Are You Playing Too Small In Your Life?

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re too small,” says Sir Richard Branson.

You may be thinking about a career change.  Or whether to stay in a relationship or not.

And then there are the smaller, yet emotionally draining, things – whether to speak up about something. Worrying what other people think.

R & R

We all go through this, and it comes down to what I call the “R&R Effect.”  I’m not talking about rest and relaxation, although that could certainly play a part.

Risk and reward is the focus. Is there something that keeps tugging at you – and you keep ignoring it?  Maybe it’s time to pay attention.

Either get into action – or get off the fence.  Staying in the middle is excruciating.

Of course, those major life decisions involve more of the risk/reward ratio.  And there may be lots of valid reasons to pull back. If you find you’re continually doing this, though – ruminating over every little thing — it may be time to redefine your dream.  And be okay with that.

You likely have many answers inside you – if you can detach from the external noise and really listen.  Fear is what holds us back, and you could do a simple exercise to get those fears out in the open – for your eyes only.

Get out a legal pad and draw a vertical line down the middle.  On one side list your contemplated dream.  On the other side list the obstacles.  Then do some “automatic writing” – whatever comes to mind.  Just “dump” your thoughts out on paper.

What are you willing to invest in your dream?  What obstacles are you willing to confront?  Napoleon Hill, renowned author of  the classic book, Think And Grow Rich, says the obstacles just represent your “to do” list.

Clues That You’re Playing Too Small

Putting yourself out there may not be in your DNA, observes David Sack, M.D., who has studied common characteristics of those who hold back.  See if any of these ring true for you.

1.     You want to go back to school, although you think it’s too late.  After all, it could take several years.

Reality check:  How long have you been thinking this?  You could have already been through a major part of the course work if you’d gotten into action sooner.  With the ease of online courses these days, the obstacles are fewer.  And it’s NEVER too late.

2. You wait to be asked … to speak in a meeting, to go to the movies, to share your opinion.  What if you speak up and say something stupid?  Better to sit back.  That way, if things go wrong, you can always say, “Hey, it wasn’t my idea.”

Reality check:  If you wait to be asked, the invitation may never come.  While you might avoid some embarrassment, you’ll miss out on chances to learn, grow and have fun.

3. Here you are, facing another year in a relationship that keeps you walking on eggshells.  Maybe things will get better this time around.

Reality check:  You teach people how to treat you. We all do.  And people do what works.  In order to get a different outcome, you need to show up differently.  Set new boundaries, and stick with them.  Consistency is the key.  You’ve got to be willing to break through those obstacles.  Remember … what you tolerate you cannot change.

 4. You’ll do anything to avoid confrontation.  You just can’t bring yourself to rock the boat.  What if the other person gets mad?  Maybe they won’t like you anymore.  Instead, you live with the problem.  You complain about your boss to your spouse, about your spouse to a friend and about your friend to your sister.

Reality check: It can be hard to stand up for yourself.  Doing so in a diplomatic way, though, is more respectful to everyone involved than venting behind someone’s back.  Start with baby steps.  The more you chip away at this, the more self-trust and self-respect you’ll build up.  And the easier it will become to deal with conflict.

It’s also your best hope for bringing about real change.  Give the person a chance to make things better or explain – and know that you didn’t just “roll over” again.

5.  You make room for the little stuff in your life instead of the big things.  Life seems full of minutia – errands, email and to-do lists.   I call this “frittering,” as in frittering things away.  Despite all the busyness, it doesn’t seem to add up to much at the end of the day.  You feel like you’re missing the big picture.

Reality check:  The puzzle of assembling rocks in a jar applies here.  If you put all the little rocks in the jar first – the pebbles – you won’t have room for the big rocks.  If you put the big rocks in first, though – the important things – you’ve laid the proper foundation.  And the little things can fit around them.  It’s all about prioritizing – and resisting the urge to focus on the small stuff – just so you can cross things off your list!

6. You plan more than you produce.  You have ideas – lots of them.  You spend hours, weeks, months, even years — thinking about them, planning them and examining the pros and cons from all angles.

When push comes to shove, though, you find a million reasons not to do them.  “This probably won’t work anyway, “ you tell yourself.  And what if you put your heart and soul into one of these projects and it doesn’t work out?  Better to wait until everything is perfect.

Reality check:  Yes, it would hurt if your brainchild was met with indifference or derision, but what’s the alternative?  Never taking a chance?  Never seeing what you can really do?

Perfection is an illusion, and most major success stories are preceded by a string of failures.  Even if things don’t turn out as planned, you’ll learn plenty about what to do next time.  At the very least, you’ll be able to look yourself in the mirror and say, “I gave it my best shot.”

What Are Your Excuses?

“You’re not living up to your potential.” Ugh.  One of the hardest things to hear.  And even harsher if you’re saying it to yourself.

So, why do you keep getting stuck?  Chances are, the culprits are your logical and subconscious minds – rationalizing why you can’t or shouldn’t do something that causes you to stretch.

Do any of these “voices,” as depicted by author Yanik Silver, sound like that voice in your head:


  • I don’t have enough time
  • I’ll get around to that later.
  • It’s just not the right time.


  • I can’t pay my bills doing that.
  • I really need to focus on things that can make me money right now.


  • What will my friends, family and colleagues think of me?
  • This is not what I’m known for.
  • What if it doesn’t work out – and I’m seen as a failure?


  • I don’t think it will work anyway, so why try?
  • I have too many ideas.  I can’t commit to just one thing.
  • Last time I tried something new, it didn’t work out.


  • I don’t know the exact next steps.
  • I need more information.
  • Sure, it’s easy for others.  They have connections.


  • I’d do it if I was older/younger/didn’t have kids, etc.
  • I need to get everything just right before I put it out into the world.

What Makes Your Heart Sing and Your Spirit Soar?

If these excuses are stopping you from having a more fulfilling life, you’ll likely keep feeling that tug.  Once you look an excuse “in the eye,” though, it starts to lose its power over you.

Aligning yourself with what gives you more joy and happiness naturally expands who you are.  Consider a few baby steps, and see how that feels.  Do some research online.  Sign up for a class.  Volunteer in the field.

Either get into motion and put some energy toward your dream, or accept the fact that you’re not going to go for this one – and be okay with your reasons.  Both decisions work.

Sitting on the fence doesn’t.