Everyone has experienced failure in their lifetime, but have you ever had an epic fail? One that felt like the four horsemen of the apocalypse were knocking at your door, bringing their messages of fear, guilt, shame and doom. I have, and it is one that, for me, the primary emotion was shame. Feeling ashamed is deeper than guilt. Guilt is about doing something bad. Shame is about being someone bad. It has its lessons to teach, but in my opinion, its legacy is too far reaching. Even today, when I think about the situation, I can get caught in the same thought loops that destroyed my confidence, and kept me living small for so long.
I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. I was fired. And fired from a high profile job. One that many people wanted, and even my own family had said, don’t F this up, because you won’t ever get a job like this again. Holidays, pension, great pay and awesome benefits are not as powerful of motivators as you might think, I found out. I was miserable, and flaming out hard by the time I got the axe. I was so stressed out that I was sleeping three hours on a good night. Which is awesome for productivity, problem solving and general cognitive functioning. Totally joking there if you missed my context. The more stressed I got, the worse I performed, which caused more stress. It should have been a relief to not ever have to go back through those doors and face my former boss ever again. But the fear of what to do about the finances, and where to go next, and questioning my worth as a human being were preventing me from feeling the relief that I should have felt.
Anyway, back to the shame and what it taught me. It took a long time to get out of the cycle of shame. Even now, years later, and many successes under my belt, its this failure that haunts me. Teases me with the thoughts of anger, the if only’s and shame. I worked hard to turn thoughts of I’m not good enough into that was not the job for me. But still. Writing this post, feels venerable for me. It feels like you will judge that one situation more harshly that all the good things I have done combined. Because that’s what I do to myself. I say way meaner things to myself than I have ever heard from anyone else. And the fact is, I don’t know what “they” are thinking about me even though I imagine I do. I find comfort in Rachel Hollis’ advise; “Other people’s opinions about you are none of your business.” Preach it girl!
I have a little secret for you; most people are more worried about their own life, their own failures, their own successes to spend too much time and energy worrying about yours. And the ones that aren’t are clearly not spending enough time playing in the arena, taking big enough risks for themselves, not getting their hands dirty with this thing called life. Now, I realize that I’m making a judgement here, but I’m not talking about the majority of people. I’m just talking about the haters in the peanut gallery. The observers of others who don’t take their own risks for whatever reason. I know what the crippling effects of fear feel like. The shame that whispers that you shouldn’t even try for something because what if you fail, are judged, are ridiculed?
What I don’t understand is how they resist the whispers that come with time and healing. The ones that present new opportunities for growth. The chance to try something new, to start living out of the shadows again. Fear of failure is weaker than my desire for a new challenge.
I started playing with a ball team. Its been an awesome experience. My skill level falls somewhere between barely adequate and thank the good lord this is a team sport. But I’m learning, and the excitement of learning is way more motivating than staying on the bench where it is safe. Have you ever seen the movie A League of Their Own? Two sisters play baseball. The one sister says to the other, “Lay off the high ones.” The other sister says, “But I like the high ones.” My lesson is this: Swing your bat. Maybe you strike out, maybe you get a home run. Or anywhere in between, but there is always another inning, another game and another chance. Practice striking out with grace, so that when you hit that home run, you can say that you didn’t let the past failures keep you from trying.
The bottom line with shame? Spend your time with this emotion wisely. Learn what you need to, but don’t wallow. Don’t set up camp, and live there forever, letting it drive your decisions, influence your relationships and hide you away from your #bestlife. You can glean many useful insights about yourself through shame, but it is not a life sentence. Trust me, you will have more successes than failures. Our failures teach us the skills we need to succeed, so when you are tempted to run yourself through the gauntlet of emotional self flagellation, reframe and choose to believe that it was an honourable fail.