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Don't Let Embarrassment Stop You

it feels like everyone is judging us, but they are too busy worried about what we think

❝No one really cares that much about what you're doing. People are highly self-absorbed.❞ -Tim Urban

I'm on the bus coming home from work. It's 2014, and I work downtown; taking the bus is very convenient. I take an express bus, so it only has one stop once we leave downtown - and that's a parking lot out in the suburbs. I like it because I don't have to worry about traffic or parking, and I get to read. Getting a seat towards the front is beneficial because everybody gets off at the same stop. I have to wait for too many people when I'm in the middle or back of the bus. As I board the bus to get home, I'm delighted that the first row has a spot available. I briefly try to read, but it's been a long day, and because the bus turns off all the lights inside, I have a quick nap.

I wake up when the bus stops at the bus station. I was sleeping the entire way! I feel a jolt of energy because I'm not prepared to get off the bus, and I'm first in line. In a hurry, I grab my bag, stand up, grab my wallet, and try to pay. Doing too many things at once causes me to drop my wallet. While trying to catch it, I lose my balance and fall down the steps of the bus.

It takes a couple of seconds to register what just happened. I'm lying face down on the sidewalk with my things scattered everywhere and a bus full of people looking at me. I can't see it, but I can feel my face turning bright red. I collect my things and try to get out of everybody's way.

As I try to walk away, I immediately notice that something in my foot is not working the way it's supposed to. I can't put weight on my right foot, and suddenly, I feel intense pain. I don't know what happened, but whatever it is, I know it is serious. I'm scared to look, but eventually, I force myself to take a peek, and my foot has grown to the size of a baseball, making my shoe extremely tight. I need to get to the hospital.

But I don't go to the hospital. I have a bus full of people walking to their cars right past me. I don't want them to know something is wrong. I am already embarrassed because I fell off the bus in front of them. What would they think if they found out that I seriously injured myself? In a desperate attempt to look nonchalant, I pretend to make a phone call.

After everybody got off the bus and walked past me to their car, I finally hobble to my car and make my way to the emergency room.

I sacrificed my health because I was worried about what other people thought of me. In truth, none of those people remember me, and very few of them even remember that night. This was when I learned a valuable lesson; I shouldn't make decisions based on what other people think because other people don't care all that much.

it feels like we are the center of our own universe


One of the main principles in investing is that risk and return are related. That is to say that if you want a high return, you have to take a higher amount of risk. To say that another way, if you don't want to accept risk, you can't expect much return. The idea is that a higher expected return is our compensation for accepting risk. The concept is easily applied to investing, but it actually shows up throughout our lives. Depending on how you define it, risk shows up everywhere. Risk could be defined as getting turned down for a date. It could be defined as somebody judging your decision. Or, it could be defined as getting injured. But we do get rewarded for taking some of these risks.

risk and reward are related

We could partake in something involving a significant risk by, say, attempting a challenging hike or asking for a promotion. But the reward for taking such risks is that we may see a spectacular view or get a better-paying job. The other side of the coin is that we can avoid situations where we may injure ourselves or be turned down, but we give up any shot we had at the upside. Risk and reward are linked.

Because risk and reward are linked, we can recognize that there is no such thing as a reward without risk. This could be that "risk-free" investment opportunity that your friend offered you, having opportunities handed to you, or expecting only bull markets in the stock market. The fact is that there is no reward without taking risk, and if you see reward, then there was risk somewhere.

There is no reward without risk, but there is risk without reward. When I say that risk and reward are related, I'm talking about the kinds of risks that have rewards associated with them. Playing Russian Roulette, for example, holds a lot of risk with no upside. The same could be said for jumping off the roof of my house, pulling out in front of a car that has no cars behind, or investing in a single company.

The spectrum between risk and reward says we can reduce our risk by forgoing reward. That's okay if the consequences of that risk are unbearable and if we're doing it consciously. It's problematic, however, if we don't know that we're leaving reward on the table.

risk and reward are related

A grateful person exhibits certain trails. Rather than feeling deprived in life, a grateful person experiences a sense of abundance. A grateful person acknowledges the contributions of others to his/her success and well-being, appreciates life's simple pleasures, and acknowledges the importance of experiencing and expressing gratitude.


Many people have a deep fear of being embarrassed. That is, they put a lot of weight behind what other people think and automatically assume others will think poorly of them. Because of this fear, it's easy for people to avoid potentially embarrassing situations. The low likelihood of being embarrassed is often ignored. If there is even a slight chance that someone might be embarrassed, it's easier to avoid that situation to eliminate the possibility of being embarrassed.

There is a financial consequence of this, of course. If something rang up at the register that was more than I thought, I might be tempted to pay the extra money, so I don't have to feel embarrassed in front of the cashier or customers behind me. I might not return things that I don't need or that I bought impulsively because I'm worried about what the clerk will think of me. I might not ask for a promotion out of fear of being told "no" by my boss.

But risk shows up in the short run. I can indeed avoid a potentially embarrassing situation by paying too much for something, not returning something, or not asking for a raise. However, in the long run, I'm missing out. Remember that risk and return are related. If I fail to take risks because I don't want to be embarrassed, I leave reward on the table.

There are a couple of things you can do about this. The first is intentionally putting yourself in embarrassing situations and seeing what happens. If it turns out to be as embarrassing as you thought, you can at least recognize that there is a purpose to that feeling. What you will probably find, though, is that it is not as embarrassing as you think it is.

not being willing to be embarrassed means giving up potential rewards


The more you put yourself into "embarrassing" situations, the more you'll realize things aren't as embarrassing as you thought. By becoming more tolerant of these potentially embarrassing situations, you put yourself in a position to discover new opportunities.

People generally don't care about what you've done. The story we tell ourselves – that people are negatively judging us when we do something – implies that we are the center of everybody's attention. Once you lean into embarrassing situations, you will quickly realize that people are too worried about what other people think about them to care about what's happening to you. To test this, keep track of all the times you see somebody do something that you label as embarrassing. Take note of how little you actually care. See if you even remember the situation a half-hour later. Alternatively, take note of all the times you do something that you consider embarrassing. Revisit those things a week later, and notice how it feels after time has passed. When you make a connection that things are not as embarrassing as you think, you can intentionally put yourself into embarrassing situations to grow your tolerance. Trying to induce embarrassment further drives home the point that things are not as embarrassing as you think.

Not only do people either not notice when you do something embarrassing or don't care if they do, but people might also even applaud your ability to put yourself out there.

we're all at the center of our own universe


Getting past the fear of embarrassment and recognizing that people's opinion of you is neither your business nor in your control helps you connect with your authentic self. It helps you design and live a life that brings you the most meaning without worrying about what the proverbial Joneses are doing. According to author Bronnie Ware, the number one regret people have on their deathbed is that they didn't live a life that was true to themselves and instead lived a life that others expected them to live. They did what they thought they were supposed to do. They were driven by social comparison and expectations. Once they reached the end of their life, however, they wished they would have lived more authentically.

Connecting with your authentic self means understanding your sources of meaning and most personal values. It means understanding what kind of life you want so that you can use your money to support that. Living authentically means living your life unapologetically.

nobody cares about that embarrassing thing you did

We are wired to notice where we fit in our group. One of our basic needs is belonging - we need to feel like we belong to our tribe. Thus, we are hypersensitive to what other people think. However, we do not live in small tribes anymore. Our automatic thoughts about what other people think of us are most likely incorrect. There most likely negatively biased.

Practice getting comfortable with being embarrassed, and you'll be able to take more risks, reap more rewards, and live more authentically.

You get one life; live intentionally.

If you know someone else who would benefit from reading this, please share it with them. Spread the word, if you think there's a word to spread.

Related Money Health® Reading
References and Influences

Adams, Scott: Loserthink

Ben-Shahar, Tal: Happier, No Matter What

Bloom, Paul: The Sweet Spot

Burkeman, Oliver: The Antidote

Hanh, Thich Nhat: No Mud, No Lotus

Hanson, Rick & Forrest Hanson: Resilient

Harris, Dan: 10% Happier

Irvine, William: Guide to the Good Life

Irvine, William: A Slap in the Face

Irvine, William: The Stoic Challenge

Reivich, Karen & Andrew Shatte: The Resilience Factor

Sinek, Simon, David Mead & Peter Docker: Find Your Why

Sivers, Derek: Hell Yeah or No

Sivers, Derek: How to Live

St. James, Elaine: Simplify Your Life

St. James, Elaine: Living the Simple Life

Wallace, David Foster: This is Water

Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.



About the Author

Derek Hagen, CFA, CFP, FBS, CFT-I, CIPM is a speaker, writer, and coach specializing in financial psychology, meaning and valued living, resilience, and mindfulness.


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