No matter how little time a day we give our shame, it never completely leaves us.
We have to choose to stay on top of it.
We’ve all been there—embarrassed, insecure, unsure about who we are. We’ve all felt the sting of past mistakes and the fear of not being good enough. We’ve all felt ourselves shrink a little. We've been ashamed of the broken pieces. A few years ago, I had a bit of a reprieve from shrinking when my son had his first heart surgery at nine weeks old. Handing him over that morning, while he wore a hospital gown in baby size that shouldn’t have to exist, required the most surrender I've ever given in my life. And yes, I was terrified and sick and more worried than I'd ever been before, but I knew that my shame had no place in that day.
Neither that precious baby, nor the surgeons, or even his walnut-sized heart cared that I felt like a subpar mom, or that my stomach sagged where I’d carried him just weeks prior. It didn't matter that I wasn't the smartest or the wealthiest or the best in my field. It didn't matter if my dinners failed or my goals weren't met or if every night I cried because I wanted to be the kind of girl who hoped. My shame played no part in the mom Henry needed that day. It played no part in the outcome. He needed me. Just as I was. And in the second biggest leap of faith I’d ever taken, I held on to that knowledge and let it lift me to places I never dreamed of hoping for.
But here’s the crazy thing: no matter how little time a day we give our shame, it never completely leaves us. We have to choose always to stay on top of it. And while I’d been good at that for the first time in my life, a winter thick with failure led me right back to that old comfortable place. Shame was back in charge.
And you know, there’s no quick fix. It’s not as simple as a step-by-step list, but I’ll tell you what I’ve learned regardless:
Just because the same is there, doesn't mean it has to be in charge.
Just because the shame exists, doesn't mean the good stuff isn't still good.
Here’s what you do:
- Name your fear.
Do it. Write it down or tell a friend. Speak out loud about the worst-case scenario. Then decide what you’ll do if that actually happens. Could you get through it? What steps will you take?
- Take a step.
Jot down one thing you want to do. Not ten, not four. ONE. It can be as small as finally plowing through that stack of papers in your office or as big as calling to make a big apology. It could even be standing outside for five minutes while the sun forces your eyes shut.
What are the things you need to do to make this thing happen? Start right now and come back after you’ve finished.
And you know what you do after that?
You do it again. Over and over and over. You do it until you know what it feels like to do things without letting shame stop you.
Maybe you progress to crossing bigger things off your list. Maybe you tell a story you’ve never told and you decide that no matter how big the doubts are, that letting yourself love and be loved are more important than the fear. Maybe, if you keep choosing to again and again, you’ll find that you are more than the things that make you feel small.