Emotional Resilience – Don’t Play Small

I’m sitting in a green room, getting ready to deliver my keynote speech on emotional resilience at a University. Honestly, 5 minutes ago I didn’t even know what a green room was. I mean I’ve seen TV shows where people were getting ready in green rooms before going on stage, like the Johnny Carson Show (okay, just think Jimmy Fallon now 😊). Stars, or important people, sit in a room covered with flowers, chocolates, letters from adoring fans, waiting to be announced. Once they are announced, they strut out onto the stage to loud cheers. They give a cool hand wave, saying humbly, “please, you’re too kind. Sit, please.”

Then there’s me in my green room: no flowers or food. Definitely no adoring fan letters. Just lights around a big mirror, which is freaking me out. I stare in the mirror and try to psych myself up for my speech.

At best I figure I will be speaking to maybe 30-40 people. A keynote for a University’s ‘Wellness Week’ wouldn’t likely draw more people than that, right? What I was really thinking was that I didn’t warrant more people than that. That, if I down-played the whole situation and made it small enough in my head I wouldn’t be so anxious. That way, if it didn’t go well (or perfectly) I could write it off as not a big deal.

Just go out and be professional, I thought, staring at my reflection. Keep your energy close to the vest. Stick to your script, don’t give big energy, DO NOT be yourself…and you’ll be fine. Don’t deviate like you do. Spontaneity must be avoided at all costs. Imagine what would happen if you couldn’t get back to your point! Just make yourself and your presentation well…presentable.

There’s a name for this kind of armor. This kind of getting yourself emotionally prepared for any chance of things not going well and buffering feelings of fear, disappointment, or vulnerability by giving the bare minimum of yourself, and it’s not called emotional resilience.

It’s called playing small.

It’s true, when we are playing small, we are emotionally armoring up. We don’t leave ourselves open for attack from others or ourselves. We are fairly well protected from disappointment, embarrassment, failure, and all the emotional ‘uglies’ (uncomfortable feelings). But there’s another side of that coin. When we keep our emotional armor on, we lose a great opportunity for real, authentic connection with others. We stifle our creativity and authenticity when we let our fears of being exposed as being less than perfect (as if perfect was ever an option) rule us.

Emotional resilience isn’t about having it all figured out, only feeling positive emotions all the time or keeping a stiff upper lip. It’s not a game where the person who shows or gives the least amount of themselves wins. It’s not about always presenting with a plastic grin. It’s not a popularity contest that you win by putting forth emotional ‘rays of sunshine’ at all times, while holding all of your uncomfortable emotions inside only to take them out on yourself or others at a later date.

Emotional resilience is about being brave enough to feel your uncomfortable feelings. Squaring up and being ok with being human. Identifying anger, greed, hatred, sadness, fatigue, disappointment, pettiness, fear, and whatever else you’ve got in your emotional pockets and acknowledging them. Owning them as yours. Not taking them out on others or avoiding them by playing small.

When we avoid our uncomfortable emotions, or avoid situations where they might come up, we are no longer governing our choices. Instead, our fear, anxiety, and embarrassment end up, by default, deciding what we can or will try. We may live a safe life, but it’s a half-life at best.

Alright, I hear the announcer getting everyone ready for my entrance. I’m excited and nervous. I remind myself that I know my message and this topic like the back of my hand. Like the front of my hand too come to think of it. I know it like this because it’s in me. I breathe this. It’s my faith, my church. These people didn’t hire me for a book report on emotional resilience, they hired me because of who I am and the way I present this knowledge to others so they can actually use it for themselves. My God, my message tonight isn’t “I will be perfect,” it’s “I will try.”

I’m sure I’ll stumble over myself a few times, but being ok with that is the only way I know to be whole-heartedly myself. The only perfection I will find out on that stage tonight is in my effort, not hiding from my emotions and minimizing myself. I can live with that.

4 Replies to “Emotional Resilience – Don’t Play Small”

  1. Amazing Lou! I have a tear in my eye. I have been trying to convey this to my children but didn’t quite know how. I do now!!!
    Thank you for telling your story in such an eloquent way!


    1. Julia, thanks so much for reading, and sorry to get back to you so late with this! I’m so glad you got a lot of it, and hope to be doing some student/parent workshops this fall again. Hopefully I can get you to come to one in the future… possibly Mac and Cheese 🧀 as well 🙂

  2. Hey Lou – I wish I had known about this event in advance. I would have totally written you a fan letter to stick up on that big mirror! I hope you were yourself and let your hands do some of the talking too 🙂 I bet you rocked the house.
    You’re the best,

    1. Hey Ruth! Sorry for not getting back to you sooner (tech difficulties 😉). Yes, of course lots of big hand jestures! Thanks for reading and no worries, I’ll be sure to let you know next time I’m speaking and Where!

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