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Why Do We Keep Playing Small?


I recently released an interview on the Passion Struck Podcast with Trav bell where we discussed the importance of creating and living our bucket list. During our conversation, he gave a quote about playing small that inspired this article.

“How dare I play small. How dare I don’t go as big as I possibly can.” – Trav Bell

It got me thinking. What does it mean to play small? And, what are the consequences to your life if you do?

A 2019 Gallup Survey may put this in perspective. The survey showed that only 15% of the world’s global full-time workers are fully engaged at work. That means, in essence, 85% have little to no passion for what they are doing for the majority of their day. That is in my book playing small. 

What Does Playing Small Mean?

When we play small, we are living our life in a state of fear. Our actions become motivated by our low self-worth, the need for outside validation, our insecurities, desire for temporary comfort, and avoiding those influences at all costs that cause us distress and trepidation.

Playing small is the opposite of being Passion Struck. It is being indifferent and living in existence without passion. It is settling for a life that is ok but not great, existing but not feeling fulfilled. It’s dismissing what we want in life to maintain our current zone of security, acceptance, and control.

Playing small is living a life full of regrets. Because when we play small, we avoid the actions, mindsets, and other shifts we need to achieve, living a life that unleashes our creativity and capabilities. 

Why Do We Play Small?

I lived much of my life with a real struggle to speak from my heart and let my true self and convictions be known. A big part of this was hiding from my underlying PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury. They both caused me cognitive difficulties of not being able to think quickly on my feet. Instead, I would usually remain silent as I fought for what words to use as the conversation would pass me by. 

Because of my insecurities, I would bury my truth from the world. I did not want to be a burden on people. I did not want to be embarrassed if I forgot a word or lost track of my thoughts. 

My situation is not unique as I mentioned above in the  2019 Gallup pole.  There are hundreds of millions who are in the same situation. I call them life’s underdogs. 

Don’t get me wrong… There is great value in humility and making space for others, but that’s not what this is about. Playing small is not humility. Quite the contrary, playing small is an act of selfishness.  

It is living your life with a set of limiting underlying beliefs and assumptions that drive your actions. Just as I was doing.

What Is Playing Big?

By contrast to playing small, playing big is living a NO Regrets Life. It is existing in a state of high performance where we live to our true capability and aspirations. It is the willingness to face short-term discomfort head-on, knowing there will be risk and uncertainty but persevering nevertheless — It is the very definition of being Passion Struck

“Playing big is living a NO Regrets Life. It is existing in a state of high performance where we live to our true capability and aspirations.” – John R. Miles

It is feeling so passionate about your life and having the willingness to choose to pursue it and implement the steps it takes to achieve it. It is that feeling of being alive, experiencing a great love of self and others, and a sense of accomplishment and confidence. It ends up bringing feelings of greater freedom and a deep understanding of self. 

How Do You Play Big?

So how do we start playing Big? How do we take those steps we need to becoming passion struck? 

Envision the Experience

Envision the experiences you want most in your life — to feel accessible, alive, loved, connected, and have peace of mind. Envision how you will feel when your vision becomes your reality, and let the experience along the way be in service of this. Don’t think of your plan in a linear sense. Be willing to change your plan through your experiences.

Face the Brutal Reality of Whatever you are facing

I did a previous Passion Struck podcast episode on this very topic. I used VADM Jim Stockdale as my example. Just as he was forced to face his brutal reality of being in the Hanoi Hilton as a prisoner of war, we, too, need to face whatever obstacles and fears are holding us back. It was so easy for many of the other prisoners to give in to their fears and uncertainty. Instead, he embraced it and played the long game knowing that someday his situation would improve.

It is vital that we stop pointing fingers at others and instead focus on how we will change. We must acknowledge our problems, ask ourselves what we want, then take action.

Prioritize Your Plan

Once you envision the experiences you want in your life, you need to start prioritizing them. No one does everything on their bucket list or life-plan in a day or a week. It is about action stacking. By prioritizing your actions, you can sequence them in a way that allows you to progress on them. You can sequence them based on what is most important, on momentum, or whatever it may be. 

Stop Living For the Urgent

We live in a frantic state of mind instead of taking the time to calm down our state of mind. I recently watched a movie called Sound of Metal about a heavy metal drummer who loses his hearing. One of the things that silence finally brought him was the ability to calm his state of mind. It is a choice between our old life and our new normal.

Don’t Be a Visionary Arsonist to Your Dreams

How often do we develop life-changing ideas and aspirations only to burn them down through our actions? Whether intentionally or unintentionally, we create fires that burn down the very hope and aspirations we want out of life. This comes in many forms. It can be self-doubt, continually changing our plan, allowing beliefs to cloud our judgment, or losing focus on keeping the main thing the main thing. All of these are signs we are being a visionary arsonist to living a no regrets life.

Take Personal Responsibility

We are responsible for our own happiness. No one will create it for us, and if we think that is the case, we will forever be dependent on others to bring us fulfillment. This is a powerless, victim mentality. Instead, put the focus on what you truly want and take personal responsibility for achieving it. This likely means you will need to audit out many of the people, influences, and habits that are keeping you stuck.

Love Yourself Unconditionally

This starts with being kind to yourself. It’s a giant trap to attach our self-worth and well-being to our accomplishments and the judgments of others. When we have a negative self-image, it can create self-doubt and negativity that destroys everything we care about. It is vital to understand that your important relationship is with yourself. This is why it is so vital to be your own best ally.

If You Find Yourself Playing Small

Let go of that idea that you will enjoy your bucket list “someday;” it is up to you to alter your mindset and live your life-plan now. It’s time to tap into the brutal reality that your past doesn’t define you and that you are part of something larger.

A universe where if you set your mind to it, you can achieve anything. Realize your life is NOT based on short-term discomfort. Rather, it is the sum of your hopes, dreams, goals, and aspirations. Slow down. Relax. And be grateful for what you have in life. 

Joseph Campbell, an American professor of literature, said it best: “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”

Stop listening to your inner critic and start playing big.

We only get one shot at this life. It is time for you to make a choice, do the work, and step into your sharp edges.

The Passion Struck podcast is helping men and women unlock their true potential and become passion struck every day. Listen to the Passion Struck Podcast anywhere you listen to podcasts online. For more information, if you are in a toxic relationship, click here.



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