Celebrating 20 Years of Diversity and Inclusivity in the Law!

Over 5,000 In-House Women Attorneys of Color in the United States, as well as Asia, Europe, Africa, and South America

Corporate Counsel Women of Color In Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council Since 2023


Stepping Into Greatness: How to Stop Playing Small and Achieve Big

by | May 9, 2023 | Features, Career

Step into greatness! Are you tired of settling for less than you know you’re capable of – in your personal life and legal career? Do you find yourself trapped within the confines of your comfort zone, yearning to break free and make a significant impact? Well, you’re in the right place if you’re ready to make a change. Stop playing small and achieve big!

Let’s explore an issue that holds many capable women of color attorneys back: limited thinking and playing small.

Here’s what accomplished people know about achieving success. We only win big when we step up and play a bigger game. As women, many of us have been socialized to downplay our achievements and strengths, while cheering others on from the sidelines.

Instead of stepping up to the plate and swinging for the fences, many of us settle for mediocrity when we know we are capable of having, doing and being much more.

Is that the way you really want to live?

What does it mean to ‘play small’?

When we play small, we grossly underestimate our value, talents, and the impact we can make within our organizations and in our personal lives. 

We may shy away from taking risks and pursuing ambitious goals, choosing to stay in familiar and safe territories.

The real tragedy of minimizing our talents is that we rob the people around us of solutions, products, and services that could possibly benefit them.

In an interview with Forbes Magazine, Tara Mohr, women’s leadership expert and author of Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Mission, Your Message said: “Playing small is the result of centuries of women’s exclusions from political, public, and professional life. Over generations, external inequalities have shaped the way we think about ourselves and what we see as possible for our work and lives. It has also shaped our fears – fears of speaking up, of rocking the boat, of displeasing others. Playing small has caused women to develop a number of survival behaviors such as conflict avoidance, self-censoring, people-pleasing, tentative speech, and inaction.”

As busy lawyers, it can be difficult for us to notice when we have been playing small in certain areas of our lives. This is especially true if we’re bogged down by work and personal responsibilities.

Are You Playing Small in Your Career?

Not quite sure if you’ve been limiting your opportunities? Here are a few things you may be doing that are keeping you stuck on the same rung of the corporate ladder – year after year.

  • Promoting other people’s ideas, projects, and accomplishments instead of your own because you – on some level – believe that theirs are better than yours.
  • Thinking more about achieving your goals than taking consistent action that will make them a reality.
  • Overcomplicating or continually polishing an assignment in an attempt to make it perfect and free of criticism.
  • Excluding your own voice by quoting trusted authorities rather than relying on your own words and accomplishments.
  • Shrinking back when it’s time to forge a new path in your career.
  • Believing that you need more education, money, experience, etc. in order to pursue a new role.
  • Wanting to make a change but falsely believing that you need more ‘clarity’ before taking action.
  • Choosing to be a big fish in a small pond rather than surrounding yourself with people who require you to level up your skills.

We’ve all played small at one point or another. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Today, you can release those limiting beliefs and behaviors that are no longer working for you.

Figuring Out What You Want Out of Life 

What do you want your personal and professional life to look like 6 months from now? Would you like to embark on a new career, become fluent in another language, or pursue a senior leadership role within your organization?

Before implementing any of the following strategies, you should have an idea of what you want. You can’t achieve your goals unless you know what they are.

Far too many of us have lost sight of what we truly want our lives to look like. Part of the reason that we end up settling is because we just aren’t sure where we want to go next.

As a result, we fill up our calendars and daily agendas with activities that aren’t moving us closer to a more fulfilled life. We confuse activity with productivity and wonder why our lives have become stale.

Let’s take a moment to consider the following questions:

  • What do you really want in each area of your life: professionally, mentally, and physically?
  • Are you in a job or career that is truly fulfilling?
  • Do you want to leave the legal profession but are too afraid to switch career paths?
  • Are you stuck or bored with any part of your life?
  • What problems haven’t you resolved because you’ve been putting off taking action?
  • What is the biggest challenge on your plate today and how would resolving it impact your life?
  • Are you afraid of failure or the expectations that come with being successful?
  • What are the strengths that you have that you can use to move forward?
  • What perceived weaknesses are you using as an excuse to stay where you are?


Winning Strategies to Help You Play a Bigger Game


1. Set meaningful goals.

A meaningful goal aligns with your passions, values, and long-term vision. It motivates you to become the best version of yourself. Setting meaningful goals provide a clear sense of direction and purpose, guiding your actions and motivating you to strive for greatness.

Any goal that you set should push you beyond your comfort zone and ignite a sense of excitement and purpose. All goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound, allowing you to track your progress and stay focused.

Meaningful goals are personal. You shouldn’t be alarmed if your goals do not look like your colleague’s or family member’s goals.

For reference, here are some examples of meaningful goals.

  • Launching a non-profit organization dedicated to providing education and resources to children in underserved communities, with the aim of empowering them to break the cycle of poverty.
  • Completing a marathon or participating in a challenging physical endurance event to improve overall fitness, boost mental resilience, and inspire others to prioritize their health and well-being.
  • Writing and publishing a book that shares personal experiences, knowledge, or stories aimed at inspiring and empowering individuals to overcome adversity and live their best lives.
  • Starting a sustainable business that addresses a pressing environmental issue, such as developing innovative eco-friendly products or implementing recycling initiatives, to contribute towards a greener and more sustainable future.
  • Volunteering regularly at a local shelter or community center, dedicating time and effort to support and uplift individuals facing homelessness or other difficult life circumstances, aiming to make a positive impact on their lives and foster a sense of belonging and hope.
  • Any goal that you find meaningful to your life and mission.


2. Build a support network of like-minded people.

Surrounding yourself with people who share similar values, goals, and aspirations creates a nurturing and empowering environment for growth and development. Like-minded individuals provide valuable support, encouragement, and accountability, pushing you to reach new heights and overcome challenges.

They understand your journey, share their experiences, and offer guidance and insights. Building a support group allows for meaningful connections, networking opportunities, and collaboration, fostering a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose.

In your support network, you can inspire each other, exchange ideas, and celebrate successes, creating a positive and uplifting community that fuels motivation and amplifies your collective potential.


3. Stay committed to your goals by taking consistent action.

Transforming your goals into reality requires consistent effort. It isn’t enough to have big aspirations, but you must also practice ongoing dedication and perseverance even when you don’t see any progress.

Consistency builds momentum and propels you forward during challenging times. By taking regular, intentional steps towards your goals, you cultivate discipline, resilience, and a strong work ethic. It also prevents stagnation and keeps you engaged and motivated along your journey.

Whether it’s dedicating a specific amount of time each day, setting achievable milestones, or breaking tasks into manageable chunks, consistent action ensures that you make tangible progress towards your goals.

Let’s consider an example of how to stay committed to a goal.

Suppose your goal is to author and publish a book. Here’s how you can stay committed throughout the process:

  • Set a writing schedule: Determine specific days and times that you will dedicate to writing. Create a routine that aligns with your lifestyle and commit yourself to sticking to it.
  • Break down the process: Divide the book-writing process into smaller, manageable tasks. Set daily or weekly writing targets, such as writing a certain number of pages or completing a chapter, to maintain momentum and track progress.
  • Get an accountability partner or join a writing group: You can share your progress, receive feedback, and hold each other accountable. Regular check-ins and discussions will help you stay focused and committed.
  • Remove distractions: Minimize potential distractions during your scheduled writing time. Turn off notifications on your phone, find a quiet workspace, or use productivity tools that block certain websites or apps temporarily.
  • Celebrate milestones: Acknowledge and celebrate your small achievements along the way. Whether it’s completing a certain number of chapters or reaching a word count goal, reward yourself for your accomplishments to stay motivated and reinforce your commitment.
  • Practice self-discipline: Remind yourself of the importance of your goal and the impact it will have on your life. Stay motivated by visualizing the end result and the satisfaction you will feel upon completing your book.
  • Embrace flexibility: While consistency is important, be flexible and adaptable when life throws unexpected challenges. If you miss a writing session, don’t get discouraged. Adjust your schedule and get back on track as soon as possible.


4. Embrace fear by taking calculated risks.

F-E-A-R is that dreaded four-letter word that prevents many of us from daring greatly. It often rears its ugly head and tries to hold us back from pursuing our dreams.

Most people make the mistake of trying to overcome their fears before taking action. The truth is you may never overcome your fears to the point that you feel you are ready to take action. You must get in the habit of moving forward with your fears in tow.

However, by acknowledging fear and embracing it as a natural part of growth, we can harness its energy and use it as a catalyst for positive change.

Taking calculated risks means carefully assessing potential outcomes, weighing the pros and cons, and making informed decisions. It involves stepping into the unknown with a sense of courage, resilience, and adaptability.

We learn from both successes and failures, gaining valuable insights and building confidence along the way. Embracing fear and taking calculated risks is a powerful strategy for personal and professional development.

5. Take inventory of your successes and achievements.

Allow your previous successes to serve as a roadmap of what has worked well for you in the past, guiding your decision-making and actions moving forward.

When attempting to reach goals that we feel are over our heads, we often forget about the things that we’ve accomplished in the past. If you graduated from law school and passed the bar exam, I am quite sure you’re more than capable of excelling as a leader within your company or law firm.

Taking inventory of past successes is a valuable practice that fuels motivation, boosts confidence, and provides a foundation for future achievements. Reflecting on your past successes allows you to acknowledge and appreciate the progress you have made, no matter how big or small.

It serves as a reminder of your capabilities, resilience, and the obstacles you have overcome. By recognizing your past achievements, you can identify patterns of success, uncover strengths, and leverage them in future endeavors.


About Corporate Counsel Women of Color
At Corporate Counsel Women of Color, our mission is to help women of color thrive in the legal profession. Join our network of over 4,500 women attorneys to build professional relationships and get access to career growth strategies.
© Copyright of Corporate Counsel Women of Color®. All Rights Reserved. To License the Use of this Article, contact info@ccwomenofcolor.org



Contact Us

Corporate Counsel Women of Color
Radio City Station
P.O. Box 2095
New York, NY 10101-2095