sure enough, It was fear.

My gut reflects my instinctive, intuitive self. When my gut is speaking to me, it feels solid and aligned. I don’t feel like I’m shrinking. It’s fear that does that.

I had been playing small because I was listening to my fear. Not doing the course overviews – for a potential new client that could lead to some great revenue and new clients for me was me playing small. I didn’t want small. I wanted to step into my Bigness.

As soon as I realized this, it became so much easier to just sit down and get the work done.

I sent them off to the client in plenty of time for their deadline. Was I still scared? Hell yes! I still worry nothing will come of it. I still worry that even if I do get the work I’ll make a fool of myself or fall short of my ridiculously high standards. BUT I also know that those fears are manageable – and far more preferable to staying cowed and small.

Being a coach requires all kinds of growth – the coaching part is one thing – and if you’re setting up and running a business as well, that’s quite another.

For many of us, the growth required is so huge, so mammoth that it can be overwhelming.

Along with growth comes fear – it’s part of the deal. But you don’t have to be diminished by it. Tweet This!

That fear is trying to protect you and keep you safe.

To be a great coach – a successful, solvent, happy coach, requires you to grow and stretch yourself to the point where things aren’t ‘safe’ and protected.

There is risk involved, uncertainty.

Know that this is going to bring up fear. Regularly bring it up.

Be OK with that.

Become accustomed to living with it, letting it walk alongside you. At times even just white knuckles pushing through it.

The fear is like an overprotective mother trying to keep you safe.

Love your fear for that.

Then decide if you’re going to let is smother you or not.

Our fear wants us to be small – where it can keep us safe and protected and slowly dying inside. It will tell us all sorts of things to keep us from going outside of that harbor. But fear is often a liar too. Sneaky, manipulative and desperate. Fear wants you to be small.

How This Fear Shows Up

Fear can show up in lots of guises, including:

  • resisting
  • tiredness
  • avoiding
  • boredom (when the idea totally excited you before)
  • deciding you didn’t like something anyway (like, why did I ever think I wanted that?)
  • hiding
  • perfecting
  • Taking your fear as a sign of …anything other than what it is e.g. My fear must be telling me this is a bad idea, I’m not ready, there’s something else out there for me etc.

How To Stop Playing Small

Do you want to keep being small? Do you want to give up your dreams and goals because of it? If you do, that’s perfectly OK – so long as it’s a choice you’re making consciously and congruently.

You see, fear has a way of convincing you that smallness is the only way. It wants you to forget your dreams of bigness.

What’s bigness? That feeling you get when you’re working at your edge – exhilarated and powerful.

Bigness is what you bring to the world in all it’s glorious genius.

It’s deep and rooted and filled with possibility made real.

And it can be scary as hell because bigness carries with it an awe inspiring power that can leave us quaking a little bit.

But great coaches help bring that out in their clients. We hold them in that place of possibility and bigness and say ‘why not?’

You’re choice is whether to choose the same for yourself.

 Some Questions To Help

  • How are you holding yourself hostage to fear and playing it small?
  • What would your bigness offer the world if you were to truly step into it?
  • What would you gain if you did that?
  • What would you lose if you tolerate staying where you are (albeit safe in the harbor?)

A Final Step

Proclaim your bigness. Seriously – we’re raised to not toot our own horn or get too big for our boots but to hell with that! We’ve all got unique gifts and skills and the world could do with a few more people who are willing to step into that – not in an arrogant ‘I’ve got to puff myself up because deep down I don’t feel good enough’ way but in a calm, solid, confident way.

Still not convinced? Ask yourself this:

Do you believe in coaching? Do you understand the power of coaching to help others change their beliefs, achieve their goals, achieve things for themselves they’d never believed possible before? Then OWN that! Own the knowledge of that – and what coaching can do for people. Then it becomes less about you and more about the profession and the transformation you can be the catalyst for in others.

 Step Up

What are you going to declare? Share what stepping into bigness means for you and how your fear whispers in your ear to hold you back.

P.S. Come back tomorrow because I’m going to be launching a 30 day boldness challenge – let step into our bigness together with support, encouragement and accountability!