Playing Small Doesn’t Serve Anyone

Change the World - ChristinaNoelI was at an event last week, and I met a woman who looked incredibly familiar. We gave each other that knowing glance and simultaneously asked, “How do I know you?” It quickly became obvious that we share many acquaintances in common – for such a big city, the Catholic community in Chicago is a very small world! We have a number of similar interests, and as we played the name game, we naturally began talking about our careers.

I asked what kind of work she did, and there was a long pause followed by a deep sigh. It would be an understatement to say that she is not pleased with her current employer. We made light of challenging work situations, until she finally asked about me. And what do you do?  I laughed.

Typically in these types of settings, where networking opportunities are at a premium, I try to paint my situation in the best possible light. I usually say that I’m in transition between full-time jobs. I talk about freelance writing projects, working from home, and pursuing new full-time opportunities.

Until this point in the evening, it had been such a casual and candid conversation. So, I simply said, “Well, I’m actually unemployed!”  We both laughed!

Upon overhearing all of this self-deprecating banter, a mutual friend inserted herself into the conversation. “Hold on just a minute ladies! Let’s try this again. You two obviously don’t know each other very well!” She then proceeded to re-introduce us to one another.

She began, “First, I’d like to introduce my friend Beth, a two time author, who holds a M.Div. from Catholic Theological Union, and who is an amazing young adult minister. Second, I’d like to introduce my other friend, an inspiring individual who cares deeply about education, international development, and is the founder of her own non-profit organization.”

Wow!! If there was ever a moment where two women were caught in the act of selling themselves short, this was it!  If our mutual friend had not stepped into the conversation, I would have gone home early only knowing one more Millennial who is frustrated with her 9-to-5 office job. And she would have left only knowing me as one more Gen X-er in search of full-time work.

I used to keep a clip from Marianne Williamson’s book “A Return to Love” posted above my desk. I need this reminder, sometimes multiple times a day!

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? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

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 when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

A while back, one of my best friends shared this article about how we introduce our friends at parties.  The author says it perfectly, “Introducing your friends for who they are rather than focusing on what they do will remind them they are loved before and beyond their titles. It’s an easy way to remind them that you see them for their hearts instead of their accomplishments.”

It’s hard to carry on a conversation without talking about the things that keep us busy for most of our waking hours! How do you introduce yourself without referencing your resume for talking points?  Several years ago I went away on a weekend retreat because I needed a couple of days of prayer with an intentional community of faith.  I was not going there looking to make friends or find a date or network over similar career paths. As a matter of fact, I made a point of not talking about my job or introducing myself by my role at work.

When people asked, “Where are you from?” I mentioned where I lived, how long I’ve been there, and why I loved my neighborhood. When people asked, “What do you do?” I told them about how much time I spend in my garden, my volunteer commitments, the ways I spoil my nieces and nephews, and my role on the condo association board.

I’m pretty sure it drove some people crazy! One person finally asked me point blank, “What kind of work do you do?” Sensing their frustration with my vague answers, I simply said, “I work really hard five days a week, and I’d rather spend my weekends not talking about my job.”

It takes a certain confidence to be the kind of person who always has something interesting to talk about. I can think of one friend in particular who does impeccable work, at a prestigious organization, and works with influential people every day. But she rarely talks about her job.

In addition to the work she gets paid to do – she is also an athlete, she travels, she loves the theatre, she belongs to a book club, she’s involved with her church, and many other things. There is always something else to talk about!

Isn’t it time that we start defining ourselves by our passions …. by the things that give us life and bring us joy … and not just the activities that help us pay the rent?  I was grateful to be reminded of this again last week.

I need to be more conscious of how I introduce myself, how I refer to my friends, and to keep a handful of questions in my back pocket that open up the conversation beyond the daily grind.  Playing small doesn’t serve anyone.

(Photo by Christina Noel photography)

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