Are You Afraid to Shine?

When I help clients and students identify and go for their truest desires, we quickly find any fears that are getting in the way. While fear of failure is certainly high on the list, fear of success can also be there, and it's a sneakier saboteur.

Why would we be afraid of having, being, and doing what we most wish to have, be, and do? Because it could shake things up in our lives and relationships, challenge our self-image, create new concerns, and uncover inconvenient truths. In other words, it might require some uncomfortable changes and we tend to resist change.

But what if we hold ourselves back because we fear outshining others and standing out?

As a child, I was smart, pretty, talented, and compassionate. One day, I learned that some less fortunate girls in the neighborhood were calling me Queen Elizabeth.

It wasn't a compliment.

That stinging memory surfaced in my mid-30s when I was working through Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, and had to identify “enemy” voices from my past. I realized that this incident was connected to my fear of shining, because shining—to me—meant that others might feel threatened or jealous, that they would shun me, that I'd leave some people behind, and that I’d end up … alone.

Can you see how those jam-packed assumptions would cause me to sabotage myself?

As I worked to heal my inner child's sense of shame, guilt, and unworthiness, there came a time when hiding my light was no longer an option, because I wanted to offer my gifts to the world, and help others to do the same. Yet even now, firmly in my 50s, I still occasionally hear that snarky inner voice asking, "Why should you have everything you want when others suffer?" and "Who do you think you are?"

What I truly believe about who we really are and why we're here (besides to love and help each other through life) is summed up in a message that came to me during a meteor shower many years ago: See the night sky, and know that you are made of the same stuff as those stars in your eyes, and that your time on this earth is for shining.

And yet, we often resist shining for fear of what others might think, and fear of acting "too big for our britches" or being "too full of" ourselves.

Who else should we be full of, I wonder?

I don't advocate walking around with bloated egos and arrogance, but with genuine pride in our abilities and accomplishments. As Kripalu faculty member and life coach Izzy Lenihan notes, it’s our life’s work to discover and share our individual strengths. “Believing that we’re born with unique gifts on purpose, and that we’re meant to serve the world with them, can soften the critic within us and allow our highest self to shine,” she says.

What’s sometimes challenging is that our gifts may not always be appreciated by those around us. Izzy says that, as a child, she was criticized by adults for asking too many questions. “They used to call me ‘the can opener,’” she recalls. “Later I came to realize that I’ve always had a deep curiosity about the human spirit and a gift for problem solving. These qualities make me a great life coach. Had I let the opinions of others matter, I might never have shone those gifts and discovered my dharma.”

Using our innate gifts for our greatest good and the good of others is a powerful reason to let them shine, as noted in this oft-quoted passage from spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson in her book, A Return to Love:

“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 does not serve the world … and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.”

And yet, as I often point out to my clients and students, our light may sometimes bring forth another’s darkness. While this is something to be aware of, it’s never a reason to hide, shrink, or withhold our gifts from the world. It is a reason to be self-protective at times, and careful about who we choose to confide in about our most tender dreams and longings. Surround yourself with those who will support you on the journey and celebrate your successes. I'm grateful to have such people in my inner circle today.

Who do you think you are? As you clarify this, I hope you dare to shine, because the world needs your light.

Kim Childs is a Boston-based life and career coach who specializes in Positive Psychology, creativity, and spiritual living. She is also a Kripalu Yoga teacher and facilitator of workshops based on The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron.

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