I’ve spent my life being small. At least it feels that way. And it’s time to proclaim that being small carries dangers and we should avoid it. Not only do the times call for big, to fully own our potential, we have to be ok with “being big.”
Big in my world means breaking boundaries, thinking beyond, pushing limits and boldly and courageously sharing your ideas, leading where others might not even imagine they need to go. Big means disrupting the comfort of your silence. Easier said than done – I know it. I’m right there with you…and many others.
So I’m marking this time, this moment to say…staying small, keeping my thoughts and ideas to myself or within a small group, with a client or an organization doesn’t serve me or the idea or the greater community.
For all of my working life, I’ve been telling other people’s stories. My first job out of college was at a TV station in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. There I told stories of society’s inequities including those at the county schools that lacked basic needs to provide a decent education to the predominately black student body. Or of slumlords who never fixed the plumbing leaving families and children in diapers living in filth. Building a career from a platform of television news creates a heightened sense of seeing the world as a series of stories. Others’ stories.
As many journalists do, I moved into the world of PR and communications to start telling the stories of nonprofits, organizations, businesses – all framed around the topics or issues they wanted or needed to share. My role was to be the conduit. And, as is often the case, call on my experiences and various inputs to help shape and make relevant the broader stories and the information those I supported wanted shared.
I’ve written many speeches and loved bringing a person’s story to life and watching their target audience react. I remember writing one very long big idea speech for an executive who ended up barely utilizing the remarks I had worked so hard to shape, mostly because he was just too busy to fully familiarize himself with the content and the interests of the audience he was speaking to. After his presentation he said “these are your ideas and they are great. You should share them.” I never did.
How many opinion pieces have I “ghostwritten” in my life? How many times have I encouraged someone to tell their story and share their ideas and even helped them do it? How many times have I marveled at big thinkers and thought – wow – they should be out there sharing that? How many times have I brought in people in to speak to my monthly women’s salon – now in its 11th year – to talk about a topic or issue?
Well, it doesn’t matter. That’s been my job. And it’s been my life’s passion to get people “out in front,” including nominating many deserving candidates for an award. Nothing excites me more than to see someone celebrated for their good work.
Yet now I feel I’m at a “megaphone moment.” Perhaps it is time to tap my own inner voice and creative thinking and share it more broadly. Why? Well, perhaps because I have two teenagers and I care about the future they are inheriting. I care about my community and feel we can do even better. And I believe so deeply in the amazing talent and human kindness around me. We all must find our voice. I embrace the idea of “being the change” yet I know I can walk that path more boldly, just like I hope and cheer on others I know to do the same.
Not doing so means staying small and letting fear get in the way. Fear can be debilitating. It can also be liberating. Right now a saying about fear is written in lipstick on my bathroom mirror. So I stare into its face daily. It's about using or leveraging fear as an asset. I was afraid when the story I did on the Mississippi schools resulted in a statewide lawsuit and was later subpoenaed to testify about the teachers who spoke out on behalf of their students. Yet I knew it was the right thing to do. The reprimand was dropped and students finally got what they needed. I was fearful when I took my first martial arts test, or fought my first fight, or went to break my first board or be one of the first women to go on a three-day wilderness excursion to train like the warriors of the old days. Being buried underground breathing through a tube is not your everyday experience.
Yet even with those stories, it feels like I’ve spent most of my life being small, going along, not disrupting “the process” – whatever that is. I’ve sat on the sidelines frustrated about the small thinking, about people not seeing the obvious, about the lack of courage when a united front could change the community, state or country for the better.
So I wonder – how exactly has “being small” served me? Do I see the world I want to see? Do I feel the community I call home is headed in the right direction? Do I think that “leadership” is effectively leading? Or should I look in that lipstick inspired mirror and say – what are you waiting for? Be the change? Stop living in fear. Stop holding back. Stop being small.
And today I say: Yes. I will stop being small. It’s time. It’s time to push the big ideas that I believe will matter to our future. Even if I fail, I’ll know I got in the ring. I think of my son and my daughter. I would be falling down on my responsibility as a good mom if I didn’t put it out there, just like I would expect them to, and just like I continually encourage others to do.
Join me. Our collective bigness can change the world.