I was attending a middle school presentation last night at my son’s school. All the presentations by the middle school teachers were great, but I noticed that the women presenters tended to apologize either in words or body language. One apologized for talking behind the podium, since she said she “wasn’t a podium kind of person,” even though all the speakers used the podium. Then she went on to give a riveting speech about learning and adolescence. The other had a quiet little voice and made sure that she didn’t take up too much space on the podium, even though she was the focus of our attention. Both women are very bright, talented professionals, and yet clearly on some level they were letting themselves play small.
When I lived in New York City after college, I rode the subway a lot to and from my job and navigated the crowded commuter trains. What I’ll never forget is how many women took up half a seat or didn’t even claim an empty seat that opened up, whereas the men often took two seats and grabbed the free seats. The men would really spread out in their seats too, with their legs spread apart and their hands crossed behind their heads with elbows out. There’s now a term for it– Manspreading– because it’s still a huge problem. But why aren’t women claiming their space?
Marianne Williamson, a spiritual writer and speaker, wrote once, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” She goes on to write that we often think, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually who are you not to be?” How many of us apologize for ourselves because we’re afraid that if we shine too brightly, we might overshadow someone else. What would happen if we really did let ourselves shine?
As you contemplate stepping onto your world stage, remember that a stage can only really light up if the people on it allow themselves to shine. And it’s when we shine that we allow others to see their brilliance.
Notice when you want to play small and try this week to play big.