Love Yourself Enough to Stop Playing Small

"Is this really what you want to do with the rest of your life?" With only two months conducting performance audits under my belt, I was offended by the audacity of the question. I was still terrified to even speak, let alone consider where I might be in 10 years. But really it irritated me because deep down the answer was already a silent, resounding "no." 

That career path was an incredible opportunity for which I will always be grateful. Always. At the peak of the recession I was gainfully employed and being promoted. By 24 I was already creeping up on six figures. It was stressful and demanding, but it was exactly where I was meant to be for that season of my life. Some of the skills were certainly industry specific, but many of them were universal. I knew from the beginning as a newly graduated 21-year-old that that job was a crucial step to meeting my purpose. I routinely conducted interviews both in person and via teleconference. Technical writing, business travel, training and mentoring, heading up contribution campaigns...the list is long.

It was when I had my first baby that I finally accepted I was a round peg in a square hole. The flexibility I had wasn't flexible enough. The sacrifices moms have to make to be successful career women angered me. If I was doing well at work, home suffered. If I was rocking it at home, work took the hits. Sound familiar?

By the time my second child came along I was furious. I was "lucky" enough to borrow additional sick leave before accruing it so I could be home with my newborn. (Lucky because too many women don't have access to any paid leave at all.) That required still being in touch with work while I was recovering. Even that little bit of interruption upset me. That spoke volumes.  

My hour long commute home had me pining for a different reality. I knew that I was meant to do something bigger, but I couldn't begin to imagine it. What would I do? How would it work? Other jobs are even less flexible than the one I had and I wholeheartedly believed finding another job would mean less "freedom." 

But my soul pulled harder. I still remember the day I promised I would find a way to help struggling moms. I was exhausted, as per usual, and almost unaware of the commute itself. As I crossed a bridge, I finally saw a tiny part of my calling. The how didn't develop then. It's still forming now. The difference, though, is that now I know it's time to stop playing small.

If you're reading this, there's a good chance you feel like there is something more for you. When we play small, we don't stand a chance of completely fulfilling our purposes. When we play small, others who are unknowingly counting on us miss out. Playing small can mean staying miserable.

Wherever you are in your life right now, take a step back and dream. Dream of where you would be or what you would do if nothing could hold you back. Perhaps you see a specific career. Maybe you see yourself getting closer to work-life balance. Or maybe you're able to devote the majority of your time to your passion. Whatever the dream, allow yourself to see it, feel it, and love it. Hold on to your feelings of excitement as you come back to reality. You can have the dream if you're willing to take a leap and stop playing small.

Looking back, my unhappiness, stress, and feelings of less than were because I knew I wasn't living the life I was supposed to be living. I wasn't fulfilling my purpose. I wasn't anywhere close. Even now I'm just dipping my toe in the water. The difference, though, is that I know I am heading in the right direction. This space is about to grow into something I've only dreamed of creating. People are going to start seeing me get out from behind my computer and working with them in person.

There's no more playing small here. Are you ready to make the same commitment? You might not know which direction to go yet. It might be slow at first. You might take baby steps. That's okay. As long you're moving forward with purpose and passion, you'll get there.

So hands up if you're ready to stop playing small and embrace your calling. Then find a mirror, look yourself in the eye, and say, "Today I commit to identifying, pursuing, and fulfilling my purpose one dream and one step at a time. I am strong. I am capable. I am worthy. Today is the day."

Say it until you mean it. Then go take that first step. Crack open the self-development book that's been collecting dust on your shelf. Buy your web address. Call the friend that offered months or years ago to help you when you were ready. Pick up a pen and write down every idea that comes to you. I don't care what you do. Just do something.

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