Stop Playing Small

Photo courtesy of Laura Harris.

I have a friend who says I play small. In my riding. In my writing. Essentially, in my presentation of myself. Frankly, I think it or more to the point I, drive her crazy at times. She helps me see the good in myself when I only see the bad. She is exactly the friend everyone needs in their corner. I think of her often, pushing myself to play as big as I am, or that I could be. No, not to play, but to be.

However. There is always a however. I also think about the boastful braggarts I know. How they talk and talk and know so very little. How you watch them, you listen, and know that all they’re selling is insecurity. I dread presenting myself in such a way. I would never dare promise someone the moon when I’ve never left the stratosphere. I was raised to be humble. To show, not tell. To let my work speak for itself.

I’m not Boyd. I’m not Buck. Or Michael. I’m not Caroline, or George, or Stephen or anyone you can recognize by one name. In fact, with both my names I’m still unknown. What could I possibly have to say? Why should anyone listen to me? My brain often asks me that in a snarky tone; I’m no one special. My star does not shine bright; it never shot through the night in a righteous glorious blaze. But it does burn. It burns cold and calm. It burns the long wick that lasts a lifetime of a passion and dedication to horses. It is in no way out of fuel. My star is no less important. My dedication to my animals no less. I am no less.

But, comparison is the thief of joy. While I don’t think to compare myself to the accomplished, I do myself disservice to think of myself as unaccomplished. Even as my friend performs the mother of all friendship to build me up, I shrink away. I tell her I deserve a cone of shame in deprecating jest. My friend asks, “Can you imagine George Morris wearing the cone of shame? I think not.” She urges me, in capital letters, STOP PLAYING SMALL.

It’s just so easy. Easier to play small, to not call attention to myself, to not correct people when I hear misinformation, to not risk rejection. Easier to watch my dreams wither away because I can’t bear to possibly make some one else feel small or bad. Easier … to put someone else before myself. Why? It took me far too long to realize that I was seeking approval and acceptance from the outside rather than from within. I’m learning I’m enough. I don’t need the praise I desired as a teenager or young adult, the acknowledgement that I had skill or gift, that I had something special. It is enough to make myself happy now and be satisfied and content within myself, even as I face the question, pro or am.

I told my sports psychologist that I feel unsuccessful. Despite several things I should be proud of such as a Masters degree, keen riding skills, and chutzpah, I felt like a loser. I felt like I had never been successful. She asked me to define success. Silly old me, in the end, all my heart really wants is to be happy. To be proud of myself. Was lack of success really what was breaking my heart? No, it is simply me doing it.

My friend wants me to own my skills, own my story. Maybe I’m not Ingrid, Sinead, Kim. That’s OK because as amazing as they are, the world doesn’t need their doppelgängers and they don’t need anyone stealing their stars and peddling imitations. I spend far too long prefacing, explaining, excusing what I’m not, who I’m not, even why I’m not. Instead, I could spend that energy telling myself and those who want to hear what I am.

I am someone who always chooses the horse. I work hard, I try even harder. I am my own worst enemy. I have an internal drive that spins so hard and fast that it stalls the motor. I run myself down instead of building myself up or take the chance that maybe others will believe in me. I point out my own faults to drive away those that won’t support me. See — even now, I dropped back into my small-self talk instead of doing for me what is hard. But here it goes:

I have a leg that never slips. I ride horses that others are scared to get on. I love the hot sensitive horses, the babies, the underdogs, the problem child, or any of them at all. I believe in a tactful ride. I excel under pressure and rarely have show nerves. I clap for strangers. I have only gone off course once, because I didn’t learn the course on my own. I’ve ridden in Europe and worked for Olympians. I love to jump, I love dressage, I love to groom. I even love to clean stalls. I love my horses. I treat every horse I sit on or take care of as if he or she were my own. I am not scared to say “I don’t know,” but I know a lot. I ask questions. I read. I encourage. I share my knowledge when I can. I have discipline and do not take shortcuts. I push to be better even when I am tired. The Olympic committee isn’t calling, but I work toward my goals as if they will. I work a soul sucking mindless day job to support my love and passion and I am no longer ashamed of that.

We all have a story, I’d love to hear yours.

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