I recently had the incredible opportunity to see Brene Brown at an event called The Call to Courage. Now. If you’ve listened to a few of my episodes or read my past writing, you know how much I appreciate her research, insights, and openness about being human. So to be able to hear her speak was a definite highlight of 2019, and it’s only February.
Early on in her talk, she said, “Stop engineering smallness.”
I’ve spent most of my life as an introvert who doesn’t like the spotlight. Sure, occasional recognition is welcome, but I’d much rather get an in-person affirmation and keep on working in the background than be discovered.
That smallness I’m engineering, though, prevents me from using my gifts to their fullest extent. Is it the same for you? Are you choosing the small opportunities instead of pushing yourself into the spotlight?
The spotlight, whether within your community, industry, state, or even national or international level, isn’t an inherently bad place to be. There are pros and cons just like anything else in life. The benefit of the spotlight, though, is that you can use it to share your message on a greater level.
(To be clear, you have a platform regardless of your follower count. The platform the spotlight brings, though, is complex. You’ll reach more people, but you’ll also experience those who don’t agree with you and aren’t afraid to show it.)
You weren’t born to be small. You were born to take up space and inspire others, regardless of how large your sphere of influence is. The opposite of small isn’t 12,000 followers. It’s learning to be who you were created to be instead of worrying about whether those around you will like it.
You weren’t born to be small. You were born to take up space and inspire others, regardless of how large your sphere of influence is.
It’s no longer shrinking away from your dreams because you feel such a strong conviction that any negative reviews won’t stop your growth. It doesn’t mean it won’t hurt; it means you won’t let it keep you away from what you are called to do.
Learning to Take Up Space
Engineering smallness is safe. Taking up space is not. But you weren’t created to be safe. You were created to take bold risks while grounding yourself in the knowledge that you have a unique voice that needs to be shared.
So you begin by tentatively sharing your ideas. Learning to take up the space you need to grow into your true self. The more we can focus on this, the better we’ll be at it. But it’s definitely not an overnight process.
It takes time, strength, humility, authenticity, and self-awareness. The reward, though, is a life that makes the struggle worth it. One filled with strength and grace to handle every situation that life brings you.
This process begins when we say “yes” to the growth. This growth can come in a few different ways:
- Sharing about a time of extreme personal growth in a blog post.
- Posting your latest art, whatever the medium, on Instagram and sharing the story behind it.
- Launching a project you’ve been afraid to start because of what others may think.
I’m no stranger to engineering smallness, and I encourage you to take a look at what truly matters: your identity as a beloved creator who has incredible ideas and a unique perspective. Don’t take that for granted.
Once you discover how you want to take up space, it’s time to begin expanding your comfort zone.
Don’t let yourself be small when there’s something much more incredible out there.
Expand Your Comfort Zone
In the climbing documentary Free Solo, professional climber Alex Honnold describes his time leading up to free soloing El Capitan in Yosemite as “expanding his comfort zone”. I love this phrase compared to the common phrase, “getting out of your comfort zone”. It alludes to a scale rather than an absolute, which is important to recognize.
Your comfort zone does expand. Think about how when you learned to ride a bike. You were likely nervous and probably didn’t speed off on the first try, yet you learned and it soon became second nature. Goal-setting is the same way.
We need to learn to take up space by expanding our comfort zones. To facilitate this growth, do something every week to expand it. It can be a small action like reaching out to someone on Instagram or LinkedIn that you look up to or promoting some of your work online or in person. (Or both!)
This deceptively simple act of looking fear in the eye and saying, “I see you, but I’m not letting you define me,” will expand your comfort zone so you can live a greater life.
If this is your first episode, I’d like to share a bit on what “living a great life” means in my work. Anyone can live a great life, and it doesn’t require a private jet or expensive clothes.
Greatness is how you define it. It could be making enough to live a life with those you love, or it could be starting remote work so you can travel. And if you want the finer things in life, that’s a reason as well. I just ask that you do it for yourself, not for the status it can bring in culture today.
Living a great life exposes you to the fulfillment that comes from expanding your comfort zone. Before we can truly live this out, though, we need to discover how we’re going to do it by revisiting a classic question.
Revisit a Classic Question
If you could do anything, what would you do? I encourage you to choose the large version, not the small. The large version is certainly the harder choice, but it’s also going to be more rewarding. Making yourself small isn’t going to make you stronger, propel you into worthwhile vulnerability, or help you live a fulfilling life. That only comes from choosing a big future.
So. If you chose a big future, what would it look like? I encourage you to spend some time with that idea this week. To clarify further, your big idea doesn’t have to be related to growing a big platform. That’s usually associated with big goals, but it’s not a given.
And if you do want to become well-known in order to propel your message, that’s okay, too. It’s an opportunity to build a platform for your story and what you believe in! Just remember that fame shouldn’t be the goal. It’s a tool and a by-product.
Once you make this decision, you need to remember why you started when the work gets hard. Because it will. You’ll question it, want to reverse it, and very likely want to crawl into bed and never leave. Those feelings are valid. But achievements never occur if we don’t get back out of bed and learn to persist through these emotions.
And when we aren’t sure if we can persist, we need to stand tall and embrace a bit of the “fake it ’til you make it” mentality.
Stand Tall and Share That Post
Next time you want to hide who you are, stand tall. Share the post, publish the article, upload that video. A life without authenticity isn’t a life we want to live. Just like learning to take up space, we need to begin standing tall while proudly sharing our story and how it’s shaped our work.
Be proud of your story. It’s perfectly imperfect like the best ones always are.
The next time you expand your comfort zone by sharing work that makes you a little uncomfortable, I want you to literally stand (or sit) tall. Correct your posture, go into a power pose, and release your work into the world, proud of what you’ve accomplished.
It may sound a bit silly, but this is a time where our actions need to lead our mind, rather than the other way around. This gives us the opportunity to train our mind to choose the difficult task.
Stand tall, remain strong, and be proud of your story. It’s perfectly imperfect like the best ones always are.
Sharing your story means sharing the successes and the failures while standing tall because nothing great comes without a few failures along the way. Don’t let yourself be small when there’s something much more incredible out there. Focus on your growth, and know that you have far too much worth to shrink away from the space that’s yours to take. Deep breath, focus well, and go into the unknown. It’s always the better path.