You Don’t Have to Play Big

I’ve seen the book covers, the IGTVs, the keynotes – women in eyelash extensions imploring you to stop playing small. Commandment after commandment, we’re offered the vaguest of measurements to stack ourselves against. Go all in! Show up big! Shine brighter!

Climb higher.
Run faster.
Dream bigger.

You were made for more!

Brick by brick, we build a Babel for one.

A memory: my kindergarten teacher, Ms. Redman. She was a quiet force, waltzing around the room in her favorite red pumps, hair twisted into a bun and secured with a pencil. When one of us twenty-something tots would cause havoc, she’d crouch down to meet our eyes. She’d get on our level so we’d feel safe, connected. She’d communicate that she’s paying attention, and she’d gently guide us in a new direction.

She made herself small, and the result was anything but.

Now, three decades later, a 5-second scroll and a few clicks around might bring about any number of Ms. Redman’s adversaries, a new slew of “Play Big” prophets. Find the 24/7 coach available to help you live your best life; “purchase your insta-session here!” Watch the motivational speaker in Converse sneaks shouting that your best life is just around the corner, and that you’ll definitely run into it at her next $1800 VIP event. Slap on a foundation named “Your skin, but better!” before buying the Guide to Being Glorious You, downloading Secrets of the 100k Side Hustle, and reading 5 Essentials for the Best Morning Ever.

How much time and money are we spending in search of our best life? Will we even know it when we’ve found it?

Last week, the kids and I trek to our local woods. We have grand plans to go sledding, but the hills aren’t steep enough and the snow is beginning to slush. For a moment, we’re disappointed.

Soon, I watch as they toss their sleds aside and settle for rolling downhill until their cheeks grow pink. When the younger turns thirsty, his sister shows him how to make a sno-cone in her mittens. Like this, see? she says. And there’s more! I can make more and more and more!

The day inches on with shrieks and tumbles, our socks wet and spirits high. As the late afternoon melts into darkness, I lead the kids back onto the path. They trot close behind, thrumming with energy, deeming our short adventure “the best ever.”

(I don’t know if we played big, or if we played small. I know only that we played.)

William James once wrote in a letter years ago:

“I am done with great things and big things, great institutions and big success, and I am for those tiny, invisible molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which if you give them time, will rend the hardest monuments of man’s pride.”

One small theory, then: If we want to live our best life ever, we must first aim for a good one.

Return your grocery cart to the corral. Look the barista in the eye. Plant a walnut tree. Ladle at a soup kitchen. Clap for the street performer. Smile at a stranger. Set the table. Shovel the sidewalk. Rock the baby. Wander the trail. Leave milk for the stray.

It’s not a side hustle.
It’s the whole good race.

  • Love this post! It’s so true. it’s more important to spread kindness than to play big. As usual, you’ve nailed it. Thank you.

  • I’m speechless right now, but thank you once again for sharing your thoughts and writing it down so beautiful and accurate.

  • This is everything I needed to hear today. As I make my move towards a simpler life, I find it so difficult to push past the mass belief in more and settle for less. Thank you for providing the words to snap me back into reality, Erin.

  • Boom. Right in the heart. Beautiful and meaningful words as ever.

  • Beautiful writing….just as always…..I am so enjoying your book – Chasing Slow – at the Audible app.

  • Good morning Erin. One of my dearest, closest friends is dying. It is a matter of hours now. She just turned 84. I tell you this because she is Queen of the Little Things. She loves her morning coffee, the first snow bells of spring, a lovely brooch on her sweater, and a spontaneous game of cards when friends or grandchildren drop by. Because of her appreciation of these small things, her presence is larger than life. She is completely unforgettable. I have about three decades to go before I hit my 80’s. I will spend whatever time I have left honoring her. I will make the phone call, send the card, and linger a little longer in a joyful moment. I don’t know how you do it, but your beautiful words always come when I need them most. Thank you for inviting me into your orbit. I feel blessed and ever so grateful. Sending much love to you and your family, from NY.

    • This is such a beautiful tribute to your friend, Tina, and I am so so sorry to hear she is passing. I plan to pause and notice every brooch in her honor today. Thank you for sharing such a lovely legacy with us all.

  • I have been making my life smaller and smaller – fewer commitments that feel like something I can put on a list – and as I’m doing so the spaces in my life feel bigger and bigger, and it’s grand. It’s more time with my children, my husband, reading, writing, walking, practicing yoga, cooking, and sometimes just having a moment to myself. I have no idea, really, how anyone ever convinced us that these weren’t the most precious things in life, and worth saying no to other things for.

  • Time and time again, I am better for your words.

    Thank you, Erin.

  • Perfect word for the day. Taking the focus off my side hustle and TRYING to life my best life and just living the best that I can today!

  • You have such a way of cutting to the heart of things. Thank you for the very important reminder. Sometimes it’s the quiet voice that makes the biggest impact, if only because it’s not shouting with the rest.

  • Yes and Amen to all of this. It’s about the small moments in the “mundane” day to day that fruitfully lead to a good life. It’s the kindness you extend yourself and others to enjoy the moment instead of worrying if you’re enough in the world’s eyes. I love this post so very much and found it encouraging for the season I’m in. Thank you.

  • I copied and kept your writing about living a mediocre life and being happy with that. This is along the same path and I love it. I married a wonderful man, had three kids, and five grandchildren and that is all I’ve wanted in life. Forgot to say I’m a child of a great God. More and more I see women doing wonderful work like starting non profits and it has made me question if I’m doing enough but until God puts it plainly in my path I’m satisfied with my life, a home, food and what I need. Thank you for your writing.

    • So much love to you, Denise. Thank you for your faithfulness to loving and being loved by those you’ve been given.

  • Love!!! It’s the small moments that make all the difference in our lives and the ones we remember the most.

  • The exact words and reminder that I needed to hear. The hustle and bustle and constant push to attain more and go faster is exhausting and less than fulfilling. Thank you for your words always!

  • Erin, your words have been bringing me back to life. Thank you for that. It’s helping me connect more with what matters and I’ve been struggling to know where to turn from here. I desire so strongly to have the small life, the quiet one, to not blow trumpets before I walk in a room, But I have an essential oils business that I want to grow so a residual income can supplement my future family’s. How can I do both? They feel so completely opposite. I want the first, but the second is such a place of security and it seems I *should* devote more, $, time, energy, voice, to grow it. I don’t normally do this, I’m the quiet reader, but I was interested in your quick take. Thank you <3

    • Hi Alyse! I completely understand. I hear often that – when it comes to marketing your work – social media is an necessary evil. But I don’t believe that, nor do I believe that you have to market in the way we’re taught will offer success. It might offer success, sure, but that success is short-lived and sustainable only when the pace is kept at a quick clip.

      I don’t have the answers, but I’ll leave you with this: every single “success” I’ve received has been a result of connecting deeper with just one person, rather than writing quippy captions to masses, or following the pre-paved formula. Every single one. I don’t think the mass way is the only way, nor do I think my way is. But I do often wonder what would happen if we’d stop thinking we needed to quickly grow an audience to sell more XYZ. What if – instead – we enlist the fruits of our small, quiet life to connect deeply to few? Given the conversion rate of larger audiences, I wonder if we might see a significant return – in both our own hearts and minds, and those of others. Are we wasting time watering down messages that appeal to many when we could profoundly impact (and be impacted) by few? I suppose I can’t answer that for all of us, but I know without a doubt that we can answer it for ourselves. xoxo

      • Thank you so much for your response. It was echoing what my heart has been screaming at me, but needed reassurance. Thank you, Erin<3

  • Erin, this is beautiful and truth filled. God has been layering this truth throughout my days right now. Have you read, “the ministry of ordinary places” by Shannan Martin? She spoke at our women’s ministry retreat last weekend, circling around the topic of paying attention in our every day life. It was fantastic. This post was fantastic, too! Miss you much! Hugs!

    • Shannan is my longtime friend! We went to Ethiopia together!!!! So glad you’ve found her words – they are SO very beautiful and true.
      Miss you so much! xoxo

  • I am so grateful for your insights and writing! This post helped me pinpoint feelings I might not have been able to recognize myself – at least not for a while, anyway. The message to ‘live big’ is so frequent and loud and pervasive that I almost forgot I had the choice to ignore it. Thank you, Erin!

  • I love this! I’ve been reading about Katherine Johnson and Ruby Bridges with my girls this week as we study some black history and I am in awe at their grace, composure, hard work, and small, meek, steps that have brought about so much change in race and gender issues. The “loud voices” today could learn a lot from these amazing women.

  • I love every word. My soul exhaled as I read.

    Thank you for writing and sharing your words with me and the world. {Though perhaps I’ll pretend they’re mostly written to me and we are pen pals} 😉☺️

    Seeing a new post from you always makes me delightedly happy!

    My {big} dream is to string heartfelt words together like Erin Loechner when I grow up! ☺️

  • Each time you’ve shared an essay lately it feels like a small and beautiful gift. Thank you Erin. This was just the message I needed to hear.

  • Erin, your words are like a balm to the soul. I’m sad I haven’t stopped by in so long, but am so happy that I did today. I love your words, your thoughts. Thank you for putting them out into the world. We all appreciate it more than you know.

    All my hugs from Michigan,
    (used to be the Home Ground!)

  • I’m not sure how you knew I needed this so much right now, as I transition into the “smaller,” less visible role of “just mom,” but it is perfect. Thank you.

  • You and I are soul sisters. I think of this daily. Like you, I left Hollywood and the glamorous life behind. I can’t tell you how many people have asked me if I miss it. How can I not miss the attention? How can I not miss the spotlight? But what are you going to do now? It’s not wrong to not need more, I tell them. It’s so right to need so much less. I was so deeply moved by the cashier I saw in the wine store the other night buying herself something nice, such a tired look on her face. I silently prayed for her to have a nice evening and a deep, restful sleep. I see people better. I am so moved by the flowers coming up with the frost still on the ground. I notice nature more. I let my children be bored, and I hope they are watching me watching the wind, showing them how to be still. There is so much to see, right in front of you. My life is so much smaller now, and so much sweeter, and so very much richer.

    • I can relate in many, many ways, Sabrina. Thank you for sharing such beauty with us all.

  • I absolutely love your writing style. Your view point is so amazing. I literally check your blog every day to see if you have added anything new. Coming here is like a breath of fresh air! I’m so happy I discovered it.

  • Oh, friend you write so beautifully and I am grateful for your words as always. Small is the new big. I can attest to this! Xo

  • Good morning, I am a 73 yr.old grama. I so enjoyed your message. It’s not something new…it’s something I forgot. Thank you so much for your gentle reminder.

  • Led here after listening to you on Hope*Writers. Thank you so much. I have been blessed to enjoy many similar experiences however I have trouble believing that it amounts to anything valuable.

  • reading this while sheltering in place in kansas city. what a crazy world this is. i needed this today and for this time. the small things become mighty. thank you, once again erin.

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