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Why Play Small?

by Deborah on December 2, 2011 · 1 comment

At a Fulbright function I attended last night I ran into a friend who said she’d been interviewed as part of an oral history project about inspiring women. She then told me that she’d asked for the interview to not be made publicly available until after her death – which is likely to be many decades away!

When questioned, she said she only wanted to ‘leave a small footprint’.

The world has many inspiring women who don’t want to draw attention to themselves because they

  • Hold unhelpful beliefs about not being seen to show off – ‘They won’t like me if I brag’
  • Fear being criticised – ‘What if someone finds that I did something wrong?’
  • Don’t think they deserve the attention – ‘I’m not really that good’
  • Don’t want to show up a partner or friends – ‘I mustn’t make them feel uncomfortable’

These fear-based rationalisations keep too many women off the radar and invisible.

If others have recognised us for something, it’s because we have done something to deserve that recognition and we should feel proud not embarrassed. And women need role models. They need to know that other women have achieved great things because it makes it easier for them to believe that they can too.

None of us achieve success without facing and overcoming challenges, taking risks or making mistakes along the way.  

By sharing our stories, we help others to

  • find courage to take their own risks
  • learn from our mistakes so they don’t have to make the same ones
  • believe in themselves and their dreams for the future
  • contribute fully in the world and make great things happen.

We need women to amplify and multiply their achievements – so don’t play small.

In the interests of transparency, I should share the context for this blog. The conversation with my friend arose because yesterday I was interviewed by Alice Garner as part of an oral history project she is conducting in partnership with the Australian National Library and the Fulbright Commission. I was also asked for permission to provide full access to the interview and had similar reservations.

However, for those that are inclined and interested, once the project is completed, you will be able to access the interview fully, and hear the story of my journey from childhood to university, my career and experiences at IBM, the reasons I left, how I won and initially declined a Fulbright scholarship, life as a single mother on a farm with a 4 year old, life and work in Boston, the building of my business in Canberra and the fear and challenges I overcame along the way as I learned how to create a meaningful life that is grounded and intentional – but not necessarily easy.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Trina Sun December 7, 2011 at 7:27 am

Deborah, thank you for sharing of this event and your thoughts. It is so true that as women we generally feel embarrassed, or inclined to downplay our achievements, our journey. What a great reminder that we are in fact role models for other women, the next generation, and an encouragement to those who have gone before us and paved the way.


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