[success] I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.~ Michael J. Fox [/success]

Have you ever been the person who ‘played small’.

I have.

In my early teens, talking with a group of kids, I happened to talk about some country I’d lived in…just as a passing comment.  It was a throwaway line and nothing extraordinary…most of the kids I knew were army brats and travelling was second nature.

But not this time.  This time, some of the kids had never set foot outside the town they grew up in, never mind outside the country, and they were less than impressed and even less than interested in my travels.  And someone sarcastically told me how wonderful it must be to have been everywhere and obviously know everything.

I was mortified.  Apparently, it was easier to never be ‘different’ from the crowd.  I learned that it was more comfortable for me if I played small.  If I practiced keeping my eye on the next step in front of me, I wouldn’t get tripped up again.  I’d stay safe.

Playing small is all about the need to be safe, or the need to be just like everyone else.  Being different wasn’t cool, wasn’t the making of popularity, and travelling, although a normal part of our life, was sometimes a hard part, having to uproot ourselves every two years and start over.  We needed to be able to make friends quickly, and being different was not the way.  Or so it seemed to the fourteen year old me.

So there I was, instead of striving for greater things, I was striving for the mediocre.  Aargh.

I didn’t know what Marianne Williamson had to say:
[success] Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. [/success]

I didn’t know that if I just decided to be me and free myself from the tyranny of wanting to be just like everyone else, I’d be freeing others to do the same.  That concept came many years later.

I’d like to tell you that playing small turned out pretty well for me.  But it didn’t.  It felt lousy.  And today I’d tell my fourteen year old self and anyone else out there who’s  playing small to remember a few things:

You can’t please everyone all the time

Every now and then, you can’t please anyone.  So don’t try.  Be kind, but be yourself.

There are times when we have to make hard decisions

Simply to stay in alignment with who we are.  And sometimes that means disappointing people.  Some decisions really are just hard.  But if you keep your attention on happy outcomes all round, it has an amazing way of turning out really well.  Even though it doesn’t seem possible when you’re in the middle of it.

Keep your eyes on the prize

and the prize is growth and expansion, not perfection, not pleasing everyone.

Choose to live large

and be peaceful in the knowledge that everything you need is within you.  You can create the largest, greatest, most magnificent life possible.  Use the power of your imagination, it’s your creative source for all things. You don’t have to seek it, it’s yours and it’s here right now.  All you need do is use it.  Playing small won’t allow you to access much of your power.

Radiate joy and success

this means giving up complaining, or feeling sorry for yourself.  No pity parties here.  You’re bigger and greater than that.  Remember that we’re always attracting who we are via how we feel, (wish I’d known that when I was fourteen)…that birds of a feather saying is so flipping true.

Edit your life

decide what’s important to you and let go of over committing.  It might mean stepping back and maybe having to say, sorry.  Sorry, I over committed.  Sorry, I need to go in a different direction.  Sorry, I’m just not that person any more.  Life needs to be lived and enjoyed, not rushed through in a flurry of ‘must do’s’.

Stop filling your life with your to do lists and then feeling lousy because you didn’t get them all done.  Be happy if you check off your top three.  That’s enough to give yourself a pat on the back.

Don’t start pursuing perfection

and if you’ve already begun, stop.  It only flows from the belief that you’re not enough.  Allow yourself and others to be imperfect…it actually doesn’t feel too bad, plus perfectionism gets in the way of your growth.  Giving up the pursuit of perfection creates a space for greater good to flow.  You’re not clogging up the pipes.  And anyway, let’s face it, we’re never going to be it…perfect that is.

Stop valuing yourself based on someone else’s approval

You don’t have to look outside of yourself to know how to feel good.  No matter how much outside approval you get, it will never be enough.  Approval begins within.

Never forget life and everyone we experience are just reflections of what’s going on within.  So the need for approval begins with you.  Approve of yourself because you’re…well…you, and you’re pretty cool.  In fact you’re amazingly unique.  Do you know there’s never, ever, going to be another you?  All you need to do is to make up your mind that who and what you are now is more than enough for you to feel happy.  And you’ll be amazed at how many people you meet who have come to the same conclusion…who you are is just great.

Do you think fourteen year old Elle would have listened?  Boy, it would have saved her a lot of time and trouble.

Share in the comments where you’ve been playing small.

Encourage one another.

Love Elle


Elle Sommer is the author of 4 books and a workbook. Her latest publications are a series called The Power of Consciousness, and you will find all three books in this trilogy now available on Kindle. She shares quotes, inspiration and positive vibes on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. And her greatest desire is to encourage and inspire others to create not just a good life, but a phenomenal life.


  1. I love this Elle! I love the Marianne Williamson quote: Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. Choosing to live large is isn’t always easy. Sometimes that’s very hard to do. I often want to be in the background and let others do the living large. But you have to put yourself out there! I also love your point about perfection and not needing others approval. Get rid of all expectations of yourself and others. What a relief is is if you can do that!
    All you tips are wonderful!! Thank you for these reminders.

    • Elle

      Hello Betsy…I for one am glad you decided to live larger and put yourself out there…your new book is a wonderful gift to us all. If we would all just be ourselves, imperfections and all, we’d feel great and we’d be giving everyone around us permission to be the same. Always assuming, of course, that we’re kind and encouraging to one another. 🙂 Which I’m sure we are.

  2. Joseph Appaloosa

    Thank you for another wonderful article.
    Devaluing ourselves into living small is definitely not a zero-sum venture. The negatives far outweigh any positives we may realize by “conforming” or “fitting-in” or “being normal”.
    I truly appreciate your reminding us that this life journey is all about our celebrating and further expanding and expressing the beauty of our “true-selves”.
    Write on, Elle !

    • Elle

      Hello again Joseph, nice to hear from you. And you’re so right about the negatives outweighing any seeming positives. Of course they’re not really positives at all. It just ‘feels’ that way for a minute. But truth be told, playing small isn’t living in a positive vibration of energy and it most definitely doesn’t bring more positive things. I remember it all too well! 🙂

  3. Hi Elle,

    Wonderful reminder. I love the Marianne Williamson’s post that Betsy mentioned as well. People hide behind so many things so that they don’t have to show who they really are. I love this line – “Stop valuing yourself based on someone else’s approval.” So true! We can only reach for the stars when we allow ourselves to be who we really are. Thanks for a great post!! Hugs.

    • Elle

      Hello Cathy, love what you say about only reaching the stars when we allow ourselves to be who we really are. It’s so true. 🙂

  4. That is a fine post,Elle! Just about all of us need to read this one every day.

    • Elle

      Hello Dore how nice to hear from you. I think you’re right about most of us needing to remember this each day. And stop being so busy hiding our ‘greatness’. 🙂

  5. Been there, done that. Still do it sometimes, but am aware enough to catch myself and change course (and mindset). Love this article!

    • Elle

      Hello and welcome Lee – do you suppose it’s happened to just about all of us at some time? Would love to hear from someone, who doesn’t have a clue as to what we’re talking about. And how cool that today you’re awake enough to catch yourself and move past that old, and not helpful stuff. I must say, when I wrote this, I was oblivious to the fact that it’s a common place for many of us to have visited at some time in our life. Good job you, for being over it. 🙂

  6. Okay, this is getting spooky. Once again we are writing on the same topic. You and I have some cosmic link–now I’m quite sure of it. I, too, thought of the Marianne Williamson quote mentioned by Betsy. Great post, my friend.

    • Elle

      Hello Galen, I recently read your post and can see exactly what you mean. Definitely we’re intuitively picking up the same vibes between us. It’s sort of cool. I was pretty happy to read that someone didn’t have a clue about this topic…and okay it was a high consciousness being like the Dalai Lama…but it’s still pretty cool. Let’s see what we can come up with together next my soul sister. 🙂

  7. Hi Elle,

    I think my heart skipped a beat when I read your words, “Stop valuing yourself based on someone else’s approval. You don’t have to look outside of yourself to know how to feel good.”
    I just wrote in my journal this morning about the struggle I still have with worthiness. I have an ingrained pattern of measuring myself against someone else’s yardstick and you’ve confirmed what I suspected: old wounds get picked from time to time but it’s important to not shrink from them. No more playing small for me! It’s time to go big or go home!

    Thanks for a great piece!

    • Elle

      Hello Beth and thanks for joining in the conversation. What a great concept you wrote about – it’s time to go big or go home. Wonderful. It’s so encouraging to hear how others are/have handled the disability we’ve experienced in playing small and I know your words will support someone else too. Thank you Beth. 🙂

  8. Elle,

    What a fantastic post. You have helped me realize what I seem to do on a continual basis. It’s amazing how we love to seek for acceptance from others. Why would we ever want to find ourselves in the mire of the multitudes when we could be on the pedestal of prominence. We must stand out if we will contribute. Others might consider us peculiar, but peculiarity is the spice of life!

    • Elle

      Hello Ben, I just love your turn of phrase…mire of multitudes versus the pedestal of prominence. It always boils down to the same thing, doesn’t it? As within, so without. Our life and those around us are reflectors of how we see ourselves, what we believe of ourselves and others and as we alter those beliefs and feelings we experience different results. It certainly is a wonderful life and here’s to being peculiar. 🙂

  9. Thank you so much Elle for the reminder to continue to reach for the stars and think big. We’ve each been created to share our uniqueness – no one else can do it except us. The world is waiting.

  10. Hi Elle,

    This is a very helpful list to be able to experience joy in our lives. Playing small is not really satisfying specifically when our happiness is held up when we seek someone’s approval. We may often think that joy is a feeling, an emotion but I believe it is a state of being. And that you can experience a state of joy no matter what external circumstances you find yourself in. Joy is within our grasp, and following your list will definitely make us experience joy in longer term.

    • Elle

      Welcome to the conversation Patricia…and I totally agree with you…it’s totally a state of mind…and there are times when it’s pretty challenging to pull ourselves up out of the mire…which is why having an Encourager in our life works really really well. 🙂

  11. The motives behind pursuing perfection are suspect. What is perfection anyway? Chances are if you were to achieve whatever you labeled as perfect, you would realize there is something even more perfect. And if you got there, even more perfect. You become poor Sisyphus, pushing his boulder up the mountain over and over again. Consider that perfectionism is actually a low standard.

    • Elle

      And as Michael J Fox mentioned Kenneth – it’s God’s job…I rather like that. 🙂

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