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Playing Small

By Ama Larsen, Faculty Member, Online Bachelor of Social Work Program, Spring Arbor University

I teach a course in social work and I am always surprised and curious when I find students that do not speak up in class or share their opinions or thoughts about an issue. So much of social work is about advocacy and supporting the needs of clients by empowering and affirming their abilities and personhood. (In reality, we all have some social work in us as we seek to make the world a better place with the resources and knowledge we have to offer.) At the beginning of internship placements, some students struggle with their confidence as budding professionals in their field and whether or not to speak up. My response as a professor is always, “Yes, share your thoughts and suggestions.”

New York Times bestselling author and activist Marianne Willamson reminds us that, “Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn.” Willamson continues to say in her acclaimed book, “A Return to Love,” that

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Playing small and withholding ideas and thoughts that could change the life of others or improve a condition/project is an atrocity. Proverbs 5:2 in the Bible reminds us not to withhold good when it is in our power to act. Despite our technological advances, we still are interdependent beings that need each other to survive and thrive. Opportunities at times only come once. Your voice, opinion, skills and ideas need to be heard. Speak even if your voice shakes. We eagerly encourage and enable infants to walk, why then do we not empower ourselves to grow? Every action will get a reaction and every step builds our confidence to take the next step until we begin to walk, run and even walk on water by conquering what we once thought to be impossible. In the midst of a storm, in a boat, Peter, a disciple of Christ, fixed his eyes on his Savior and was encouraged by Christ to come to Him by walking on the sea water. Peter locked his gaze on the strength, possibilities and goodness Christ symbolizes and he did the impossible by overcoming his fears and walking on water. Like Peter, we too must daily fix our minds with positive self-affirmation and motivational content. Let’s ask ourselves if our orientation gears us towards life or death? If towards life, than we desperately must gravitate toward life-giving, nurturing content and people that fuel our dreams and give us courage. Sparkle, because today someone may need your light to illuminate their darkness.

For further reading, check out these blog posts: Overcoming Depression and Irrational Beliefs and Anxiety and Boundaries.



Williamson, M. (1996). A return to love. New York, NY: HarperOne.

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