How do I play big when I feel small?


I received this smart, beautifully vulnerable question the other day, and it struck a chord in my heart.

It doesn’t matter how many trappings of “success” (whatever that means) we’ve accumulated: everyone feels small sometimes.

When I thought about my response, I recalled a moment a while back when I had spiraled deep into comparison. I was looking at everyone else, seeing how amazing they were, and feeling like I was a mere turd in comparison.

I know you’ve been there. It feels absolutely toxic.

I felt really small. Yet my desire to hit a specific goal was calling me to play big.

I knew I needed to do something to stop the runaway train of feeling less than, and fast.

Within 24 hours I had gotten myself back on the highway of self-love and compassion. I was able to get the work done that I needed to do from a powerful place of “enoughness.” Plus I was flooded with new ideas to take our business to the next level. (When we’re playing big we become more receptive to new ideas to continue to play big.)

We will never stop having moments where we feel small. But we can learn to play big anyway. {Tweet It} We will never stop having_tweet


These are my four go-to touchstones for getting back on track to play big when I find that I’m feeling small. May they steer you back on track like they do me.

  1. Spend time with people who are playing a “big” game. Big is relative, of course, but it just needs to feel expansive to you. And by osmosis it rubs off on you. If you don’t have anyone in your immediate circle who you feel is playing big, read biographies about them, listen to their podcasts, and read their blogs.
  1. Disconnect. This may feel contradictory to the last tip, but stick with me. There will be people in your world who, when you’re in their field, make you feel small. It’s not their fault. It’s simply something about them that triggers you. (Likely it’s that they have something you want and instead of feeling inspired, you feel the dissonance of your wanting and not having.) Stop spending time with these people for a bit. Stop reading their email newsletters and looking at their social media. Unsubscribe and unfollow. You’ll feel way more valuable when you keep your eyes on your own paper. (Over time you’ll learn to turn comparison into inspiration instead of fodder for your “I’m small” party. But that’s for another day and another post.)
  1. Why are you amazing? Write a specific list of all of your accomplishments, things you’re proud of, and ways that you’re amazing. Refer to the list whenever you feel small. I’m serious. Keep this list in a note on your phone and add to it regularly.
  1. Take action anyway. When I feel small I remind myself that my playing small doesn’t help anyone. When I focus on my mission and how I can be of value to other people, I simply get moving and do my work. And when I follow through and do the things I say I’m going to do and get out there and am of service, I don’t feel so small anymore.

I also found Tara Mohr’s book Playing Big: Practical Wisdom For Women Who Want To Speak Up, Create, And Lead tremendously smart and helpful for upping my game. I was shocked by the insidious ways we as women specifically play small that we don’t even know we’re doing. The book is eye-opening. (I interviewed Tara about the book for Glimpse TV. Check out the interview here.)


Over To You:

Which one of these four touchstones most resonates with you? What are your strategies for playing big even when you feel small? I’d love to hear your ideas, so please leave a comment below!


  • I love this!! When I go into these moments, I step outside of the box for a pause. I like to go bigger, even if it is just in my head. I go to a restaurant I “wouldn’t normally” go to, order something I “wouldn’t normally” order (maybe a finer glass of wine), and I act in a way where I am the biggest at what I do! I have fun with it, and stop taking it so seriously. When I allow my self a pause and reflect, I am able to see all that I have accomplished in a short period of time, and I regain a huge sense of confidence and an energy burst that keeps me going! Thank you for this article. As always … perfectly timed! XO

  • I love this post Kate!!!

    Last week I had my own playing small moment. And what shifted it for me was that if I don’t show up and share the magical life I have created, what I am actually doing is keeping the road map that others can use to do the same hidden. I am passionate about living a life where we are in harmony with our essence, our gifts, each other and the world in which we live.

    But if I play small no one gets to hear how that is possible. So the only alternative is to do it the old paradigm way. Hours and hours of hard graft, while pillaging the planet. So I choose to shine my light, so that others can do the same so that collectively we can ‘be the change’ by showing each other how it’s done.

    Have an exquisite day, blessings in abundance from southern Italy.

    Catherine x x x

    • Kate Northrup

      Amen Catherine! I love what you said about if you keep it to yourself then you’re keeping the road map from others. So beautifully said!

  • Sarah-Jane

    Hi Kate,

    Thanks for this amazing post, perfect timing!!
    I have been spiralling deep into comparison lately, and I absolutely love the four touchstones. For me personally, number 2 and 3 work best at the moment, and get me on a higher flying disk from where I can be of service to myself and other people again without feeling small.

    Thank you for your abundant wisdom.

    Lots of love and sunshine from Mauritius xx

  • Marti

    I certainly resonate with numbers one and four and will add numbers two and three! Often when in a spiral down I call on Mother Divine and Pachamama (Mother Earth) who nourish us all. Over the years, I have learned to disconnect from anyone who is negative as I want to be happy in myself. Sometimes this action actually helps the other person realize their own negativity. I also try my best to di something I dread if it is needed to go forward. Usually this dread is of my own making and acting on it opens doors I never saw because of fear of failure. (There’s my biggie which stops me every time I get close to playing big!)

    Kate, this is a very great post for me right now. I am on the verge of taking a very big step forward and was feeling “small”. Thank you!!!!

    • Kate Northrup

      Thanks Marti – I love that you add calling on the Mother Divine and Pachamama. So smart to call on your divine support!

  • Taking action anyway is HUUUGGEEE for me. Never ceases to amaze. And sometimes, all we need is a little reminder to do so. Like when a baby bird is learning to fly out of the nest, and just needs a reminder that it’s time to GO! :)

    Thank you thank you thank you. <3


  • Betsy

    Wow Kate! Does this ever resonate with me lately! I have been feeling very small in my circle since I left my long-term position with a lot of security, to go back to school for advanced degrees and prepare for a career as a teacher. I feel like a stranger in a new world who never learned to do anything right! This has been a huge adjustment from my past life when I was the head of a department. Taking action anyway is my best response to these feelings of inadequacy. I just have to keep plugging away at creating my new future, while reminding myself of the ways in which I am amazing. I have an opportunity to reflect on the past, be aware of any mistakes I may have made, and do better the second time around!

  • ruth

    this so resonates for me too. thank you!

    along these lines i’d love to hear more about how you handle setbacks – those moments when you spiral downwards because you’ve made a “mistake.” this can quickly lead me into “i’m not good enough” “i don’t know what i’m doing” “everyone else is better” etc. soon i’m playing small in spite of all i might have accomplished and it can be hard to rally because i’ve actually taken a misstep that i need to reflect on. curious to hear your thoughts!

  • Grace

    I have a big heart and am forgiving, I have lots of compassion and empathy. I love, but I sometimes envy women who are a bitch, they always seem to get what they want. I would like to be a little more like them.

  • This post really reasonated with me Kate.I have been wanting to play big for a long time but spent too much time stuck in the cycle of comparison.Had to disconnect from social media and my biz for a while just to get clear on what I wanted to create.And like you said,it helped a lot.I feel more creative and confident in who I am and what I have to offer.Thank you for your inspiring words.

  • Genius Kate, you nailed it, LOVE this post! Thank you for sharing your wisdom so elegantly. As Liz Gilbert’s BFF says, “There are always new levels of ascension,” and these points of yours are powerful reminders for us to keep growing in the direction of our greatness.
    Big Love,

  • Love this Kate! Thank you for your words of wisdom, as always :)

    The thing is, I don’t typically see myself as small. In my mind, I’m a freakin’ rockstar. Seriously! I have a lot of confidence in myself and what I’m doing.

    BUT the other day a mentor of mine actually called me a “beginner” and “new to the game” when it comes to my business.

    I literally became infuriated. BEGINNER?! Bitch, please. I’ve been doing this for almost 5 years. While I’m certainly no veteran (although, who really is in the online biz world since it is relatively new to the game?!) I knowledge I have today far exceeds those just starting a biz.

    And instantly I also felt super small. Thoughts ran through my head, with the biggest being, “Do people actually see me as a beginner?! Do people not see me as the person I think of myself as? Do I not portray a big image?”

    I took this feedback as a sign that maybe I’m not portraying myself as big as I feel and instantly starting amp’ing up my game.

    I’m not small. I’m not a beginner. I’m not new to the game. And the time has come for me to ACT the way I FEEL.

    • Wow Andrea!

      Soo deep!! I can totatlly relate to your comment soo much soo that I felt it in my tummy. (guts) because I’ve always felt big and confident that’s never been a problem for me however lately I’ve been called out for playing small. Now I know where the trigger is coming from. Great blog post from Kate! XO!

  • Marilyn

    Your emails are like fresh air and sunshine! When I feel small I will put something on that makes me feel beautiful. It helps me feel that I matter and am worthy.

  • Thank you for this post, it touched me.

  • Hi Kate!
    Ah, playing small is an easy place to sink into when getting the tipping point “No.” When this happens (and I recognize it-’cause sometimes I simply react by eating a bag of cookies before I discover the sensation and name it) I just leave the house and go to an agency that serves the less fortunate. I keep a box of fabulous goodies in the car, things clients have downsized and are willing to give away. For example, I have a bin of antique dolls that I brought into the Boys/Girls Club to offer up. One little guy, about four I’d guess, snatched the Japanese girl, draped in a brilliant red dress, to claim for his own. Of course, I couldn’t stay in small sharing that joy!
    Thanks for your post!

  • I immediately act as if…Works every single time…pretend till you get it. Amazing how this mindset gets rid of the “smalls” and enters you back in the game…

  • This is exactly what I needed to read. Playing small doesn’t serve anyone. My business is growing, and I need to feel uncomfortable to know the goal is big enough.

    I love the way you take judgement out of the equation and bring the focus back to doing the work and connecting with your why.

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