Did you ever stop to ask yourself what is actually holding you back?
When I work with people I usually ask about their goals and dreams. And after they tell me what they want to achieve in their career I ask: "and what is stopping you?"
Most people need a minute to think because they are not sure, but then they say something along the lines of:
- I don’t have an MBA
- My manager hates me
- It’s not a good time
- It goes against company culture
Bla Bla Bla...These are all excuses.
The truth is there is only one thing that is holding people back from maximizing their potential: fear. The only thing that is making us play small - is us.
We're afraid we might fail and look stupid in front of our friends, family, and colleagues. So we make our ambitions smaller. We stay in our comfort zone where it's safe.
What people tend to ignore though, is that staying in your comfort zone is not risk-free.
The cost of playing small
Playing small has a few side effects.
1. Felling frustrated, resentful, demotivated, and bored. I don't know what about you, but I do not want to feel this way every day.
2. You find it hard to feel self-worth when you make your ambision smaller and you are not living up to your potential. Deep inside you know you are meant for more, but you keep trying to convince yourself it's okay to be less than what you can become.
3. When you play small, you are inviting people to see you the same way you see yourself. If you make yourself small, you are teaching others to treat you the same way.
4. You are leaving money on the table. Low risk - low rewards.
5. You are sabotaging your own happiness.
It may seem like playing small is a safe option, but not living up to your potential is a disempowering behavior with a ripple effect.
How to stop playing small
Let me start by saying unleashing your potential is a process. If you've been holding yourself back you'll need to practice getting yourself out of the fear zone. It will require time and practice to let go of the fear and start taking action, but if you take small steps - you'll get there. Here are a few practical tools to help you start practicing living up to your potential.
1. Give your present self advice from your future self
Ask yourself, what would 50-year-old Maya tell 20-year-old Maya? Offering advice as your future self requires you to think about the person you want to become. We like to imagine ourselves more successful and accomplished in the future, which is why this exercise is a great motivator. It highlights the gap, the unrealized potential, and reminds you who you can become, so you can start living up to your own expectations.
2. Ask for feedback
This may sound like counterintuitive advice, but hear me out. Most people shy away from feedback because they don't want to deal with the consequences. They are afraid they'll have to act on the feedback and stretch themselves. But here is the thing, feedback can help you become a better version of yourself. It can take you from the fear zone to the learning zone. So instead of waiting for a yearly review, you should initiate the feedback. Owning the process will help you feel in control and reduce anxiety and fear. If you are not sure how to ask for feedback, use this guide I created.
When you use this template you'll get both positive and constructive feedback. The positive feedback will give you more confidence to manage the constructive feedback. The important part is to turn this feedback into an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone. And what better way than following up and asking your manager for guidance so you can take action and act on their advice.
3. Commit to doing one thing that scares you every week
I took this challenge a few years ago and it was eye-opening! I couldn't believe how often I was talking myself into playing small (every day!).
The goal of this exercise is to help you practice getting out of your comfort zone by deliberately putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. Start by creating a list of things you want to do, but you've been ignoring because you are scared. For me, it was public speaking, diving into finance, and networking. Every week, try to find ways to take small steps toward these goals. For example, when I wanted to practice networking I didn't attend a high-profile event and try to land 20 business cards. I challenged myself to greet everyone I saw that day. The act of speaking with strangers was enough to give me some practice.
By the way, if you can't think of a list, start saying "yes" every time you want to say no. If your manager asks you to present in the next all-hands and you are about to make an excuse, stop yourself and say yes. Making the commitment will keep you accountable and you'll gain an opportunity to stretch yourself.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
I don't think you can find real fulfillment without living up to your potential. I know whenever I played small I wasn't as happy as when I was growing and stretching myself. Unfortunately, most people never become the best version of themselves. Not because they can't, but because they stop themselves from trying.
If you are afraid to get out of your comfort zone consider this:
Both fear and faith require you to believe in something that you can't see, but only faith has potential for an upside.
If you want to stop playing small choose to believe in yourself and unleash your potential. I promise you won't regret it.