Dysfunctional Modesty


I missed the memo about dysfunctional modesty.

I’m using the term”dysfunctional modesty” to describe the experience making yourself smaller because it’s actually a lot scarier to acknowledge  how awesome you are. 

Like a lot of people, I got a wonky memo about Nelson Mandela’s 1994 inaugural address.  This wonky memo attributed to Mr. Mandela a quote that actually has its origins with Marianne Williamson.  It’s the “our deepest  fear” speech.   It’s delivered to great effect in this scene in “Akeelah and the Bee“:

No matter who first said the words, when  I first heard them, I felt like Roberta Flack. Seriously, I was killed softly.  My whole life I was told:  “Don’t be a show off” and ” Nobody likes a smarty pants. ”  When I first heard the “our greatest fear” speech, it was like someone had looked straight into me and seen through all my shrinking violet bullshit. It was almost embarrassing. 

On the path to success and happiness, there are often lots of very real obstacles. But for me, the biggest obstacle has always been just copping to my own awesomeness.  It is so much easier to pretend to be less than what you are.   To paraphrase Maria Bamford, living up to your potential really cuts into your sitting around time. 

And it’s not always negative self talk or inertia that brings you down.  There are mean people who say mean things, but I’m guessing some of  these folks haven’t figured out that they too have permission to be fabulous, so they just get really frustrated. Or something.  But you don’t need a bra made out of sparklers to figure out that you can’t let other people get you down. (But isn’t Katy Perry just adorable?  I don’t want to like her, but resistance has been futile.)

So, this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.  And not hide it under a bushel. Memo received.

© 2011 Jamie Walker Ball

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