playing possum


lisa fabrega


Ever heard of the phrase “playing possum”? It comes from the Virginia Opossum, who “plays dead” every time a potential predator is near.  The version of you that loves to “play possum” exists. I promise. And she’s one of the biggest sabotagers of the success you want to achieve at your next level. 


  • watched Netflix all day instead of doing what you need to do with the excuse that you’re “tired” and “overwhelmed.”
  • put something off you know deep down is not only good for you, but necessary because “you’re just too overwhelmed right now”? 
  • used the excuse that you have “too much on your plate” to get out of honoring a commitment or doing something you know is overdue?
  • come on to a coaching call with a new coach you hired and expected THEM to tell YOU what to do on the call? To pull all the weight and do all the work for you? Or expected THEM to solve all your problems for you?
  • gotten angry when someone you hired doesn’t chase you down because of your “overwhelmingly busy schedule”? 
  • said “this is too hard, so it must not be in alignment for me” (that’s the spiritual bypassing version of playing possum).
  • ghosted on replying to someone instead of just saying “no”.

ALL (and more) are ways in which you’re “playing possum”. If you can see how you play possum, you start to understand what type of learned helplessness is your preferred one.

Learned helplessness, in my definition, is all the ways you’ve learned to abdicate responsibility for yourself, your life, your results and your goals

And why would you want to do that? Because it’s easier to blame outside circumstances as the blockers of your success than it is to look in the mirror unflinchingly at your own capacity deficits. It’s easier to throw your hands up in the air instead of hunkering down and doing the tough work. 

I once had a client get angry at me because I didn’t chase her to schedule her sessions or text her every day to “push her”. She expected to farm out her own self-motivation to me! She hired me because her business was struggling. She was “too busy and overwhelmed ” but the truth was, she purposely overloaded her calendar with non-urgent tasks to “play at” being “the busy overwhelmed entrepreneur”. 

Because deep down she was afraid of achieving her biggest goals. It meant she’d have to give up the “damsel in distress” act she’d learned as a child to get approval from her father. Becoming hugely successful meant she’d lose the damsel in distress act and as a result, love.

So she played the “too busy” game with me and everyone else in her life. “Too busy” to schedule her sessions with me, “too busy” to sit down and get clear about what she wanted to discuss on our calls. Too busy to show up and take the reins of her own business. 

I don’t play the game of possum with my clients. That’s the literal OPPOSITE of capacity. So, she finally dropped the “dead possum” act, showed up for her sessions prepared and ended up achieving things in her business in only 6 months she hadn’t been able to previously achieve for YEARS.

Too many of us “play possum” with ourselves. You throw your hands up in disgust when you’re hitting a new edge of growth and don’t like that it’s not easy. (I see it all the time when people join our group programs and drop out when they find out they’re actually gonna have to do some real work and not just “play at” doing the work.)

Your work in this world is YOURS. No one is going to hand it to you on a silver platter. It requires you to LEAN IN. It requires YOU to take the reins. It’s YOUR horse to steer. No one else’s. 

You’re not helpless. You aren’t incapable. You have the capacity if you WANT it. NO ONE is going to care more about your business and your life than you. Ever. If they do, they’re probably buying you out. But even then, if you want someone to buy you out, you better have that business in tip top shape behind the scenes (instead of it being a train wreck because you’ve been waiting for a savior to bail you out.)

A long time ago, a former casting director told me an amazing story about Oprah that illustrates the power of NOT playing into your learned helplessness…

She said the reason Oprah rose in the ranks so quickly at ABC when she was young was because she would set up meetings with the head of the network. She’d walk into that meeting with the entire plan for what she wanted to do drawn out and ready to present. She’d tell the network head EXACTLY how she wanted to produce her show, how her idea would play out and the steps that needed to happen to get it there.

The network head often said yes to her demands because SHE HAD THE REINS OF HER VISION, wasn’t expecting him to do any of that work for her. SHE did all the pre-work herself. She LEANED ALL THE WAY IN. She took the responsibility for her vision. And she made it happen. All the network head had to do was greenlight it.

Let that be an inspiration to you (like it has been to me!) in seeing what’s possible when you stop playing possum and grow your capacity to take the reins of your life.

Ps: Want to change the way you see yourself and build your capacity so that you stop playing possum in your business? Join us in Capacity Shift™