CHAPTER 1 – PLAYING
“They laughed when I sat down at the piano—but when I started to play!”
Not every piece of advertising is memorable, much less effective. But this headline, written in 1926 by Caples for a U.S. School of Music mail order ad, became one of the most famous pieces of copywriting of the 20th century. Not only was the ad successful in generating sales, but it also demonstrated how well its writer understood human nature.
Caples reveals a key insight here, one that largely explains why we’re reluctant to play up to our true size: we fear the laughter. Picture that big piano– like the one onstage at Carnegie Hall. Glossy, midnight black, as long as a tractor trailer. We’re drawn by the mere sight of it. Every molecule of our being longs to slide onto the polished bench, to ease back the lid that covers the keys and bring our hands down on that regiment of ivory and ebony and produce glorious music. But we stand frozen, outside the spotlight that was meant for us because we’re listening to a different track. You may know it well by now– that recording that plays over and over in your brain. It says things like “This is too big for you. You’ll fall flat on your face. Stay small and you’ll stay safe.” And probably the worst one of all, “They’ll laugh.”
I offer you a fundamental truth: everyone is endowed at birth with the innate ability to play big. Your endowment for playing big isn’t dependent on age, background, education, financial, marital or social status. It is your birthright. Watch young children at play. They play with abandon, without fear of judgement, inside that perfect circle where judgement is suspended, where laughter is the pure expression of joy, where the game never ends.
(I’d also like to dispel an idea that may be brewing in your mind as you toy with this concept– that what I call Playing Big is about puffing yourself up, exercising your machismo, a sort of W.W.T.D.? (“What Would Trump Do?”) behavioral modification. Be assured that nothing is further from the truth. In practice, Playing Big is quite the opposite. When you’re able to drop the pretense and connect with who you really are, the need for posturing disappears. Playing Big moves you into a world where you discover humility and service to others are the true bolsters of your self esteem and satisfaction.)
So what happens? The simplistic answer is that we grow up. And there are advantages to becoming an adult, for the responsibilities we acquire along the way—higher education, family, a career– all demand a certain amount of maturity. But for most of us, at a certain point, our fear of ‘not doing it right’ begins to weigh us down. In the beginning, the fear is barely noticeable. One barnacle never sinks a ship. In time, however, if the fear that we’re really missing the boat remains unchecked, it will pull us down. Eventually we settle for the bottom when we could be on top of the world.
So playing big, to a big extent, is about dismantling those things that have attached themselves to your surface, those largely untrue beliefs and judgements that have, over time, obscured who we really are.
As I said before, the process of uncovering yourself is simple, but not easy. But here’s the good news: everything that’s inside you that allowed you to play big as a child is still intact. Think of it as that special software that was pre-loaded on your personal hard drive at birth.
We only need to optimize that hard drive to get you up to speed. I’m now going to take you through the initial exercise in my process for Playing Big. An important word before you begin, though. This exercise requires you to be completely honest with yourself.
Frankly, I don’t care what lies you’ve told yourself or others in the past—that you’re just weeks away from the promotion that will change everything, that keeping a low profile is the way to get ahead, or suffering is the only road to success– just tell the truth here.
Without a painfully candid assessment of where you are at this moment in time, the skyscraper we’re going to erect will be built on a landfill, and the weight of your greatness cannot be supported on that kind of foundation.
The diagram on the following page is your Big Wheel. It encompasses everything you do, the segments that make up your life. When we were kids, it was largely a safe place to play. The most we had to fear was a scraped knee or elbow. But as we grew, those fears and judgements mounted, and rather than being enabled within this wheel, we gradually became trapped by it, like the sole player outnumbered against fifty others in an endless game of dodge ball. We’re about to open this circle up again, to recreate that childhood space where it was possible for you to forget yourself and just be.
Notice that your Big Wheel is divided into eight segments: your Physical Environment, Career, Money, Health, Friends & Family, Significant Other/Romance, Personal Growth, and yes, Fun & Recreation. And if you wrinkled your brow at the “Fun” segment, you’ve definitely come to the right place.
Now notice that along the center grid is a scale of numbers from one to ten. What I’m asking of you, again with absolute honesty, is to rate your current satisfaction in each of these areas by drawing an arc between the number that best corresponds to your current satisfaction level. I urge you to determine your 1 to 10 ratings based on a typical day. For example, don’t be tempted to rate your Career as a “10” on the one (and only) day out of 365 that your boss expressed his or her appreciation for your efforts. Again, be honest. Also be thinking as you score yourself, “What would it take– what changes might I need to make to raise my score from 2 to 4 points in any of these areas?” For example, if you’re currently at a “6” in your career, what would it take to get you up to an “8”?
I’ll describe each segment to get your mind going:
CAREER—I read one estimate that claims we spend nearly one hundred thousand hours of our life at work– and that doesn’t include overtime. How satisfied are you on the job? Are you in your current job because that’s where your passion lies, or are you just waiting and hoping for something better to come along?
MONEY—How satisfied are you with your financial situation? Are you able to take care of your obligations and still have something left to fuel your personal growth– or is the seed money just not there?
HEALTH—Been to the doctor lately? Are you satisfied with your current state of health? Do have all the energy you require to take on your daily tasks? And if you have any physical limitations, are you living fully within and around those ‘givens’?
FRIENDS & FAMILY—Is your life populated with loving, caring relationships with those closest to you? Or are there tensions, alienation and a constant urge to skip going to Aunt Rosa’s for Thanksgiving? Are there people in your inner circle to whom you could reveal your darkest secrets, free from the fear of being judged?
SIGNIFICANT OTHER/ROMANCE—Are you now with that special person? Still looking? With someone else but still looking? If you’re in a long-term relationship with a spouse or significant other, how does that union feel? Exciting? Comfortable? Convenient?
PERSONAL GROWTH—Do you feel like you’re expanding or contracting? No, I don’t mean you waistline. Are you refueling yourself, opening up daily to new possibilities? Or do you feel stuck?
FUN & RECREATION—When’s the last time you took a vacation? And were you able to actually enjoy it? In your current state, are you able to relax and just have fun, or does everything– including your down time—have to have objectives and a timeline?
PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT—Are you happy where you’re planted? Do you live in a frigid environment but long for the sunny Desert Southwest? Look around you at your apartment, your home, your office. Do you feel grounded and satisfied where you are, or more like this is just a Motel 8 on the road to something better?
As you rate your satisfaction in each segment, don’t over-evaluate. While it’s important to think this through, too much deliberation will muddy the result. Your heart knows the truth– you just have to have the courage to put it down on paper. Remember, this is for your eyes only—unless you choose to share it. Set time aside to do this exercise in one sitting. I’m telling you, it’s that important that you should not multi-task this exercise with the other 17 things you’ve got going today.
Once you’ve completed rating each segment from 1 to 10, step back and admire your work. Note the smoothness or bumpiness of your Big Wheel. If your circle were turned into the wheel of a car, how well would it roll down the road? Is it balanced? Where is your highest level of satisfaction? Your lowest? Are you rolling smoothly on the road of life, or do you see a broken axle in your future?
Here’s a word of encouragement: wherever you find yourself today is the perfect place to begin Playing Big. You’ve just taken the most important step to getting on with your life in a bigger and more satisfying way. Assuming you’ve been honest, you now have an accurate take on how happy you are in 8 key segments of you life. Your courage is to be honored. Most of your peers never have the nerve to look inside.
Let’s go back to John Caples famous headline, in particular the last half, “– but when I started to play.” There’s an important point here within the context of this ad. Caples was, in the end, selling music lessons. He knew that, unless you’re a prodigy like Mozart, some training must come before Rachmaninoff will flow from your fingertips.
The lessons I provide in the subsequent chapters of this book will train you to take your rightful place at that big black piano. If, up to this point, your life has seemed like nothing but work, get ready to play.
AUTHORS NOTE: At the end of each chapter, I’m including a short list of suggestions called “Playing Bigger.” These suggestions, built on the lessons of the chapter you’ve just read, offer you additional ways to integrate those lessons into life.
- Take your completed Big Wheel to a copy center and have them blow it up– BIG. Post it in a special place in your work or home environment as you begin to live with it and focus on your goals.
- Scan your Big Wheel and e-mail it to your phone or PDA for easy reference when you’re out and about.
- Share your Big Wheel with a trusted friend. Tell them your goals. As we proceed, it will be very beneficial to have an accountability partner—someone you can check in with for honest feedback and support along the way.
- Moving the needle– Consider what level of satisfaction you really want in each area of your Big Wheel. Then begin to ask what steps you would need to take to get you from where you are now to where you want to be. For example, if you rated yourself a “4” in the area of MONEY, what would you need to do to get to a “6”?