Walking with my daughter the other day, the conversation turned to an affliction we share. People pleasing. Whether genetic or taught, I am happy to report this debilitating disease is in remission for both of us! Our observations, took a turn towards her three little girls, my granddaughters, and the legacy we would leave. We decided being an example of self-love, acceptance and authenticity is the best book on self-respect they will ever read. My last post I wrote about how we dishonor ourselves by putting others first, compromising our values, and giving, with an ulterior motive... to be liked, or loved.
There is something else we do in order to fit in. Play ourselves small. I fear I’ll battle this one from time to time. I am often in conflict with remaining humble and that inner voice which tells me its safe to use my talents so others may benefit too. I’ve been blessed with examples of those who share their light and let it shine; individuals who honestly know who they are, use their strengths in honorable ways and are a joy to be around. Their genuine self-confidence and acceptance of who they are is worthy of following.
This people pleasing... where did it start for me? Maybe being a military brat and moving all the time.... I had to quickly assimilate into a group in order to have friends. It seemed easier to fit in if I wasn’t tooting my own horn about anything and presenting myself as a threat to the status quo. Even as a child I loved words. Readers Digest used to have a section called “Enrich your Word Power”. Every month, I took the test and studied the words carefully, moving on into using them in my conversations. I recall, even back then, my dad telling me I should cool it with the big words, because it would just intimidate others. I guessed it would make me friendless if I used a word containing more than five or six letters in it.
When I moved from out West to Ohio, my clothing, taste in music, hair, and language was a little different. I know it made my peers in the good old Midwest farmland, squirm. So, I quickly became more conservative even though I felt like a foreigner floundering in a country shut out by a major language barrier. Oddly enough, two years later they were all indulging in the same trends. Could I have been a trendsetter had I allowed myself to walk through the ridicule and let my fashion sense shine and be proud of who I was? Perhaps, but, it was easier to become a part of the herd, than stand out and be the different one.
That mindset has followed me all my life. In the workplace, I feared speaking up because no one had much use for a smart woman with ideas of her own. Roles of authority were predominately relegated for many years, to the males in the company. It was clearly, a boys club. Ladies played the support roles. The guys didn't even have to be good at what they did. Just being a man gave them extra stars on their evaluations. Rather than risk losing all, by speaking up openly, I played games and manipulated to get my ideas across and allowed superiors to take credit and believe my ideas were their original thoughts. Then, I sat by and watched as they were compensated for those same efforts, mine.
I went back to school in later middle-age. I was so much older than the average student. I let the young-uns lead the way in group endeavors, hiding my working knowledge and experience for fear of being thought of as an arrogant old woman. What positive influence could I have had on the learning process of those younger cohorts in sharing my hands-on, practical experience and knowledge?
In my relationships, especially with men, I have minimized my intellect, my talents, and my personality in order to be with someone. I thought they wouldn’t be able to accept many of my likes and strengths and I could be perceived as too intimidating. It made for very lonely relationships, not being able to be myself and shine. Many of those relationships went by the wayside anyhow because its awful difficult to keep shoving your original thoughts, personality, likes and dislikes, and gifts out of the way and not become a little miserable. Others sense your misery and move away anyhow.
Finally, in my relationship with my God. Rather than celebrating His love for me by being my best self, I’ve often prostrated myself, claiming I am not worthy. I’m not worthy? I’ve come to know, He created me, His spirit lives in me. Playing myself small, I play Him small too.
I was visiting with my 90 year old friend and neighbor last weekend. He’d received a packet from his granddaughter with a wonderful collection of her achievements, related to her College graduation; a program, several newsletters featuring her, and an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal about College graduates and the tough job market they would be entering. His granddaughter was mentioned in the article as being one of the rare graduates walking into a great job. The opening sentence of her cover letter to him said, “Grandpa, Here is some articles about my AMAZING accomplishments!” And, they were! International study and awards were peppered throughout her list of achievements. Maybe that’s why she has a job post graduation. This is a young, self confident woman who refuses to play herself small.
It’s not humble to hide our God given gifts. The true definition of humility is knowing, acknowledging and accepting our strengths AS WELL as our weaknesses. I am fully aware of my weaknesses and freely share those with others. Witness this open examination of my unexamined life. Why not share my strengths as well? Sharing our weaknesses helps others to not feel so alone. Sharing our strengths plants seeds for change, gives people hope, and helps others to grow as well.
Today, I choose playing myself exactly as I am..... defects of character AND gifts. I love this quote by Marianne Williamson. “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, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.”
Perhaps it’s true it is our light which scares us. When we are walking in the light, we are out there for everyone to see and that takes a lot of courage. The darkness might provide a degree of anonymity which we find safe, but few things of great beauty survive or grow in the dark.