The last week has been interesting.  I am rediscovering books, snippets, and practices that all point to the same thing – exploration of personal power.  It’s one of those situations where, once you’ve seen something, you come across it everywhere.  I’ve decided to explore how this stuff is affecting me in a series of posts.

The first bit that popped back onto my radar is the famous paragraph by Marianne Williamson from her book A Return To Love:

“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. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

When I read those words, I feel empowered, but I also vividly remember several moments in my life where someone or something attempted to get me to “play small.”

  • When I was young, I used to talk all the time about things I was learning. I was eager to express myself and share my observations with anyone who would listen.   As I grew and started school, I was told that I talked too much.  I was told this by family and teachers often enough that I stopped speaking to strangers almost entirely. At family parties, my parents practically had to beg me to be social with the guests.   When I was a teenager, my parents would often complain that I “never talk[ed] to them about anything!”    Something in me that had so fervently wanted to reach out into the world had been silenced, and it was difficult to get that something back.
  • In middle school, I grew very quickly and was soon one of the tallest people in my class.  I took to leaning on my hip when I spoke to people shorter than I was, so that they wouldn’t feel intimidated and I would feel more normal.  Partially as a result of that, I have had lower back problems for the last ten years.   This is the most physical proof I have that “shrinking so other people won’t feel insecure around you” is bad for my personal well-being.
  • While working in a theatre program in college, I overheard some other girls in the department gossiping about me and complaining that I was cast in certain roles that they wanted.  They didn’t feel I deserved the roles, even though I had auditioned like everyone else.   I thought those girls were my friends and it hurt me deeply to overhear those things.   I questioned whether or not to ever do another show there.
  • One night at a bar I regularly frequented, I was talking and laughing with several other people for a couple of hours.  Some of us were friends, but we welcomed strangers into our conversations.   At some point, a young man I had just met that night informed me that if I ever wanted to get and keep a man, I should refrain from coming across as so well-read and experienced, because guys don’t like to be made insecure by their girlfriends.  (In case you are curious, yes, this guy was single.)

I did not begin to experience real happiness until I finally stopped listening to suggestions like the ones above.   I had given up my personal power to people who did not have my best interests at heart (even if they thought they did) and as a result, my inner light dimmed.   Why did it take me so long to take that power back?  Why did I feel as though someone else had the power or ability to grant me something that was always my own?

The last year has been an incredible journey for me and I know I am only on the very first leg of it.   I was glad to rediscover this message because it reminds me how far I have come and how much more authentically myself I can be now.

Scroll up and re-read Marianne’s paragraph.  Now ask yourself why you have ever felt you needed permission from someone else to shine.