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Years ago, I sat in a room full of successful people from all walks of life at a weekend intensive.
We had just been asked a rather vulnerable question by our facilitator.
“How will you play big this year?”
I knew my turn to give a fabulous and true answer was coming and as I contemplated the answer, I was unclear.

In fact, my mind felt like mud.

I found that my head was filled with so many shoulds vs. true desires.

So I needed to go deeper:

What was really true for me?
What did I really want?

I sat with the question for about an hour before my name was called.

Some of the other people had already answered with things like:

“To make a million dollars.”

“To get 3 million in venture capital.”

“To finish my MBA at Wharton.”

“To buy NYC real estate.”

Up until this seminar, I thought my desires were impressive, but they were starting to seem pretty puny compared to these big dreams.

At one point, I thought about throwing a big income goal out there just to get this whole playing big exercise over and done with, but I couldn’t.

I’d spent too many years telling people what I thought they wanted to hear versus what was my truth.

When I thought about what I truly wanted, it felt small in comparison to everyone else.

Was I simply afraid?
Was I trying to avoid putting big desires out into the world?

As I walked up to the front of the room with about twenty-five sets of eyeballs looking at me, I wasn’t sure what was going to come out of my mouth.

So, there I stood in front of people who were playing big and feeling small.

My mind was still playing tricks on me as I took center stage:

It whispered: Tonya, don’t play small.

And I was still confused as to what that meant to me.

My moment of truth

I took a deep breath.

I shared proudly my version of playing big in the coming year.

It wasn’t one BIG goal but a collection of things I wanted to create and experience.

This year,
I want to write every single day.
I want to take a group of ladies to Paris.
I want to host more dinner parties and dance more.
I want to take a French Immersion program and read more fiction books.
I want to focus on building a community of like-minded women who can talk about a great handbag and God in the same sentence.
I want to sip Champagne on a Tuesday night just because and I want to continue to cultivate my mind.
And, I want to create content, connection, and conversation with women that will delight and inspire them to live a beautiful life.

With that, I watched a room full of people look at me with curious confusion (mostly men) like I had somehow stumbled into the wrong room.

I could read their minds: “Champagne, dinner parties and French?”

Oh, yes, I was an apple in a basket full of oranges or a pair of Manolos in a pile of Birkenstocks (which, by the way, are starting to become tres chic!). Nevertheless, I felt like I didn’t belong in a room full of “big” dreamers.

With all the big talk about money, investments, real estate, they didn’t quite know what to do with me.

Yet I felt so excited about every big pursuit I had professed.

… until the facilitator stood up and said:

“Tonya, I think you’re playing small.”

With the power of those 6 words, I began to spiral into shame and confusion.

Was I playing small?

Was I just too stupid to know about investments or running a successful business?

Was I hiding from what I really wanted?

Should I want more and something different?

What was wrong with me?

I stood there like like a deer in the headlights, not quite sure of an appropriate response.

My Act of Bravery

Then I remembered something a dear friend once told me:

“The biggest act of bravery is being strong enough to love what you love and want what you want.”

After spending my early adulthood doing what I thought I should do, it felt terrible to go back down that road again.

I thought I should get married, so I did it at the young age of eighteen.

I thought I should have a child, so I had my daughter soon after.

I thought I should go to school to become a nurse, so I checked that off too.

All my life, I had listened to everyone’s else opinion of what I should do with my life, and I’d not let this stranger misguide me again.

In that moment, I knew my truth.

Again, I was not going to give in to what I thought he wanted to hear

I turned to the facilitator and said,

“No one gets to decide my version of playing big but me.”

And I sashayed like a peacock right back to my seat.

To my surprise, I received an applause from all those who I thought were judging me

( goes to show that you can’t read other people’s minds).

Who decides on your version of big? You.

The only person that gets to decide what “playing big” is for you is you.

Of course, everyone will have an opinion

Some will think you’re playing too big; others will swear that you’re playing to small.

Let people think what they wish.

If I’ve learned anything it’s that people will constantly project their beliefs and limitations onto you, so you’re better off letting people think what they want because they’re going to do it anyway.

Stay in your business, and what others think of your dreams and life is none of your business.

Your business is deciding what feels true for you.

It could be traveling the world solo on a boat or growing a garden.

You’ll know your version of big because it will both stretch, challenge and delight you.

Take my client, Joyce, for instance.

After working as an attorney for twenty-five years and becoming a senior partner, she walked in and handed in her 90-day notice. Joyce played big that day by leaving a “big” thing.

Of course, her friends thought she was insane. Her partners were flabbergasted. Even her hairdresser couldn’t believe she was letting go of something she’d worked so hard to build. But, she finally got to the place where she valued her own joy more than pleasing others. She sold her big home, got rid of her big career title and moved into a small home on a lake.

She told me she’s never been happier.

Don’t chase big things. Follow your big SOUL.

Back when I was at this seminar, I was into the whole “pushing your comfort zone” thing.

And guess what? I still am.

Our souls are here to learn and expand. And, our souls are unique, like an haute couturedress.

No two souls are alike.

Contrary to what you may be led to believe, not every soul wants to create a six-figure business or be a size six.

Your big soul may want to speak fluent German and make apple pies.

I don’t know what your soul is calling you to feel, create and become, but what I do know is that it will guide you if you’ll be brave enough to listen.

And, when you listen to it, expect it to be equally terrifying and intoxicating.

The most comfortable thing I could have done in that room was to lie to myself and others and told what I believed they wanted to hear.

Speaking my truth made me feel nauseous. Then, I felt liberated. (That’s usually how it works.)

Want what you want … unapologetically

Elizabeth, another client of mine, had so much shame and guilt for her desire to want money.

She admitted that her goal was to triple her million dollar income in the next year.

She then proceeded to tell me that she would give money to charity. It was her way of clearing up the guilt and justifying wanting more.

I assured her that she gets to want 10 million under one condition: that she likes her reason for wanting it. That’s all that really matters.

When Elizabeth dug deep, her “why” was her daughter. She wanted to be an example that a black woman who was born with very little doesn’t have to be limited in the way she lives. She wanted her daughter to see her as an example of what’s possible.

She liked her reason

(and so I did I, but I never told her that because my opinion about her dreams doesn’t matter.)

In a world that is constantly telling you what should want, it is up to you to dig deep and explore what you deeply desire.

Feel into your body and heart, dig into your why and like your reason for wanting whatever you want.

And, when you figure out what that is…want it unapologetically.

Don’t try to explain it to your neighbor, Sally.

Don’t waste energy justifying it to your cousin, Sue.

Simply want it for you and make sure you like your reason.

Your definition of “playing big” will evolve as you do

Since that day many years ago, my answer to the question that was posed would hold much of the same truth.

But as I’ve evolved, so have my desires.

I want to take wild fantasies and turn them into reality as an example of what’s possible. I’m being called to create beautiful experiences and have a greater impact.

A few years ago, I felt a strong urge to become financially savvy, because, at the minimum, I wanted to be able to read and understand a P&L statement without breaking out with hives.

So, today, I’m wanting things that would have probably been more acceptable in that room, not because it’s a should but because I’ve evolved.

Things like:

Real estate (yes, I have a big fantasy around this).

To grow my company with a bigger team and impact.

To invest in companies that I’m passionate about.

To finally write that book I’ve been dreaming of for years.

And, I still want…

Dinner parties, trips to Paris with my ladies and Champagne on a Tuesday.

And, I got here by constantly playing to my own version of “big.”

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