…care more than others think is wise;
…risk more than others think is safe;
…dream more than others think is practical;
…expect more than others think is possible.”
“Wow Christine! It looks like you’ve got everything mapped out to get your new business rocking.”
“Yeah,” she said slowly, “but I’m not sure I can pull the trigger to go for it.”
“Why not?” I asked, “It looks as close to a sure thing as I’ve ever seen.”
“Oh, I’m not worried about whether or not I can do it. I’m very confident I can get the job done and have a lot of success.”
“What’s stopping you then,” I asked. “You’ve got a great opportunity to make something big happen. You could easily give your family everything we’ve talked about… what’s holding you back?”
“It’s just that I can already hear everyone from my mom to the ‘soccer moms’ criticizing and gossiping about me and ‘my business.’ I just don’t want to deal with it.”
Playing small for fear of the opinions of others is older than the written word and as common as the cold. I’ve often wondered what causes us to care so much about unfounded opinions of others that we sacrifice our capabilities. How is it that we willingly choose mediocrity over the potential grumblings of lesser minds?
I’ve found numerous reasons in my own life and the lives of many others. The most common have their roots in avoiding perceived pain.
“I know that others will bad-mouth me if I become the best.”
“Those closest to me will resent me if I break free from our normal patterns and move beyond them.”
“If I do my best, people will expect that level of performance from me going forward.”
“What if people think I’ve done something underhanded to be successful?”
The variations abound but the underlying theme is the same. We want to avoid the sharp pain of criticism so instead, we accept the dull disease of mediocrity.
Why is that such a big deal? Isn’t it okay, even socially acceptable to play small and not make anyone else look bad? Haven’t we been told to “not show off“ or “draw attention to ourselves?” Besides, it’s much easier to stay in the middle of the pack and know that we could do better than it is to give it our all and risk failure or ridicule.
In my soul, I know that every time I chose safety over possibility, I lost. With every choice we make to keep our heads down instead of stepping up and becoming examples of excellence, our opportunity for meaning and impact is tarnished and lessened. The world is cheated and dimmed because our light isn’t seen.
Should we heed wise counsel? Absolutely. But that isn’t the same as using someone’s opinion or jealousy as an excuse to lay low.
If you were guaranteed praise for your effort, what would you do?
If you knew the world would sing your praises for playing full out, would you risk more?
Flip the Coin
The other side of the coin is just as important to the liberation of excellence. Our willingness to be the nay-sayer.
What is it that brings such garbage out of us? Why on earth would we sabotage the efforts of others when they are pushing the edge of their potential? Could the answer to those questions be as close as the mirror?
If you find yourself wanting to tear another down or discredit their accomplishments, take a look at yourself. I never find a situation where greatness attacks greatness. When people of little relevance bad-mouth those sincerely working toward the front of the pack, the attacks are always a reflection of something going on in the attacker.
Resentment is the most common reflection. “I know in my heart that I’m not living up to what I’m capable, so I’ll tear down those that are. This way I’ll look better, even if it is only by comparison.”
Human nature takes us toward what is easiest and poses the least resistance. From the middle of the pack it seems like standing still and keeping others down is easier. When you’re in mediocrity up to your nose, the idea of pushing others up looks like a lot of work. The voice in your ear says, “It’s too hard to be great. You don’t really have it in you anyway. Those in the front must have cheated or hurt people to get where they are.”
It’s a lie.
When you take the time to shift your attention away from the voice in your ear to the voice in your heart, you hear the truth. “I made you with greatness. You are far stronger than anything you will ever face. Stop worrying about the front of the pack and focus on the edge of possibility. That’s what you were designed for!”
Who will you listen to? Which voice will you honor?
Turn your energy toward being your best and away from attacks, regardless of how subtle. Heed good advice, but ignore the haters. The reward of your best life is waiting.
Be your best.