One of my defining moments came in the third grade—the day a book report I'd turned in earned my teacher's praise and made my classmates whisper, "She thinks she's so smart." For too many years after that, my biggest fear was that others would see me as arrogant. In some ways, even the extra weight I carried was my apology to the world—my way of saying, "See, I really don't think I'm better than you." The last thing I wanted was for my actions to make me appear conceited. Full of myself.
I now understand that the true measure of womanhood is exactly what I'd avoided for so long—to be filled with all of who I am. Beginning when we are girls, most of us are taught to deflect praise. We apologize for our accomplishments. We try to level the field with our family and friends by downplaying our brilliance. We settle for the passenger seat when we long to drive. That's why, every week, I find my television studio filled with women who tell me they're so concerned with what others think that they've compromised their dreams and completely lost themselves. It's why so many of us have been willing to hide our light. Instead of being filled with all the passion and purpose that enable us to offer our best to the world, we empty ourselves in an effort to silence our critics.
Marianne Williamson once said that our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. The truth is that the naysayers in your life—those who seek to pull you down every time you exceed their expectations for you—can never be fully satisfied. Whether you hide or shine, they'll always feel threatened because they don't believe they are enough. Every time you suppress some part of yourself or allow others to play you small, you are in essence ignoring the owner's manual your creator gave you and destroying your design. What I know for sure is this: You are built not to shrink down to less, but to blossom into more. To be more splendid. To be more extraordinary. To use every moment to fill yourself up.
From the February 2003 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!