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It's Good to Be Embarrassed

getting over the fear of embarrassment helps you put yourself out there
❝If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try.❞ -Seth Godin

James and I are at the bar. It's a Wednesday night in 2004, which means Long Island iced teas are on sale for $2. James and I have very different approaches to meeting women. James has no sense of shame. James walks up to anyone and strikes up a conversation. He pulls out every cheesy line you can think of, and is shot down all the time.

On the other hand, I never put myself out there. On the rare occasion that one of James's lines works, I find myself not wanting to say anything stupid. I think I have interesting things to say, but I keep it to myself. What if I come across as an idiot?

It should be no secret who got more dates. Every time James put himself out there, he gained more confidence. Every time a girl laughed in his face, he learned what didn't work. He is immune from embarrassment, and it helps him not only in his dating life but in every area of his life.

to obtain skill, you need practice


Many of us fear failure, and that fear runs deep. We don't like to lose. The fear of failing or the fear of losing prevents us from seeking opportunities. Humans are averse to loss. We will fight harder to not lose than we will to win. But that just keeps us in the same place. Not losing but not winning doesn't move us ahead.

Changing your mindset can be quite profound. If you can learn to reframe losses as lessons, you will be more likely to pursue opportunities. There's an old saying that when opportunity knocks, you should answer the door. But opportunity knocks all the time; we just don't answer the door because we're afraid that we might lose something. Open the door for opportunity. If it doesn't work out, there are learning opportunities in there. Think about the most successful people you know; how many times did they experience something you might consider a failure? It didn't stop them, I'll bet. Many people have learned how to fail their way to success. In other words, every time they try something that doesn't work, they learn something that they can apply going forward.

It's one thing to not want to lose, but it seems like a lot of this fear is due to not wanting to be embarrassed.

if you don't win you don't have to be embarrassed, learn the lessons


Being embarrassed is not as bad as you think. Embarrassment is nothing more than your mind telling you that it believes it knows what somebody else thinks about you. This is called mindreading. There is a lot of room for error in those assumptions.

The fear of embarrassment is deep, but that's the exact reason that we need not run away from embarrassing or potentially embarrassing situations. We believe everybody is noticing us. And if we do something that isn't ideal, we tell ourselves that all those people noticing us are going to think poorly of us now. However, nobody cares. That's the paradox. We are too busy believing that everybody judges us that we don't realize that they are too busy thinking that we're judging them.

If you don't believe me, try these exercises author Scott Adams recommends in his book Loserthink. Grab a notebook and keep two separate logs. Write down every time you feel embarrassed. Regularly go back to this log. Look back to those embarrassing situations from one year ago. How do those situations feel now looking back? Notice how it didn't really impact your life. Think about the funny story you get to share with people now.

In the other log, write down every time you notice somebody else's embarrassing situation. Put yourself into their shoes. How would it feel if you had just gone through that embarrassing situation? Now notice how little that person's embarrassment matters to you. That's exactly how much your embarrassment means to them. It doesn't.

there's no need to be embarrassed because nobody notices anyway


Over time, as you learn that there are no losses, just lessons. You'll gradually put yourself into more and more potentially embarrassing situations. At first, you'll be able to view outcomes as either wins or lessons. There are learning opportunities in all of those failures. Eventually, you'll start to change what it means to win. Often, those lessons and learning opportunities matter more to us than wins. We change our frame from winning and lessons to simply winning, because we recognize that learning lessons counts as winning.

there are learning opportunities in every failure


In the world of investing, there's an old saying that risk and return are related. That can be applied for the rest of our lives if we changed the word return to reward. Reward can be whatever you like. It could be recognition at work, including raises or promotions. It could mean getting new business or discovering new career opportunities.

But if we don't pursue any opportunities because we're afraid of being embarrassed, then we won't be able to reap any of the rewards. Strategically putting ourselves into potentially embarrassing situations pays dividends over time.

risk and reward are related so learn to take more and better risks


Many of us are afraid of being embarrassed because we are worried about what other people think. We've already talked about how we are probably wrong about what they think. But let's assume that we are correct. Let's assume we have critics.

Admittedly this is an advanced step, but it can be worth your while. Assume some critics think you ought to be embarrassed. You owe it to yourself to thank them.

What if they are correct? What if they pointed out something that you can use to better yourself? You wouldn't have noticed that without their honesty and willingness to tell you about it. It will make you a better person, so thank them for their perspective.

What if they are incorrect? If they are wrong about their opinion of what happened, then that is a them problem, not a you problem. Their opinion is both out of your control and none of your business. You can thank them for what they think they are doing - they think they are being helpful.

whether your critics are right or wrong, thank them

You don't have to be embarrassed. You can train yourself to pursue more embarrassing situations and learn what works and doesn't.

So speak up in meetings. Apply for promotions. Ask for raises. Try new projects. Set up the system so that if you don't get what you think you're after, you still win because you've learned new lessons and you've learned new skills.

You only have 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

Gilbert, Daniel: Stumbling on Happiness

Haidt, Jonathan: The Happiness Hypothesis

Hanson, Rick & Forrest Hanson: Resilient

Hanson, Rick & Richard Mendius: Buddha’s Brain

Ivtzan, Itai, Tim Lomas, Kate Hefferon & Piers Worth: Second Wave Positive Psychology

Manson, Mark: Everything is Fucked

Reivich, Karen & Andrew Shatte: The Resilience Factor

Seligman, Martin: Authentic Happiness

Seligman, Martin: Flourish

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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