The real poverty in life is playing small and I have been playing small for quite some time, no longer

I spent most of yesterday doing what used to come naturally – taking time out from the doingness of living to reflecting on the human condition.  Then I spent most of the night thinking about my life.  Here is what I got:

There are many kinds of poverty

Material poverty – not having the resources (money, food, water, shelter…..) to take care of the basics of life.   It is the kind of poverty when your mother cannot give you milk (even though you ask for it again and again) because she sells the milk to put food on the table.  It is the kind of poverty where your parents cannot afford clothes and you wear hand downs from other people: you turn up in your new school everyone (EVERYONE) is wearing the school uniform (black blazer, black trousers) except you – you are wearing a green blazer and black trousers.  It is the kind of poverty where you have toilet or shower inside and you take a shower outside using a bucket of hot water.  You get the idea.

Mental (intellectual, cultural) poverty.  This is the kind of poverty where you born into and live into one culture without exploring any other cultures.  It is the kind of poverty where you are born into a religion and you totally accept that without exploring other religions.  It is the kind of poverty where you are embedded into a certain worldview (given to you by your parents, teachers, the society you were born in) and you do not even know that other worldviews exists.  It is the kind of poverty where access to knowledge is widely available except to you because you cannot read.

Emotional poverty.  This is the kind of poverty particularly prevalent in Anglo-Saxon culture.  It is where you suppress your emotions and practice the ‘stiff upper lip’.  You do your best to be a rational human being – standing apart from life.  You do not show emotion until you are simply not present to emotion and to others who come from a warmer, emotionally expressive culture, you come across as cold.  Their experience of you is that you are simply machinery; you on the other hand do not even know that you are poor and even if you do know it you hide it.

Self-expression.  This is the kind of poverty where you self-expression is restricted so that only the desired, acceptable, behaviour is tolerated.  It is the kind of poverty where you see your friends playing outside and want to join them yet you are locked up and forced to study.  It is the kind of poverty where you get a thrashing for not doing as you are told.

Playing small.  This is the kind of poverty which stops you from dreaming your dreams.  It is the kind of poverty that leads to resignation and cynicism – the world is the way that the world is and you simply have to fit in, you cannot make an impact on it.   This kind of poverty leads you simply to go through the motions of life – to survive.  Yet, the price that you pay is that you joy, vitality, self-expression are simply not present in your experience of yourself and your living.

Whilst I escaped many times of poverty I did not escape the one that really matters

I escaped the poverty of material goods and that of self-expression by getting to university and leaving my parents and their world behind.   I had a flat, I was driving a BMW, I went out and spent £2,000 on clothes in one afternoon, when I went for a meal with friends/family almost always I picked up the full tab, people worked for me and called me ‘Sir’.  One day I came into work and got I had achieved all that I had set out to achieve and I was only 28!  Whilst that might sound great it did not occur as great to me.  What the heck do I do now?  My whole life script had been around achieving: money, independence, freedom of self-expression, status and power.  Now that I had achieved it my life script did not work – I no longer had the drive to work hard to achieve.  For the first time I started something and did not follow it to completion.

For some years I drifted aimlessly.  Then at the age of 30 I assumed the mantle of father and provider for the three of us.  Since that time I focussed on making money to take care of the three of us, then four and finally five of us.  I not only had to make the money (according to the story that I told myself) I also had to bring my children up differently so that they did not ‘suffer’ as they suffered.  Get this I would let my first child hit me when he was 2 -5 years old because I did not want to dampen his self-expression!  I would let him destroy my CDs (my treasure at that time) because I did not want to dampen his self-expression and so forth.

The profound insight that I had yesterday is that since the age of 30 I have been immersed in the poverty of playing small.  I gave up my on hopes, my dreams, my spiritual and self-development practices including isolating myself during Christmas to be, to reflect, to get ready for the next year….  In the process I died: I doubt anyone who knew me before would recognise who I have been playing since then.  In the midst of this sleep there were moments of light.  For example, I came into being when I assumed the role of Client Director of Blast Radius and I got to play in the theatre that is natural to me: people, relationships, performance, integrity, ethics – creating a situation/environment where all the people can work effectively to produce a result that works for all.  I loved my work so much – it simply did not occur as work.  I had another glimpse when I was at Urban Science and ended up creating and then delivering a brand new course and the participants loved it – some said it was the best course in the company and all the other courses should be redesigned along the lines of the course I had developed.  I also got present to my ‘gift’ of opening people’s eyes to new possibilities and coaching them to improve their performance and the quality of their lives.

When I participated in the series of Landmark Courses (which I throughly recommend) I became alive again.  I related to myself powerfully and took on a project to repair my relationships with my cousins and to raise money for the poor.  The project was a success: I stood for the possiblity of the project, I enrolled people into that possiblity, I built a team of core people, I coached the people and took on the tasks that no-one wanted to do and together the team pulled off a great project and realised the possibility.  As a result of my participation in Landmark I was the cause in the change in some people’s lives.  So I started another Landmark Course and then I crashed the whole thing.  How?  One evening I was leaving to progress the Landmark project I was working on.  As I headed to the door to leave one of my sons said “You do not love us anymore.  You do not spend anytime with us.  It is all Landmark isn’t it?”  Whilst I did go out the enthusiasm died inside of me.  I quit once more and assumed the mantle of father and husband and fell back into playing small. By playing small I gave up vitality, self-expression, power and joy.  I took on Duty and Duty is heavy burden to carry – it crushed the life out of me.  Is it any surprise that in recent years I have been plagued by various medical illnesses; Health (in the broadest sense) is function of full participation in playing BIG!

Joy, vitality, power are present only when I choose to play BIG

I come into being only when I play BIG!  I come into being only when I am working with people to co-create a world that works for ALL of us – none excluded.  I come into being (and am never tired) when I take on the role of educator, teacher, facilitator, coach, leader.   Here is the thing I love people and the possibility that inspires me is a world where we work together in harmony, are compassionate and love one another, work to co-create a world that works for ALL of us.  This is why I am moved to tears by movies like Schindler’s List, Dead Poets Society, Awakenings, The Blind Side, Rain Main, The Green Mile.

During the course of my participation in Landmark I saw this.  I was most attracted to and inspired by the possibility of living an extraordinary life and making an extraordinary contribution to a world that works for all of us.  Then I started to have concerns that this was all EGO.  So I tried to live an ordinary life so as to deal with my ego.  Here is what I got: my ego is always present and it is particularly powerful when I playing small and living an ordinary life.

Given all of this I am choosing right now to play BIG.

Why I am communicating this?

Where in your life are you playing small?  What is the price that you are paying and the people you love (and the world at large) pay for you playing small?  Are you up for playing BIG?  Are you up for being a stand (and support) for me playing BIG?

For my part please know that I am a stand for you playing BIG?  What can I do to support you in playing BIG?



Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant. Passionate about enabling customer-centricity by calling forth the best from those that work in the organisation and the intelligent application of digital technologies. Subject matter expert with regards to customer strategy, customer insight, customer experience (CX), customer relationship management (CRM), and relationship marketing. Working at the intersection of the Customer, the Enterprise (marketing, sales, service), and Technology.

3 thoughts on “The real poverty in life is playing small and I have been playing small for quite some time, no longer”

  1. My beautiful friend, big or small, it’s still part of the same duality! Stand nowhere and do what you do because you do it.Express what is being called to be expressed and drop the labels. The pendulum will swing from one side to the other, be assured it is not the peak where it should be, or the trough where it shouldn’t, it is simply the journey between the two.

    Do extraordinary things with ordinary actions. The quality we bring to breathing in and breathing out can change the world!

    Love to you Great or Small Man ;)


  2. For my part please know that I am a stand for you playing BIG? What can I do to support you in playing BIG? ~ your doing it via this blog…..keep the insights flowing…..Blessings & Love to you.


    1. Hello Gautama
      You are supporting me in playing BIG through your sharing! And you can continue to do so by continuing to be in conversation.

      At your service and with my love


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