Playing Small


The suppression of who we really are in our relationships causes comparison and the side effects are shame and playing small. — Lori Harder, A Tribe Called Bliss

Playing small.

Reminds me of another quote: 1

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone, and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. — Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love

I feel like I’ve made strides in this department over the last decade (not playing small), but it stirs up visceral responses, both in myself and in others.


  • I was involved in a project for the CARE organization (which made me see how uncomfortable people could be around the topics of charity, philanthropy, and humanitarianism).
  • I became a foster parent (which challenged the comfort levels and thoughts of a lot of people, including myself, friends, family, and strangers).
  • I started several projects that revolved, to varying degrees, around fear (which seemed to elicit one of two responses: complete avoidance or attraction).
  • I began talking more openly about who I was and what I believed (which often created pushback and awkwardness).

But — all those attempts — they made me realize a few things:

We’re more afraid of good things than bad.

When I talk with people about fear, generally, we’re more afraid of losing the good things we have — or of good things being given and then taken away — than bad things happening. We play small so that we don’t have to lose.

We’re skeptical of good. We understand the motives of bad (selfishness, greed, power, ego, money, etc.). Good is confusing (What is it that you want? What do you want in return for this?).

Goodness in others makes us uncomfortable.

a) We’re skeptical of the goodness in others (Who are you really?). We can’t believe in a person’s inherent goodness. We wait for the other shoe to drop (Yeah, but what’s wrong with you?).

b) Any goodness in you makes me feel “less than.” My badness is worse than yours (we never doubt that, conveniently), but your goodness will always be better than mine and will highlight the ugly parts of me. I will never measure up.

We tend to hide our light more than our darkness.

If I show my light, I’m a “goody two-shoes” (I know because you’ve told me) or you will feel “less than” or like I’m judging you. If I show my light, for whatever reason, you won’t love me anymore, so it will cost me more than I’m willing to pay, which reminds me:

We know that if we embrace our ideals, we must prove worthy of them. — Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

I could never be worthy. I won’t think I’m worthy, and you won’t think I’m worthy. I will make a mistake, after doing something “too big,” and you will judge me then for being imperfect. (We love a good fall.)

The idea of “playing small” strikes a chord, because I know it’s what I do.

I do it because of all these reasons and more. I do it because it’s safer than being myself.

But we have to be who we really are. And the first thing we are is human — never perfect, never without fault, so no matter how much good we do, we will also fail. That has to be okay.

And we don’t have to earn anything.

Before we begin the liturgies of our day — the cooking, sitting in traffic, emailing, accomplishing, working, resting — we begin beloved. My works and worship don’t earn a thing. Instead, they flow from God’s love and work on my behalf. — Liturgy of the Ordinary

You begin the day as a loved and loving part of the Universe. You don’t have to earn it. You already are. So go on to create and serve because you love and are loved.

You don’t have to play small.


  1. Oddly enough (random weirdness), Lori Harder, the author of the book A Tribe Called Bliss, was mentored by Gabrielle Bernstein, who was mentored by Marianne Williamson, who wrote the book A Return to Love (based on her study of A Course in Miracles) and authored one of my all-time favorite quotes that mentions this very phrase (it all comes around).

About the author

E.H. Bellefontaine

Evangeline Henry Bellefontaine is the fictional writer behind Maison d'Evangeline (and More Beautiful Good on Medium). She writes mostly on the topics of bibliotherapy (books + therapy), personal growth, and doing the work. Follow by subscribing to Bibliothérapie.

By E.H. Bellefontaine

Guiding Quote

A house extends skyward.
Like a tiny but proud cathedral,
it wishes to generate the highest
and the best in its inhabitants.
— John Truby

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