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  • Cory McGowan

2021: How small did you play?


End of year reflections can get a bit exhausting, can’t they? And the refrain of ‘whew, how nice will it be to get that year behind us!’ (true as it may be…) is not exactly energizing either, is it?

I’ll save you a bit of energy in that reflection process: you probably played small this year.

Believe me, that’s not an easy assertion for me to make, I’m really sensitive to other people’s feelings and to whether I’m saying things that will make people not like me. But it’s something I feel strongly about, and will get us somewhere useful, I promise.

First, a key distinction I’m making: the difference between getting shit done and playing big. I’m sure you got A LOT done this year, most likely more than you can even fully recall. Accomplishments, achievements, crushing goals are all things are highly rewarded these days, and I bet you did great at that both in your personal and professional life. Nice work!

Playing big (for our purposes today) doesn’t mean doing more necessarily. Playing big means stepping into things that seem impossible, in fact, that literally ARE impossible without transforming into a completely different person. It’s uncomfortable. It makes you want to quit (you will quit at some point in the process if it is true transformation). It’s not something that a reasonable person would do, really. And it’s definitely not something you can do without being supported.

So, we get busy doing a lot, accomplishing a lot, commiserating with others about how busy we are. We do our best to survive in a world where so much seems to be in the way of playing our biggest game - and of course we are right. We’ve spent our whole lives developing ways to survive in a world that can seem quite hostile to creating the impossible - and if you are reading this, clearly you have survived - hooray!


Don’t get me wrong, I have played small this year, too.

I played small in my work. I completed my first year of having my own coaching business and practice, and I even made some revenue - not necessarily a predictable outcome considering how many businesses fail in their first year, and something I am proud of. But I also spent a lot of time and energy getting onto different coaching platforms that would allow me to get matched with clients and create a steady income so I can make sure to provide for my family. Playing big would have been using that time and energy to step into the total discomfort of really clarifying what kind of coaching I want to do, who I want to serve, and creating clients directly from that instead of depending on a platform.

I played small in my relationship. My wife and I have been married for almost 15 years, and this year we built and moved into an amazing home, and not only did that not bring us to the brink of divorce, we actually had some fun in the process ;-) I’m in awe of the support she gives me and how our love has grown, and do my best to show that regularly. But playing big would be having the courage to open more and more to the vulnerability that that love creates, instead of continuing to throw up the protective defenses I’ve formed over the years.

I played small in creating possibility. I have a life I am incredibly grateful for right now - I live in my dream home in a dream location with a family that loves me and supports what I do. I do work that I am passionate about and that changes people’s lives. But I have been getting so caught up in figuring out what my deepest desire must be and having that be exactly the right thing, that I get paralyzed into doing nothing. Playing big will be making a declaration of what I want, even if I’m not sure that it’s perfect, fully commit to it, and see what gifts come of the messy and scary process of doing everything I can to make it happen.

To clarify - I’m not sharing these very personal examples to be self-deprecating or say that playing small is wrong and playing big is right. Rather, this is an invitation to consider: what if you could do the things you need to do, accomplish the things you are accomplishing, AND step into greater possibility? How would that impact your life and the lives of all the people you care about?

And maybe you have played big this year as well. An easy way to find where that was is to see where you have received support. Where have you stepped up in ways that you simply could not have without being supported? Yes, as a coach I am biased, but the call for being supported is not disingenuous (and support doesn’t only need to come from a coach, of course). In fact, I see this article as a sort of love letter to the people that did support me this year because writing and sharing it is a testament to how much my capacity to play big has grown. Next year I’ll be playing big as well, and I’ve already set up the support I’ll need to do that.

This article is also a plea. The world has never needed the full expression of your possibility and potential as much as it does right now. And what a world it will become when you play your biggest game.

My sincerest wishes for a loving, adventurous, healthy, and BIG finish to this year and start to next year.

Love,

Cory

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