Your playing small does not serve the world


This week has been rich with 1:1 meetings in Glasgow, Edinburgh and London with amazing people from a wide variety of backgrounds.

These meetings, and one in particular, reminded me of three things:

  1. We have far more in common than we allow ourselves to recognise
  2. Profound Beauty can create a shift
  3. Repetition, repetition, repetition

Let me explain, and I hope you can take your own leadership learnings from my experience.

We have far more in common than we allow ourselves to recognise

Who are we?

Are we our job title?

Are we the various identities we give ourselves and others give us?

For example, one evening this week I had a birthday dinner and was, to those present, variously son, brother, cousin, father, godson, friend, and perhaps one or two identities more they chose not to tell me!

What about the masks we wear? As someone I met with this week talked about, how often do we feel we have to show we are “bulletproof”?

We are not our job title, we are not our identities, we are not our masks, we are not bulletproof.

Profound Beauty can create a shift

One of my meetings was a coaching meeting. My client is stratospherically talented, intellectually brilliant, able to analyse and rationalise anything incredibly quickly.

However, they are also human.

Ah, being human. Such a gift and so full of beautiful flaws. It is these “flaws” that make us who we are. The Japanese have a form of art called Kintsukuroi, and when I wrote about this a while ago, I said: “At a human level, we are the sum total of all of our experiences and the cracks and breaks that we repair are part of our uniqueness in and for the world.”

This very human client was struggling with something that we all have to some degree, a lack of self-worth. They were unable to accept how brilliant they are and so this was limiting their ability to serve and support others.

For a while we talked around it as they looked to rationalise and so change themselves through logic. As I sat and listened, I saw that this would achieve nothing.

At that point, something else came to me, as if from nowhere. As I wrote in this post, “Debussy said : “La musique, c’est ce qu’il y a entre les notes”. The poetically translated English version is “Music is the space between the notes”. The French more literally translates to “Music, it is what is between the notes”

So, in that moment, it occurred to me to share one of my favourite quotes, having my client first read it to themselves silently, after which I read it to them, slowly. We then sat in silence.

It is a beautiful quote and it created a shift that rationality and discussion could and would not.

Profound Beauty can create a shift. Consider using this when you need to change things. Go for a walk in nature, eat good food, make something together. Shifts don’t come from thinking and rationality, they come from energy and emotion. Beauty and craft are great ways to achieve this.

Repetition, repetition, repetition

So, to that beautiful quote, but first, to “repetition, repetition, repetition”. I work with leaders around the world and often around communicating and engaging their people around their “why”, vision, purpose.

The phrase I often use is “when you are bored to death with repeating your message.. you are probably about half way there”

Repetition is key.

The quote is one I’ve used again and again in different contexts. In fact, you can search for it on this site and see a number of varying uses of it to illustrate different points.

Oh, and I am a human too. It often acts as a reminder to me to not play small, to own my unique value in the world. I carry this with me in a note on my phone and I repeatedly reference it for myself and others.

I give you the quote from Marianne Williamson, then also a clip from the magnificent film Coach Carter, which utilises this wonderfully to show high school students taking ownership and responsibility for making the most of who they are rather than throwing it away.

“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, 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 won’t 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’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Now to that clip from Coach Carter.

It is a wonderful movie, and am so glad my sons shared it with me a few years ago.

Every time I watch this clip, tears well up. Yup. Shifts occur through emotions, not logic.




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