“You’re going to RUIN your life,” she tells me, and I know she has a point. If not ruined, I will at least miss the joy. It’s not the first time I’ve heard this phrase, especially because with every possible failure or worry of failure I tell myself the same thing: I could ruin this. I could mess it all up. And what then? What does the worst-case scenario really amount to?
Feeling like you ruined things is a horrible experience. As a child, I was bullied in the 4th grade and I ended up trying to cut off my teeth with nail clippers. After a few days of trying this technique, my mom found me, disciplined me, and told me I was going to ruin my teeth. The problem was, I felt I already had – the damage was somewhat faint but irreparable. The cracks and dentin shone through. Later in life, I tried to repair this issue with veneers but did not see a competent doctor. The repair was much more noticeable than the initial issue. “Take 2” of the repair ended up even worse. My colleague noticed both times and criticized me, and I was completely humiliated, in public. I couldn’t hide, I didn’t know how to fix the problem, and so I decided to leave my job and pull myself together. I was too ashamed to speak of what was going on. I was too ashamed to continue showing up.
If I had it to do again, I would have shown up even while shamed. I would have been honest with my boss before quitting my career. To most, it may have been only vaguely noticeable. To some, maybe not at all. To me, it was disastrous. But what if I had stayed present while trying to look for a solution? What if I had admitted my mistakes and my embarrassment? I would have still felt humiliated but at least it would have been more honest.
I think sometimes about what led me to this level of shame and concealment. Maybe everyone does this sort of thing, especially when the humiliation is physical. I’m not sure. I think it might be the result of taking personal the shame of others. As a young girl, when I was taken advantage of by a superior, my superior kept his job while I wasted away as a student with an eating disorder. When my stepdad abused me and denied it, I used this same tactic. I shrunk in shame, but I learned to show up in life somehow. Over time, I guess I grew a little weary and my shame became too heavy.
“Vanity is blasted but it’s rarely fair… I can smell the Prozac in your pretty hair.”RHCP
These days, I question it all. What if we all just showed up shamed? What if, in the midst of humiliation, fear, and dread, we just move through life anyway, with honesty? Can the world handle this?
I was once photographed by a photographer when I had no money to pay for headshots of my own. The old man offered to pick me up, and because his studio was far away, he said I could spend the night. As a young naive teen with few resources, I agreed to this. When I realized I was in a compromised position, taking naked photos in a foreign place, I felt afraid. I locked the bedroom door that night and held my ground. I later asked that the photos not be published, ever. He critiqued my teenage pimples.
People will go to lengths to shame you and put their shame onto you. Lorde, in her song “A World Alone,” writes, “They all wanna get rough get away with it” and that really rings true. People want to get away with hurting and shaming and then blaming it all on you. What if we all resisted?
“They all wanna get rough get away with it”Lorde
In some ways, I know I’ve ruined aspects of my life. I have let my shame, my perfectionism, my fear, and my failures, drive me away from the things I most love. As I slowly make my way back into the world, I’m revisiting the idea of showing up with honesty, even when feeling ashamed.
This week, for me, it looks like admitting I’m unsure about one of my home renovation choices weeks before it’s supposed to be installed. It’s embarrassing and might make a few people angry, but I value honesty and transparency. Even if I’m feeling ashamed, I can show up with honesty anyway.
How about you? What small or large things in life make you feel ashamed? Can you show up anyway? Do you sometimes choose to give up what you love, or hide in the shadows, instead? Please DM me with your thoughts.