I keep seeing and hearing this phrase, “Stop playing small.” In my business group, in memes, from “thought leaders” and lifestyle personalities, on pages geared toward women’s empowerment, all over the place. And I get it. Women have been reduced by the world around them for far too long. If “playing small” means holding yourself back for the wrong reasons, by all means, stop doing that. Go do and be all that you want to. If “stop playing small” means “smashing the patriarchy,” overcoming fear and self-doubt and people-pleasing, forsaking social norms, letting go of ego, then yes! Let’s do that.
But sometimes I wonder if “stop playing small” is just another version of our culture’s obsession with “bigger means better.” If it’s really code for: achieve more, produce more, earn more, consume more, post (on social media) more, get more likes, get more followers, more visibility, more attention. And frankly, this obsession with “more” and “bigger” is why our culture is running on empty and our planet is careening toward extinction.
In a way, telling women to “stop playing small” can also carry the subtle message that they aren’t already enough. That their worth lies in what they still need to achieve/accomplish/become. I’m sensitive to this because I’ve felt that pressure, both externalized, from the society I live in, and internalized, from an inherited value system. I’m influenced and swayed by these motivations, just like other people.
But maybe if we had more ability to appreciate small things and small moments, we would need less. Maybe if we saw ourselves as “small”—small parts of a larger whole, small actors in a big, diverse world, small beings compared to Earth/Nature, to God, to the multiverse, to Life—maybe we would have more humility then. More space for others. Maybe if we had more reverence and respect for small things, we’d value the tiny species who keep our ecosystems running and protect them better. Maybe we’d stop taking, cutting, mining, stripping, bulldozing, building, expanding, exploiting.
Maybe we’d pay more attention to small voices, small victories, small places, small actions, small ideas that have the potential to grow into something wonderful and miraculous.
I’ve been practicing this for the past several months, this “playing small.” It’s the opposite of what I’d intended to do after graduating. I had intended to do, accomplish, achieve big things, to maintain the momentum, to stand in the spotlight, to “live large,” in a sense. And I still hope to make a significant contribution to the world. But I realize now that any contribution worth making has to come from a small space of peace, of clarity, of realness, of groundedness. A sacred space where small things matter.
So, should we stop playing small? It depends on what that means. Personally, I’m learning to embrace it so that I can better find my place in this big, complex world.