How to NOT play it small

Written by Kimberlee Joi

We live in a world that gives us many reasons to fear. There is physical danger all around us: crime, violence, disease, and at the same time, emotional danger exists in our relationships as well. But in my own life, many of my fears seemed unjustified; silly almost. On many occasions I had asked for certain experiences to manifest in my life and when they did, I was troubled at the thought of receiving them.  Think about a time when you wanted so desperately for a new job or a better career path, and when presented with it, you became afraid of the transition. Or when you wished love into your life, and the opportunity to receive it arose, but you managed to find every reason as to why a potential mate was wrong for you. 

My personal story is one regarding a fear of social closeness, but it is parallel to a fear that  plays out in many other areas of our collective lives— it is the fear of opportunity.

My personal circumstance caused me to query why we have these fears in the first place and how fear can hinder our growth and our desire for self-actualization.

I lost my father a few short years ago, and it sent my whole world into a tailspin. His passing also gave me the opportunity to be more introspective about what life meant to me, and what steps I wanted to take to get the most out of it. I determined expanding and nurturing my social relationships was a great necessity as, for most of my life, I isolated myself from others. Of course I had friendships and family relationships that I’ve grown and kept over the years, but for the most part, I’ve not been open to meeting new people. I still haven’t totally gotten to the root of why that is, but after my life’s ups and downs, I’m now in a place where I crave a sense of belonging and adventure.  And over the last couple of years, I’ve taken measured steps to make this so.

I decided that not only did I need to make the decision to stop isolating myself emotionally from people, I needed to make a physical move as well. I sold my house at the beginning of the year; it’s quite a lovely place, but is located a far distance from the city, nightlife, my friends and many of the events and activities that I want to participate in. Now I live in a condo in the heart of the city.

I also challenged myself to be more open with people. And now I can recall numerous times when, three times within one week, I received invitations from people I knew only informally to go to events and hang out at different functions. Everything seemed to be going great, but that was the problem. Although I’d told myself I wanted to build stronger social relationships, when my desires started to come to fruition, I became afraid.  

I’ll be the first to admit that I am a natural skeptic; quick to analyze every situation and contemplate every scenario, I look up, down and sideways to catch the good and all the bad a new circumstance can bring. So, when unexpected invitations for my time and companionship began to spring up, my first inclination was to question why.

The Harvard Business Review did an article explaining why the ‘fear meets opportunity’ phenomenon is so common. According to the author, this dynamic goes back many years, and was studied and explained by Sigmund Freud in his essay called “Those Wrecked by Success”, published in his 1916 work Some Character Types Met With in Psycho-Analytic Work. Freud believed that people become sick when a deeply rooted and long-cherished desire comes to fulfillment because they feel as if they are inadequate or not deserving of the success they’ve attained.  In his essay, he uses the example of a professor who yearned to succeed his teacher. When eventually the wish came true and the professor succeeded his mentor, depression, feelings of inadequacy, and work inhibition set in.

Many of us think that fear exists to prevent us from being exposed to physical, emotional or mental danger, or that our fear comes because of worries about failure or rejection. While this is true in some instances, many of our fears arise because of worries about success and happiness, not about failure or rejection. Marianne Williamson, one of my favourite spiritual leaders, has a passage which fits this thought to a T:  “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 doesn’t serve the world…”

Although fearing opportunity, and thus the possibility of success, may be a common sentiment, we do ourselves no favours by letting these fears control us. While we may have an initial reluctance to embrace new opportunities, playing it small allows our fears to hinder our growth, and pushes us to stay in the same comfortable position we’ve always been.  Of course there is little prospect of being harmed when you don’t confront your fears, but there is even less prospect of growing and moving forward when we choose the easy route. When facing your fears it is important to question why you have those fears, and to examine the consequence of staying exactly where you are for the rest of your life if you don’t overcome them. The fact is, had I not opened myself up to those new friendships, I would never have been exposed to the memorable, life-enriching experiences that I have had.

Declare what it is that you want in your life, open your mind and your heart to receive it, and when the opportunity you want comes along, do not retreat. Remind yourself that fear itself is not a real thing.  Although danger may be real in our lives, fear is only made up of illusory thoughts that have not, and may never materialize in our lives. If you strengthen your mind to control your fears, you’ll reach a level of fulfillment that few humans ever reach.

Kimberlee Joi is currently a part-time blogger/freelance writer and litigation attorney with more than 12 years of experience in the field of labor and employment law.  Her blog, scrivenista, is her passion made visible through writing.  Kimberlee Joi is a political enthusiast, passionate foodie, and recovering coffee-addict.  In her free time she enjoys traveling, reading, and binge-watching “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.”

Reference :

[1] “Are You Too Afraid to Succeed” by Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, March 4, 2014.