Do you cover up your talent, intelligence, creativity, uniqueness, or skill because you are afraid to show people who you are? Many people don’t feel safe showing up authentically. As a result, they fold up to hide aspects of themselves. They get small.
I often get hired as a Certified High Performance Coach by people who want more self-confidence, self-esteem, and courage. They want to stop feeling small and insignificant—and showing up that way. They would like to be authentic and whole—to show up big…and play big.
How You Become Small
You can’t play big if you’ve shrunken yourself into a tiny version of your self. To play big, you have to grow big again and display all aspects of yourself.
When you came into this world, you played big in every way. Nothing restricted you from showing everyone who you were.
As you got a little older, though, you began to react to negative events by shrinking. Every time something painful happened to you, you became smaller. You felt unsafe as who you were, so you hid by not demonstrating the qualities or characteristics that received judgment or criticism.
Reasons for Hiding
I can think of many things that made me shrink and hide. Let’s just look at the ones I can remember from my early childhood through college:
- I lied to my dad and got spanked.
- My father died when I was seven.
- I wasn’t chosen first—or even second—to be on a team in P.E. class.
- I was teased in high school for being Jewish.
- My mother insinuated I wasn’t a good writer.
- The boys I liked didn’t like me.
- My friends in college all had other BFFs.
- My magazine journalism professor threatened to fail me last semester of my senior year.
- I didn’t qualify for a big equestrian event.
- I was called the “teacher’s pet.”
- The kids in my bunkhouse at camp short-sheeted my bed.
- My best friend stole my boyfriend.
- I did so poorly in freshman math that I had to take a math course over the summer.
I could go on, but you get the idea. With each outside judgment, criticism, embarrassment, hurt, or failure, I decided to become smaller.
You can see how you might all but disappear before you even graduate college. At the very least, you adopt a demeanor and posture that makes it nearly impossible for others to notice you.
Your Folded Paper
But each time someone judged or criticized you or you felt wrong or not good enough, you folded a little corner of the paper, making it just a tad smaller. Every time you failed, felt embarrassed, were told you could do better, or were rejected, you folded another corner—or a larger part of the paper. (Maybe you even folded it in half…and then in half again.)
Negative experiences continually caused you to fold the paper smaller until it couldn’t be folded anymore. No one—not even you—could see all the facets of you. And your behaviors became limited by the fact that most of you was inaccessible, folded up inside the paper.
How to Unfold
To be big and play big, you have to become large again. You have to unfold the paper.
This takes time. You’ll unfold a little bit here and there and test if showing up a bit bigger, allowing more of yourself to be seen, feels safe. If so, you’ll unfold a bit more.
And that’s the process of unfolding. Eventually, the paper lies almost flat again—a little creased and crumpled but no worse for the wear. All of you is there for anyone to see, and you can show up fully.
That’s when you can play big because you show up big.
The Facets of Your Paper
Interestingly enough, when you unfold the paper, all those creases and the reasons they exist make it easier for you to play big. Each line gives you more character, wisdom, and ability to take steps forward. The creases give you the ability to show up as your full self with confidence.
So, never look at the unfolded paper as if there’s something wrong with it…as if it is less than or not as worthy as the clean, white, uncreased version you arrived with at birth.
Be proud of the creased paper that is you…and of your ability to unfold and show yourself fully.
The Unfolding Process
So how do you unfold the paper? Little by little.
Become conscious of the places in your life where you are playing small or shrinking. Once you’ve recognized these, examine them closely to uncover why you folded the paper in the first place.
To do so, ask yourself, “What caused this crease?”
Usually, there’s a story behind the fold. Once you discover it, take that story back to the facts—not your interpretation of what happened.
Each fold was created by your interpretation of an event. Something happened, and you gave the event meaning. You decided the experience was a negative reflection of you—that you were not okay.
To unfold, stop seeing yourself through that lens. Break down each crease-related story to its bare basics—the facts. Drop the interpretation, and you’ll discover there was…and there is…no reason for the crease in your paper.
Break Down the Stories
Let’s look at an example. Perhaps, you are playing small at work. The last time you folded up in that environment was two years ago when your boss said your work wasn’t up to par and threatened to fire you if it didn’t improve. That caused a big career-related fold.
Now, look at that situation objectively. When your boss reprimanded you, you felt embarrassed, not good enough, and afraid. So you folded up and became a bit smaller in an attempt to hide.
Consider that time in your life. Maybe you were struggling in a significant relationship, which caused you to be distracted at work. Therefore, your productivity and work quality decreased.
When your boss said to you, “Hey, you need to up your game, or I’m going to have to let you go,” he was providing facts. And his assessment of your work was correct.
With objective hindsight, you can see that he was simply commenting on the quality of your work. You interpreted his words to mean you were not good enough.
In fact, you were good enough, but you had lost your focus at work. You just needed to regain that focus. Had you done that, you would have continued showing up and playing big.
When you can see that an event had little to do with the essence of who you are, you can boldly unfold your paper a bit.
Find the Facts
I recall a time in middle school when I wasn’t chosen for a basketball team in P.E. class. I saw not being selected as a reflection of how the other girls in my class felt about me. Obviously, they didn’t like me, or they would have chosen me as a teammate, right? That was the interpretation of and the meaning I gave this experience.
And this one experience made me fold my paper quite a bit smaller. I was sure there was something wrong with me that made the girls dislike me.
Let’s look at the facts. Despite being tall, I was horrible at basketball. If the kids were choosing team members because they wanted to win, how much they liked me didn’t matter to them at all.
Let Go of Old Stories
If I hold onto my interpretation of the story, my paper remains folded along that crease. I continue to believe I’m not liked and, therefore, never chosen for the team. Now that I’m an adult, that team could be the roster of speakers at an event or a group of colleagues going to dinner.
In reality, that event—which happened about 48 years ago—has nothing to do with my life now. If I leave my paper folded along that crease, I bring the past into the present. I keep shrinking and playing small.
But if I examine the crease and see the event without interpretation—just the facts, I can unfold the paper along that crease. I can decide the story has nothing to do with who I am now and allow myself to get a little bit bigger.
By doing so, I let go of that old story. Then I can create a new one, such as that I am always chosen for the team.
To unfold your paper, you must put the past back in the past and leave it there. Do that, and you grow bigger, and you can play bigger.
As long as you bring the past forward with you, you’ll feel the need to remain folded and small. You’ll feel as if there is a reason to hide who you are from others.
Feel Proud of the Creases
Unfold your paper…let the world see the beautiful piece of art created by the creases. Show up as your full self—as the entire piece of paper.
Yes, the paper is now creased, wrinkled, and dirty, but don’t be embarrassed by it. Feel proud of the paper. Feel proud of who you have become because of those creases.
Can you see where you have folded your paper, and how to unfold it now? Tell me in a comment below. Please also share this post on social media or with someone who would benefit from reading it.
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Photo courtesy of Patiwat Sariya.