How to Make Yourself Smaller (And Why It’s a Good Skill to Learn)

Everyone deserves a chance to shine

In order to make my marriage work, I’ve had to learn how to make myself smaller.

I hated it at first. I still hate the words, no matter how many times I say them, because I have been told over and over that the only way to shine is to not shrink.

But to be honest, shining has never been my problem.

I’m a maximizer.

I’m the kind of person who walks into a conversation and becomes the center of it. I soak up the energy in a room and instinctively entertain those who are in it.

That’s neither good nor bad; it’s just who I am.

My husband listens. He waits. He’s the audience member who laughs and cheers, but he would be hesitant to leap on stage himself.

At first glance we seem like a perfect match: the performer and the patron.

But that is how a show operates, not a marriage. A marriage is about give and take, about connection and intimacy and coming together on the same level.

I have to make room for my husband in the center of our relationship. And then, I have to be patient while he gathers his own courage to step into the space.

Learning to make myself smaller has helped me to grow. It’s taught me how to listen and let me hear ideas that aren’t my own.

It’s also shown me how often I’ve used standing out as a defense mechanism. Seeking attention can be a great way to hide. That’s why the magician waves and wiggles his left hand while stealing your watch with his right.

I couldn’t do the coaching I do now if I hadn’t learned about being small. One of the most important things I do for my clients is make space and wait patiently for them to step up and shine.

How to Be Smaller

1. Shut up.

This is hard for someone like me. I have so many words all the time, and hearing yours just makes me want to use mine even more. But I’ve learned that my words aren’t the only ones of value, and so I practice shutting up a lot.

2. Listen just to listen.

I don’t just shut up and wait for my turn to talk. I set aside my own agenda and put all of my energy into listening. I try to be curious so that I’m not anticipating what I think I’m going to hear.

3. Wait.

This is just as hard as shutting up. Because I am always ready to leap into a quiet space, it’s hard for me to comprehend that doing so scares the crap out of other people. And at first, it was hard for me to trust that someone else would eventually fill the space if I left it empty for long enough.

They will.

Everyone wants to be seen and heard. Some people just want to wait until they’re absolutely sure no one else wants to go first.

4. Don’t steal the spotlight.

“I know what you mean, that happens to me when I…”

“That reminds me of how I…”

“What I think you should do is…”

Attention seekers tend to be scene stealers, too. It’s not because we’re jerks; it’s just how we are most comfortable communicating. I think that by sharing my story I’m relating to you.

Really I’m just hauling my own butt right back up onto that stage, trying to convince you that a duet would be just as lovely.

And duets are lovely, sometimes, but relationships work best when everyone gets a chance to shine.

Do you have to work on being smaller, or do you naturally let others shine first?

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  1. Megan says:

    “Some people just want to wait until they’re absolutely sure no one else wants to go first.”

    Yep. That’s me. Listening is an important skill for a writer. It is very hard to write real people when you haven’t observed actual people.

    We always equate small with bad (except with hips and butts), but small, for me, is easier to maintain. It takes up less energy. I just have to be careful not to use it to hide.
    Megan’s most recent post: Seattle Skyline

    • Britt Reints says:

      Yep, people who have a tendency to wait have their own challenge: to push themselves to shine.

      It’s funny how important I’m finding it is for us to both ACCEPT and EMBRACE our true natures, but also CHALLENGE them.

  2. Naomi says:

    The lesson I have slowly learned in the past two years is that unless I sometimes sit on my hands, no one else has the opportunity to raise theirs.

    Making myself smaller (and quieting my gregarious, go-getter, GSD aficionado self) means that others can recognize their “larger” — so yes, I get this post so completely and love it.
    Naomi’s most recent post: What are you? I check the “other” box

  3. […] Despite our often conflicting perspectives, we did manage to come together to accomplish something amazing: we traveled for a year with our two kids and made permanent changes to our family’s lifestyle. The key for us has been to learn how to use each other’s strengths and when to grow beyond our individual tendencies. […]

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