There’s a famous quote by Marianne Williamson (often incorrectly attributed to Nelson Mandela) that goes like this (bare with me if you’ve read it before):
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?”
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others
This quote… as seemingly simple as it is… has been something that has caused a LOT of soul-searching (mostly of the painful type).
You see… I was taught to diminish.
And I learned that lesson well. Very, very well.
The lessons began when I was much, much younger (back in the days when I still loved acting, performing on stage and amateur theatre).
Here is a photo of the me from back then (performing and singing on stage as Boy George):
And here’s another one… at my tramp-themed birthday party:
But, I was told:
- “Stop showing off!”
- “Calm down!”
- “Keep quiet”
- “Your jokes aren’t funny. You just look silly”
- “Your cousin (the one in the straw hat on the left of the photo above) is the drama student, not you”.
I got it. I got the message. I stopped acting. I stopped performing. I removed myself from the stage.
At the age of 16, I joined a church. A couple of years later, I joined the church worship team… but… there was this shadow of worry that lingered like a toxic fume. Was I performing again? Was I showing-off again? Was it sinful and wrong for me to be seen on the stage? Did I think more highly of myself than I ought? Was I sinning by seeking approval and applause from PEOPLE – instead of from God alone?
So, I told myself again and again that I would NOT perform… or be seen. Instead – my job was to diminish into the background and make sure that God was always first. I used to repeat again and again: “More of you, Lord… less of me… less of me… less of me…”
When you keep telling yourself to diminish… eventually, you DO.
My mother used to talk of me “hiding behind a pot-plant”. Because that’s exactly what I’d do. If our particular event called for the worship team to be up on a stage… I would try to find myself a shadowy little corner at the back of the stage (preferably next to – or behind – a pot plant)… where I could hide behind my keyboard, keep my head down and put-the-Lord-FIRST.
And I believed that God was pleased by my shrinking. I believed that’s what God wanted. I believed that it was very Good-Christian of me. And that it was the right thing to do.
At the time – I wrote a poem (I get a bit of vomit in my mouth when I recall this short excerpt):
I have no need of compliments, nor people’s vain applaud. This is no proud performance, MY song is for the Lord.
I scorned compliments and applause. And I believed that any kind of performance was proud, sinful and wrong. In my mind, being a Good-Christian meant “becoming invisible”… and “serving from the shadows”.
Church – of course – wasn’t the only source of the Diminishment Doctrine. School… society… the media… they all played a role in teaching me how to hide. As a woman – I quickly learned that my worth would always be determined by my external appearance. So… when I started getting fat… I tarred myself in shame and black baggies… and hid… and disappeared… and lurked in the shadows… and hoped not to be noticed.
The Diminishment Doctrine was authored by a whole concoction of pastors, prefects, parents and ad-execs. Problem is – I lapped it all up – like the good, obedient, eager-to-please little doggie that I was.
By the time 2007 arrived, I had mastered The Art of Diminishment. Mastered it. I had managed to make myself almost completely invisible (except for a tiny tribe of very close people – who saw me)…
…somewhere… somehow… I read that blasted Marianne Williamson quote for the first time.
And her words:
“We ask ourselves: “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?“
Which was – like – the story of my life. In fact – I didn’t even ASK myself any more. Obviously I would never aspire to be “brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous”… because those things were wrong… and selfish… and bad… and vain!
And then her next words:
“Actually, who are you NOT to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking…..”
Okay. Slap. Through. The. Face.
What was that?
“Who are you NOT to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented fabulous?”
gasp of horror!
“Your playing small does not serve the world”.
I remember initially feeling offended by those words. Smallness… “humility”… serving-from-the-shadows… diminishing… emptying ourselves… being LESS… these were all GOOD things…!
… (weren’t they)…?
And I was forced to ask myself this inevitable (very, very, very, VERY uncomfortable) question:
“If I truly believe that being small and diminishing has – in some way – served the world… or been a good thing… or helped others… or benefited humankind (or God) in some way… HOW might this have happened? Can I think of a single example of how my hiding and diminishing has been helpful or good for ANYONE?…. Anyone at all….?”
I had to face the ugly truth.
WHAT had my decades of diminishment, invisibility and shrinking accomplished?
No – wait – not only had it not accomplished anything… not only had it NOT served or helped anybody in any situation… but – instead it had wreaked an astonishing path of destruction.
My self-esteem?… my health?… my sense of worth?… in absolute tatters. My talents and gifts (that I’d potentially be able to use to help or serve others?)… all packed away in the dark, dusty corners of my mind… lest I be guilty of “selfish ambition” or “proud performance” or “vanity” by unpacking those talents and exploring ways to share them with others.
Not to mention the utter hypocrisy… of parenting from the shadowy places of diminishment.
“You’re beautiful, valuable and acceptable – exactly as you are!” I’d tell my daughter (whilst believing myself to be ugly and worthless).
“Follow your dreams!” I’d encourage my kids (whilst simultaneously refusing to give myself permission to follow mine).
Well. I’m done.
Done, done… DONE.
I’ve been done with the diminishment doctrine for a long time now (the journey began in 2007 – and continues still).
But today – I was reminded – once again – of how this toxic poison regularly tries to sneak back into my life… and especially when I’m in vulnerable-mode (as mentioned in the previous post)… and even MORE especially when I’m asking people to back my Big Dream.
When stuff like this happens, I’m bombarded with Diminishment Doctrine thoughts like:
- “Who do you think you are, Heather Costaras?”
- “Do you think you’re so special? Do you think you’re so talented? Well – you’re NOT! You should just leave the illustrations to the REAL Artists out there”.
- “What right do you have to think you can publish a book? You’re not a REAL writer! You’re not a REAL singer! You should just give up this crazy idea… and come back to the shadows. It’s where you belong”.
- “You are being VAIN, PROUD and SELFISH!”
- “Why do you think that anybody gives a damn about your stupid book and your stupid story!? You’re not some celebrity! You’re not important! You’re just some bland mother-of-two from the suburbs of Johannesburg. Nobody gives a shit about YOUR story, Heather. Pack this crazy-stupid dream AWAY! You’re just making a fool of yourself.”
But… you know what?
I’m DONE with diminishing, shrinking, playing-small, hiding and making myself invisible.
The time has come to (finally)… SHINE.
As we are ALL meant to do. And that nasty little voice can shout, scream and tantrum all it wants.
But… nonetheless… I’m going to shine. And I hope that you will too. And – as we let our own light shine… we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fears, our presence automatically liberates others.
To end off – here’s 3 recent – and very Hattish photos from our Mad-Hat tea-party (shot by my very dear friend, Tracey Kelsey):
If you’re based in Joburg and you’d like to hear me TELL… and SING… this story (about shining)…with added artwork, photos, slides and what-not… come along to Fisherman’s Village at 6pm on Saturday the 27th June. There will be comfy couches and a roaring fire. Bring some cash if you want to buy coffee, cakes or hot, freshly prepared jaffles. 🙂
And – if you’d like to pre-order your signed, first-edition copy of “How Heather got her HAT’ness back” – click here. I only have 5 more days to raise about $2000… in order to get the book printed & distributed. This is scary & terrifying… and a huge part of me yearns to hide myself… and my dream… from all of you. But another (much more stubborn) part of me says: “No! I will *DO* this thing. I will not chicken out!” So please bare with me. I’m gonna promote the shit out of this crowdfunding campaign until it closes on Monday the 29th. After that, I’ll return to *normal* blog-posts. x