Are you tired of holding yourself back? How to be an Unstoppable Asian [ft Happiness Scientist]

Overcoming the Fear of Playing it Small: Unlocking Your Full Potential for Success

Are you holding yourself back from achieving success by playing it small? Discover how to overcome limiting beliefs and step up your game in this insightful article.

We delve into a topic that resonates with many of us in Asia – the tendency to play it small and how it may hinder our success. From a young age, we are taught to stay quiet, downplay our accomplishments, and keep our opinions to ourselves. But are these limiting beliefs holding us back? In this article, we’ll explore the concept of playing it small, the impacts it can have on our careers, and how we can break free from its grip.


Sha-En Yeo (MAPP, CSP), Happiness Scientist – she enhances the wellbeing and performance of leaders and teams using positive psychology, a 2x TEDx Speaker

Jaslyn Koh, a coach, an advocate for women’s well-being, and also the Founder of The Busy Woman Project, a platform empowering women in Asia to find their own purpose and balance through mental, physical & financial health.

Defining “Playing it Small”

Playing it small can be defined as holding oneself back from reaching their full potential. It involves making choices that impede personal growth and limiting one’s maximum upside. It often stems from societal messaging that discourages taking up space, daring to dream big, and achieving one’s goals. This mindset can lead to imposter syndrome, where individuals downplay their achievements and shy away from owning their success.

As Jaslyn notes, it often stems from “the loss of potential or not being able to reach a potential.” Growing up, many are told there’s more they could do but are also taught to “redraw that voice” and not say what they think. This ingrains a fear of taking up space.

The Impact of Playing it Small

Playing it small can have significant implications on various aspects of our lives, particularly in our careers. Many high achievers struggle with imposter syndrome, feeling unworthy of their accomplishments despite their track record of success. This lack of confidence can hinder career growth, as individuals may not assert themselves or communicate their abilities effectively. It can also create missed opportunities for advancement and recognition within the workplace.

Overcoming Limiting Beliefs

To overcome the fear of playing it small, it is essential to challenge and reframe these limiting beliefs. Recognise that you have the potential to do more than what you are currently doing and acknowledge the value you bring to the table. Embrace the idea of playing it big by daring to dream and pursuing your goals with confidence. Don’t let the fear of failure hold you back; instead, view setbacks as opportunities for growth and learning.

Sha-En recognises this manifested for her as imposter syndrome. Though she had accomplishments, she “really struggled” accepting compliments on her strengths. Internalizing positive feedback takes work, she says, encouraging listeners to “be kinder with yourself.”

Failure and shame also play a role, as Reggie points out. By constantly worrying “what if I feel and look bad” to others, the focus turns outward rather than inward.

Top 3 Fears Holding You Back:

1. Failure
2. Success
3. Exposure

Taking Up Space and Being Seen

One of the key aspects of overcoming playing it small is learning to take up space and be seen. Embrace your accomplishments and share your opinions confidently. Don’t shy away from expressing your thoughts and ideas. Remember that your perspective and contributions matter. By stepping out of your comfort zone and owning your voice, you can create more significant impact and open doors to new opportunities.

Fear of success can be just as limiting, they agree. Success means visibility, which can invite envy and backlash. Some choose to “keep it small” to avoid controversy. But as Reggie notes, this is likely a “fear of exposure” rather than success itself.

Shifting Mindsets in the Workplace

Creating a culture that encourages individuals to play it big requires a collective effort. Employers and leaders play a crucial role in fostering an environment that values and recognizes employees’ contributions. Encourage open communication, provide opportunities for growth and development, and promote a mindset of continuous improvement. By empowering employees to step up and take on challenges, organizations can unlock their full potential and drive success.

Playing it small at work, by not speaking up or applying for promotions, only breeds resentment. But breaking lifelong habits requires challenging default beliefs. Jacqueline advises asking questions like “What’s the evidence I’m ready?” to pause negative thoughts before acting on them.

Sha-En says reframing, a “complex and highly technical skill,” is key to adopting a new narrative. With practice recognising unhelpful mindsets, listeners can replace fears with empowering self-talk to achieve their dreams.

By deconstructing the social conditioning and inner dialogues driving the urge to shrink ourselves, listeners learn how to shed limiting beliefs and embrace their strengths. With the right tools and support, anyone can overcome imposter syndrome and start playing it big.


Playing it small can be a significant barrier to success, but it doesn’t have to define our journey. By challenging limiting beliefs, embracing our accomplishments, and taking up space, we can unlock our full potential and achieve our goals. Don’t let fear hold you back from playing it big. Step out of your comfort zone, own your voice, and watch as new opportunities unfold. It’s time to break free from the grip of playing it small and embrace the limitless possibilities that await.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Steps:

1. Embrace Your Potential: Recognize the limitless possibilities within yourself and dare to dream big.
2. Challenge Self-Limiting Beliefs: Identify and confront the beliefs that hold you back from reaching your full potential.
3. Communicate Your Value: Effectively communicate your achievements and contributions to ensure recognition and advancement.
4. Embrace Failure as Growth: Embrace failure as part of the learning process and a stepping stone to success.
5. Surround Yourself with Supportive Networks: Seek out communities and networks that uplift and inspire you to aim higher.
6. Embrace Continuous Growth: Cultivate a growth mindset and consistently seek opportunities for personal and professional development.

You can check their full interview on Wise & Shine, Episode 70 on Spotify, YouTube, Apple podcast for a candid conversation that sheds light on the societal conditioning and self-limiting beliefs that hinder personal and professional growth. By recognizing our potential, challenging our beliefs, and communicating our value, we can unleash our full potential and step into greatness. It’s time to cast aside the shackles of playing it small and embrace the boundless opportunities that await us on the path to success.

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