Small can be a wonderful thing: A small stature, small meals; even a small New York City apartment can have its charms. Not so for being emotional small. What’s that? It’s constantly selling yourself short, saying “no” out of fear or self doubt, or maybe out of not wanting to work very hard. Small is deciding what the outcome of trying new things will be before you even try. Small is not hoping for much, not asking for much, and not trying to create very much. Small is accepting what comes your way and not rocking the boat.
We convince ourselves that leaving small behind is risky. If we live our lives in bigger ways, depart from small, we risk being seen as arrogant, or being taken advantage of. There’s something to be said for this; some people will likely accuse you of arrogance, and the bigger you get, the better you’ll need to be at not letting yourself be messed with. But getting caught up on that–that’s just another way of staying small.
Bigger is hard work. When you put yourself (and your stuff–your music, your talent, your ideas) out into the world, the world demands more from you. There’s more to lose. You’ll get offers to do business with people, perform with people, sell to people who are bigger, too, and who expect more from you. You’ll have to do more and more things that you don’t yet know how to do.
You’ll have to grow
Often what it comes down to–the tendency to stay small–is an insufficient ability to see ourselves as capable of growing. If you don’t believe that’s possible, then hedging your bets, turning down opportunities, and avoiding places and people who want more from you makes sense. But you are the kind of thing that has the capacity to grow! (Which is to say that you are a human being.)
Thinking small is an old habit
For most of us, we’re not even aware of just how prevalent being small is in our lives. After years and decades of practice, we stop looking at our lives through a lens of possibilities. We stop asking, “What more could I have/ create/ be?” We so resign ourselves to reconciliation with what is that we’ve cut ourselves off from what might be.
For so many, this cynicism (of sorts) is a function of having tried and failed, or having sought help repeatedly that proved to be disappointing every time. So we give up.
One of the biggest challenges I confront in helping patients who’ve come into therapy with me is low expectations–of the therapy, of me, of the patient him/ herself. In other words, there’s a “wanting problem.” While I respect the cynicism, the challenge is to help people think (and act) bigger–to allow themselves to reconnect with an often distant part of themselves that wondered, hoped, wished and wanted (remember that?).
As ambitious as I am, I still find myself confronting my own habits of smallness, where I set low expectations for the outcome of projects, or decide before it even becomes a real consideration that some idea that comes my way is a mere flight of fancy, beyond my reach, rather than giving it a try. I think this is a creative challenge–one that demands continually reorganizing how we see what’s around us, pushing ourselves to ask, and re-ask, “Why not?”
I think it’s important to learn to be at peace with who we are and the lives we have–who’s in them with us, how we spend our days, where we live. But I don’t think that’s in the least bit at odds with wanting more, and doing the work to grow so that we can be bigger, have bigger lives, make more of an impact on the world (a world that so sorely needs people to care for it, in passionate, big ways).
Stop hiding out. Let the world see what you have to give.