The Roar Sessions: Patti Digh

When Roaring is Discouraged, Learn to Roar Anyway
by Patti Digh 

Patti pics patti + emma look alike b208When I was young, I believe it was clear to my parents and teachers that I had a gift of some kind. I was unaware of it, but all my straight A report cards and audiences with the Governor and visits to a psychologist for IQ tests and summers at Gifted and Talented Camp would point in that direction, if I had ever bothered to add them up. I just thought this was how it was—this was my “ordinary.” I was recruited to grade the papers of others in my first grade class, for example, which I see now would have been insufferable in a child less humble, less intent on being like every other kid.

I wasn’t just smart with a genius IQ—and preternaturally so—I was wise and I was a leader, and that scared some adults, I can see now. It didn’t scare my fellow classmates because I never spoke of it. I just lived it, with a humility that bordered on self-deprecation and a loss of self, I now see.

The two messages I got in my youth were these: “You can do anything you put your mind to” and “You are smarter than other people and need to not outshine them.” Those two messages have translated through 55 years of life to these: “You can do anything you want—and you’d better” and “Play small so as not to overshadow others.” Only now do I realize how contradictory those messages were.

I have played them so well in my life, like a dutiful kid—the first by becoming an overachiever of the highest order and a perfectionist; the second by never owning my gifts, but good golly-ing them away as Gomer Pyle might do. I still do this—at a recent interview to become a Board member for a local nonprofit, we all introduced ourselves and told some of our background. I finished, and the Executive Director of the group said, “Wait a minute, Patti, haven’t you written a number of books?” Even still, it is hard for me to acknowledge what I have done, because I feel conspicuous when I do, and I have done a lot.

My parents and others in the community did not mean to give me instructions that were so contradictory, but they did. And all of us, when given the chance to examine our patterns, will likely find messages that work against one another, leaving us somewhere in the middle, unable to roar. I find it in myself when asked to give a speech and unconsciously lower my status as “expert” in the very beginning of the speech, to level the playing field. I would also prefer to not speak from a stage, but from a place level with the audience where, tellingly, many of them cannot even see me.

This has translated, too, in the dissolution of any boundaries between me and other people, because I am going out of my way to be with, instead of elevated above. To help others at the detriment of myself, to be unable to say, “I am a writer,” for example. There are so many ways in which I have perfected this.

As I read over this essay, I am cringing with what seems like egotism to me. I have, all my life, never said these things about being brilliant and wise and a leader. Ever. And in never owning these things about myself, I have not only diminished myself and the ways in which my gifts might help others in a bigger way, but I have diminished others around me. This became evident to me in a meeting with a psychiatrist a few weeks ago when these and other issues had become too much for me. I described this “playing small” directive and how it had played out in my life. He paused, raised his right eyebrow, and said words to me I had never considered: “Can you see how insulting that is to other people?”

And in that moment, I could see. I could see how playing small paradoxically assumed the inabilities of others. I had never seen it that way. I could see how being self-deprecating was insulting to people who thanked me for my gifts. I could see how humor had become my deflection of choice when someone noticed my gifts and offered praise—playing small had so deeply become the only way I could think of to minimize my own roar and help others roar, to insist that others had a roar in them as big as my own and that my job was to help them find and use it, rather than roar myself.

Now, with the help of Dr. Eyebrow and others, I see otherwise. I see that my own roar is a call to that roar deep within others. I see that my leadership abilities don’t serve anyone if I hide them. I see that my wisdom—my “old soulness”—is a gift I am not to squander by refusing to acknowledge it or by hiding it. I see that I have been living an either/or story: Either I could be humble, or I could be an egomaniac. Either I could be silent, or I could be an egomaniac. Either I could never acknowledge my accomplishments, or I could be an egomaniac. I now see that playing small or being brilliant are not an either/or equation, but a both/and one, and that I need never buy into a story of ego that seems unhealthy to me, that seems detrimental to me–but that there is another story of ego I can live, and healthily so. My psychiatrist gave me an RX: “Support and encourage people, but no problem-solving. No self-deprecating language.”

I now know that I am not here to fix other people’s problems, but to encourage and support their journey. I now know that by not having my own clear boundaries, I have encouraged others not to. So I am working hard to step away from my smallness, not by taking more on, but by taking on less. I am working hard to create boundaries that until now have felt like “playing too big,” but I now know are “playing to be healthy,” for me and others. I now know that when people say “thank you” in such lovely ways to me for my work in the world, I can simply say “thank you” without making small, which in turn diminishes their gift of thanks.

In truth, I have seen who I am as a liability all these years. I am finally ready to allow myself to roar. Sometimes, these things take time.

This is my first roar.


Patti profile pic

Patti Digh is the author of 8 books, including Life is a Verb, one of 5 finalists for the prestigious “Books for a Better Life” award. She is also the Founder of Life is a Verb Camp.

20 thoughts on “The Roar Sessions: Patti Digh

  1. Ellen Berg says:

    Reading this, I got goosebumps. Thank you for always, always going to uncomfortable places, raising uncomfortable issues, and asking uncomfortable questions. I…we…are all better for it. Roar on!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cheryl Fassett says:

    So glad you finally decided to roar!! Isn’t it sad that we are taught these conflicting ideas? I was a smart kid (not genius IQ smart, but gifted program smart, at least :) ) and was taught the same things – you better overachieve and you better not outshine others. Starting my blog was a traumatic experience that played on every insecurity I had! But now, a few years into it, I am learning to say “I am a writer” even if it is in a very quiet voice. I am slowly finding my roar. :)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. christine says:

    Thank you this is amazing. Not outshining others was certainly the message for me as well. Your story is so candid and real to me. Many congratulations for all you have worked hard to accomplish and what you continue to give to the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. gingergirlgoods says:

    This just made me cry reading it…it is like you have peeked into my life from childhood, there are some serious similarities. I am glad you found Dr. Eyebrow…and it is a reminder that no best interest is served when we hide our light or muffle our roars.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Kathy says:

    Years ago my youngest daughter went to a week long performance camp in Utah. Their premise for the kids was that your voice, dance talent, and other talents are all gifts to give to the world. What a revelation. And a strong positive message for a 14 year old girl. Don’t hide your light under a bushel basket; share your abilities with the world so others see their own potential in you. I’m glad I heard that message too by watching their final performance, because it is one that is not often heard. I certainly got the mixed messages that too many girls with the ability for high achievement get as children. What a loss to our society.

    Thanks for roaring. Keep it going.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Eve Barbeau says:

    Oh Patti, it may be too late for me to roar unless I do so in the dark of the night with my covers pulled over my head. But what an I going to do for my grandchildren who are following this path. Very bright kids playing small? I’m glad you found your voice!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Debbie Schaffer says:

    Wow! Just wow! I watch my grandkids and hope that I encourage roaring..being who they are, regardless of others that want them to tone down their talents and their voice. Reading this I realize that I am the one who can help lead the way down the path of roaring for these little ones. Helping to draw clear boundaries and helping them learn to set their own.
    I am so glad that I was introduced to your work years ago…it resonated so deeply within me and helped spur me on to finding myself. I am glad you wrote your books and shared your gifts. I have benefitted from each one!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Suzi Banks Baum says:

    Maybe it’s June? Maybe it’s the stars? This topic has been hot for me and spoken of deeply at the Creative Entrepreneur workshop I was in with Lisa Sonora last weekend in Charlotte. Thank you Patti and thank you Jena for hosting this series. I am taking this all in. xoS

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Dana says:

    This essay is beautiful and also hard for me I read. I wasn’t a genius by any means :) but I did feel that duality of self and the pressure/need to make others feel comfortable over my own needs. I am so glad you had your first roar, one of many more in your life.

    Liked by 1 person


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