Stop preshrinking your opportunities

Published by Lori Pickert on March 4, 2013 at 10:27 AM

In PBH we talk about how preplanned curriculum sets limits on what children can learn. When you sit down to write a lesson plan or unit or plan a theme or make a lapbook, you filter what’s possible and decide what’s reasonable for a child to learn.

In contrast, when children are set loose to learn whatever they want to know about a subject, they operate with no limits. No one has decided ahead of time what’s reasonable, what’s too complex, what’s possible.

They end up building a much more complex and detailed understanding. They go beyond the most obvious facts someone else might choose for them and they learn thing that most people don’t know. They become experts.

Why do adults do this? Why do they curtail what children can learn by deciding ahead of time what’s possible and reasonable? Because it’s a real time-saver. Learning authentically and organically takes time. It doesn’t follow a checklist. It requires adult mentors/teachers/facilitators who are willing to follow along and support without knowing ahead of time what’s going to happen. It requires putting doing in front of measuring (which is the correct order, by the way).

Now here’s where we take it to the grown-up level: Stop preshrinking your own opportunities.

Stop making it small before you even get started. Stop saying it’s not a big deal. Stop whittling away at your dream. Here’s how it’s supposed to work: you have a BIG dream and the world whittles it down for you. You don’t whittle down your OWN dream.

Stop putting artificial limits on what’s possible. Why are you building fences already? You don’t even know where you might go!

Stop playing it safe. Stop hedging your bets. This is it, baby. Your one wild and precious life. Stop worrying about going too big — it’s the big, epic stuff we remember and care about. When you make it small, you make it forgettable. You will care less about it yourself — how are other people going to feel?

Stop worrying about failing. Success and failure are two sides of the same coin — you don’t get one without the other. You can’t insulate yourself from risk and live a life that matters. It would be much worse to come to the end of your life realizing you risked nothing and therefore accomplished nothing. When you protect yourself from failure, you protect yourself from living.

Stop worrying about being embarrassed. You get used to it. Do you want your kids to hide their light under a bushel because it’s too embarrassing to let people see what they can do? Do you want them to hold back their talents from the world because it’s too embarrassing to show they care about something? Get over it!

Stop being so shy and humble. You don’t have to broadcast to everyone that what you’re doing isn’t important and you’re sure it won’t really add up to anything. Let the future unfurl on its own.

When you make it small before you even get started, you are doing the same thing as curtailing what kids can learn by giving them a lesson plan instead of the freedom to explore what interests them in their own way.

When you say, “here’s the lesson — do this,” you know from the outset what’s possible. When you instead start with a child’s question and build outward organically, you eventually end up with a big piece of work — a project — the result of authentic inquiry. It’s big, it’s real, and it’s meaningful. That’s not something you can preplan. 

Don’t make the same mistake with your own opportunities. Don’t just grab some precut, prepackaged idea of what you can do or who you can be. Don’t cast around for a reasonable plan for yourself. Don’t decide ahead of time what you’re capable of. Wait and find out what you’re really capable of.

Your starting place is this: This is what I do well and this is what interests me.

Now work from there.

Invest in yourself and your talents and abilities. Not just money — invest time. Invest energy. Think about what you do well and instead of just throwing that in your plus column and going back to what you suck at, spend more time on your talents. It’s your talents and abilities that make you special, not the fact that you can’t seem to declutter your house.

Focus on your deep interests. Learn to pay attention to what engages you, what makes you curious, what makes you angry. Pay attention to what makes you lose time and get lost in the flow. Pay attention to what makes you feel happy and productive and useful. Do you feel guilty just thinking about spending time on yourself? That’s why you’re lost. That’s why you struggle. The better you know yourself, the better you can access your meaningful work and share it with the people who need it.

Connect with your community. Not just the town you live in — the world you make for yourself when you choose where to put your attention. What are smart, interesting, useful people doing and talking about today? Go hang out with those people. What does the world need that you know how to give? Figure that out.

Don’t preshrink your own opportunities. When you feel that urge to make it small, to whittle it down, to shove it out of sight, stop and think about how you’re feeling. Confront your fears. Confront your embarrassment, your shame. Then knock down the fences, throw away the lesson plan, and just focus on becoming who you’re supposed to be and doing what you’re supposed to do. This is your life. Go big.


Comment by Shell on March 4, 2013 at 12:58 PM

I so needed this today. Thank you.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 4, 2013 at 01:25 PM

you are so welcome. xo

Comment by Rach on March 4, 2013 at 02:46 PM

Jeez girl, could you get ANY better? Nope! This is just an amazing and such a timely reminder I'm always tempted to tell people I have no expectations, and dreaming small. So I don't lose face if I fall. Or a misguided atempt to be realistic. I've had enough of being so-called realitic. Why, why, why....and your point that if I do this, I am teaching my daughter to do it is of course THE most important thing.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 4, 2013 at 05:09 PM


i am glad the message is getting through! :)

thanks, rach xoxoxoxo

and what a great point re: misguided attempt to be realistic. because what is realistic? if you accomplish it, it’s real. trying to be realistic about something you haven’t attempted is looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

Comment by amy21 on March 4, 2013 at 06:07 PM

My alma mater's new(ish) tagline is "Think Big. We Do." Alrighty then. Think BIG! And Lori it's so so true, I never ever tell my kids *any* of their ideas are far-fetched; why do I do it to myself??

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 5, 2013 at 07:08 AM

i started to answer your question and it may have turned into another post...

Comment by jacinda on March 5, 2013 at 03:29 AM

"Doing infront of measuring"...thanks for that. That's what I need to allow myself. Just get on and do. Stop measuring it up all the time.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 5, 2013 at 07:09 AM


Comment by janet on March 5, 2013 at 10:44 AM

this post has so many insights. you are brilliant.

"Stop worrying about being embarrassed"
eek. but my bushel basket is so nice and cozy. it's difficult to admit, but i am embarrassed to share my most exciting ideas, yet i love when my son shares his.

thank you.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 11, 2013 at 10:56 AM

thank you so much, janet. :)

now get out from under that basket! ;o)

Comment by amanda {the hab... on March 5, 2013 at 12:57 PM

yes! it took me a loooooong time to quit pre-shrinking my opportunity, boudnaries, creativity and now, now that i'm on the other side of that limiting thinking i wonder why in the heck it took me so long.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 11, 2013 at 10:58 AM


as is the case with so many of these things, once we make the switch we think, “why did i do that?!”

but really it’s about just jumping in the water and getting wet. once you’re wet you’ve got a whole other perspective — and you can focus on what you’re supposed to be doing.

we just need to get more people to jump in. ;o)

Comment by Lisakt on March 5, 2013 at 01:30 PM

I so love this series Lori. Thanks for continuing to push me along as I continue to let the self-doubt and nay-sayers make me second guess...

There was so much I loved in this post - "You can’t insulate yourself from risk and live a life that matters". As my husband and I set out to build a new life for our family this was exactly what I needed to hear today!

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 11, 2013 at 10:58 AM

thank you so much! and good luck with that new life! :)

Comment by dawn suzette on March 5, 2013 at 02:30 PM

"Success and failure are two sides of the same coin — you don’t get one without the other. You can’t insulate yourself from risk and live a life that matters."
Love this part Lori. Some may see our time in Nova Scotia as a failure but I know it helped us grow and connect in ways that would not have been possible had we stayed right where we were. Now with this new chapter unfolding I can see how some of those "perceived failures" were really learning successes.
Thanks for another great post.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 11, 2013 at 11:02 AM


it’s funny how things that look like failures either to other people or to ourselves at the moment they happen are woven into our experience over time and you can realize, with the perspective of time, that they integrated very meaningfully into what you did later on and who you eventually became.

really, it’s just about labeling, isn’t it? because failure IS a learning experience. and until you try something, of course you don’t know if it’s going to work out. (we’re not PSYCHIC. ;o) when we feel like we failed, that is a bad feeling, but people need to understand that later on, when we’ve traveled further along life’s road, we might look back and see a tremendous amount of good, of learning, etc., in that “failure.” when WE share our failures, i think we help them understand that. :)

Comment by Carrie Mac on March 5, 2013 at 03:23 PM

I love demonstrating this to my kids ... imagine it, and then DO IT! To heck with what everyone else thinks. My Big Ideas have served me well over the years ... and I'm working on three more right now. I love the sense of adventure and excitement that comes with fearlessly pursuing my passions.
I'm going to share this post far and wide ... It will be nice to have someone else tooting this particular horn. Sometime I think people get tired of me being such a cheerleader for their "crazy dreams." I love being a cheerleader? "You want it? Go get it! You can do it!"

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 11, 2013 at 11:04 AM

yes — this is pbh to me. a life of making, doing, sharing. and you really build a strong foundation of habits and beliefs. my sons have a lot of authentic self-confidence from actually doing things and having skills. it’s so different, really, when your whole education is centered around strengthening and enhancing your own talents, abilities, and ideas, rather than being about “do this same thing we want everyone to do and then we’ll let you know whether you’re succeeding or failing.”

Comment by beki on March 11, 2013 at 10:17 AM

I think I need to read this post on a daily basis! Thank you!!

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 11, 2013 at 11:04 AM

thank you, beki! :)

Comment by Charity on March 11, 2013 at 08:27 PM

I am so happy to have come across your site. I am a new home educator and have a 12 year old son. We have been covering subjects with curriculum based resources and feeling very dissatisfied. I have realised due to my inexperience I am partly recreating school so have been trying to find an alternative way, and feel lucky to have found you! Now where to begin!
Best wishes

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 11, 2013 at 08:53 PM


thank you, charity, and good luck on your new adventure! :)

be sure to join the forum!

Comment by Amy on August 16, 2013 at 12:48 PM

"It’s your talents and abilities that make you special, not the fact that you can’t seem to declutter your house."

WOW. This whole article was so inspiring, but especially this line. This is the #1 thing that holds most of my life back - and my house probably isn't even as bad as I think it is!

Thank you! I love your ideas and your website!

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 16, 2013 at 02:28 PM

thanks, amy! :)

Comment by ZiIver on January 12, 2016 at 05:27 AM

Wow, this is inspiring. And timely. I have recently (this year) decided on pursuing a huge project, something I could never imagine myself doing, and I'm honestly terrified about the end result.

"Stop worrying about going too big — it’s the big, epic stuff we remember and care about. When you make it small, you make it forgettable. You will care less about it yourself — how are other people going to feel?"

This project is indeed big, possibly even epic. It will affect a whole lot of people on a very deep level, whether they know it or not. But it's too important to let go. I always dreamed my children would change the world, and now I've realized I need to change the world first to show them that it can be done. (Or at least give it my very best to show them that the effort is still worth it).

I think I need to find some enthusiastic people to put in my corner... My current crowd doesn't believe in big ideas.

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