Making Myself Small
“Have you spent a lifetime muting yourself for fear of what others will think? Are you an entrepreneur who calls your business a hobby because you worry about what your mother-in-law will say or because it’s safer to keep everyone’s expectations low? Do you hesitate to admit your dreams aloud because you’re nervous about others making fun of you or judging you for your choices?”
All of these questions made me stop instantly. I read through them again and again and again while the power of the words pulsed through my ears.
This is me. She’s talking about me.
I read these words in the book Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis and felt as if she was standing in front of me asking me these questions.
This is what I do, it’s what I’ve always done, for as long as I can remember. I make myself small because I’m worried about what other people will think. I worry about what they’ll think of me, my ambitions, my dreams. I worry that they’ll judge me and my choices in life.
I have always been proud of the fact that I don’t really care what people think of me as a person, or even as a mom. I know I’m a good person, I know my kids are happy and healthy, so truly, that’s all that has mattered to me. But why is my professional life so different? Why do I expend so much energy in worrying about how others will perceive me professionally?
Since I was young, I have always dreamt of my professional life - what I would do, where I would live, what life would look like. I didn’t dream of my husband or kids. I dreamt of my job. I dreamt of what I would wear and how I would decorate my office. In my dreams I was powerful, and doing big things for the world. I was unstoppable.
And then suddenly I found myself a 30-year-old glorified secretary with a Master’s degree. And spoiler alert, that wasn’t what I had been dreaming of all those years. So slowly, I began to change that. I began to focus on this new thing that had come into my life, a magazine of my own creation. My blood, sweat, and tears (oftentimes literally) was poured into this new venture. I dreamt about THIS.
And yet. Because I was so terrified of really putting myself out there, I made myself small. When people asked me about it, I brushed it off as a hobby. I kept my expectations low, never planning to turn this into a business because “I knew it wouldn’t work”. I avoided conversations about it. I deflected the attention. And when I quit my job earlier this year and began to run the magazine full time? I told anyone who would listen that I didn’t have a job anymore.
I made myself small.
Over and over and over again in the past four years, I have made myself small because I have been scared to talk about this brand I have built from the ground up. I have been scared that it would fail (meaning: I would fail), and that everyone would see it. I have been scared to dream big for fear that I would end up disappointed. I have consistently dismissed this passion of mine because I was scared of other people.
My adult identity has been built on what I do, not who I am. It has been built in my hustle. I have prided myself on being busy. Have another job that needs done? Sure, add it to my dangerously overflowing plate. I’ll tackle it. I am a creative, I am a businesswoman, I am smart. This is my identity.
But what does it then mean when through my identity, I am muting myself? It means that I don’t often feel heard. It means that I struggle silently, willing someone to see what I am building and appreciate it, and in turn, validate me. It means that I feel less than so frequently all because of this thing I am bringing down on myself - this innate need to diminish it all.
I don’t know what the answer is here. I don’t know how to take these feelings and magically turn them into something with purpose that will help me move forward. Maybe it’s just my personality? Maybe if I didn’t love this as much, I’d be able to better handle it?
Either way, it’s a work in progress. I’M a work in progress. I want to come out of the shadows and stand taller. I want to tell you the pride I have in what I’ve built rather than change the subject as my cheeks flush and the hives start to take over. I want to say my dreams aloud and feel confident in them - no matter how far fetched they may be.
It will take time and a whole lot of effort. But it’s worth it, and so am I.
“Nothing that lasts is accomplished quickly. Nobody’s entire legacy is based on a single moment, but rather the collection of one’s experiences. If you’re lucky your legacy will be a lifetime in the making.” - Rachel Hollis