What Does Ralph Waldo Emerson Say On Playing Big?


A little while ago I read Robyn Davidson’s book, Tracks. If you haven’t read it and enjoy reading about real people -about the human spirit and it’s thirst for something beyond the know and the accepted – then I encourage you to read it.  Please don’t play small and settle for watching the movie – the movie is such a shallow version of the book.

Today, I came across a passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson which is in line with the 1700 mile journey Robyn Davidson took across Australia – against all advice – just because the journey was calling her. I share this passage with you in the possibility that it will inspire you and me to play BIG (bolding mine):

“You will hear everyday the maxims of low prudence. You will hear that the first duty is to get land and money, place and name. “What is the Truth you seek? What is this Beauty?” men will ask, with derision. If, nevertheless, God has called any of you to explore truth and beauty, be bold, be firm, be true. When you shall say, “As others do, so will I. I renounce, I am sorry for it, my early visions; I must eat the good of the land, and let learning and romantic expectations go, until a more convenient season;” – then dies the man in you; then once more perish the buds of art, and poetry, and science, as they have died already in a thousand men”

-Emerson, 1838

I thank you for your listening. And I wish you the very best – I hope you will listen and respond to that which calls forth the best, the bigness, in you.  Until the next time..

All life is an experiment: it always turns out the way it turns out


Right now I am confronted with choice and the choice concerns work.  It is not an easy choice.  Why?  I am confronted with what is so: to live is always to live at risk.  And the machinery that goes with being human goes all out to eliminate risk.  It wants to live forever, safely.

Getting past that, I find another challenge confronts me.  To go forward as a single person – as opposed to a team – I must focus.  What is it that I can do well by myself which creates value for my fellow human beings and will enable me to earn a living?  That means giving stuff up.  And what I notice is that the human machinery that runs me does not like that one little bit.  It wants to be able to do this and that as it enjoys doing lots of things. Put differently, it does not want to sacrifice: it wants to keep all options open, to have its fingers in all the pies.

Yet, as a strategist I know that I must focus. And to focus, I must choose. And to choose is to choose one possibility and thus simultaneously given up the other possibilities that are on the table.

In the course of my struggle, I came across this quote wish has given me a helping hand.  And I wish to share it with you.

12080“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little coarse and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.” 

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

It takes inner strength to be yourself; being yourself is the greatest accomplishment


The illusion of individuality

Those of us who are thrown into Anglo-Saxon cultures (at birth) live under the tight grip of the illusion of individuality.  We buy into the following myth: I am an individual and you are individual and as such you and I are free to be just ourselves – no constraints.  People thrown into Easter cultures have a much deeper appreciation of how much it takes to really be an individual – to really stand for who you are, what you believe in.

The being of human beings is that we are beings-in-the-world.  What is a prominent feature of this being-in-the-world?  From the moment we are born we are in an intimate relationship with fellow human beings.  Our life is in their hands and we become masters are doing what it takes to please people – at least those that have a strong influence on our lives.  Furthermore, every culture ensures that playing the game of ‘looking good and avoiding looking bad’ becomes our nature, our default setting.  Let’s be precise – we do just about anything to ‘look good and avoid looking bad’.  It takes inner strength to go against this default, to be who you are (naturally) and to stand up for what you believe.  This was brought home to me this week by my son.

It takes real inner strength to be kind when there is no permission, no agreement, for kindness

My son was sitting next to me and I must have said or did something that made him a little unhappy with me – I honestly cannot remember how it started.  So he starts tapping me softly on my legs.  I blurted out something like “Don’t be a p****y, if you are going to hit me then hit me hard.”  Then my son said something and the way he said it opened my eyes and my heart:

“I know you think I am a p****y.  What you don’t understand is that it takes real strength to be kind, to be gentle,  when all the boys in school are the opposite and pushing me to be the same as them.  Yes, I am kind and I don’t like to hurt people or be hurt by people.  If that means that people call me a p****y then so be it.”

It will be one of those moments that will be with me for the rest of my life.  I was (and still am) in complete awe at his inner strength as I never got what it takes for him to be gentle and kind in his world where ‘criticism, ridicule, indifference or cruelty’ is the norm.  I also got why there is so little genuine kindness and gentleness in the world that I live in: we live in a male dominated world and in this world there is no permission for kindness and gentleness.  It takes something, real inner strength, to against the prevailing wind.

To simply be yourself is the greatest accomplishment

Are leaders – big or small, recognised or not – people who have found the inner strength to simply be who they naturally are and stand up for what matters to them?  Is the biggest transformation of all that which occurs when we give up ‘looking good and avoiding looking bad’ and simply be who we are moved-touched-inspired to be?  Here’s what Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment”