I’m reading an excellent book, THE RULES OF RUTHLESSNESS; GETTING AHEAD IN BUSINESS WHEN BEING GOOD ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH. It’s a collection of essays, every one of which is hitting a nerve with me this week.One essay talked about the importance of choosing the right kind of friends—friends who inspire you, support you, encourage you in your successes, because in your success they see their own possibility for achievement.
The wrong friends will resent you as you realize your dreams, and they will say things that are intended to hurt you. They feel they cannot achieve what you have and will pull you back. They desire equality at all costs, so they will do and say things intended to break your stride.
I’ve been thinking about this for a long time because there have been some amazing people in my life who fell away as I became more successful achieving my professional goals. I recognized their jealousy and frustration finally, but was baffled. In my mind, they were all light years ahead of me in experience, talent, wisdom or resources. Yet as I began pulling forward, they began to hold back. Some actually went so far as to try to trip me!
What was the crucial difference that kept me moving ahead but let them derail themselves so easily?
I believe it was the fear of being humiliated if they failed.
I read another article by Martha Beck about the fear of humiliation. (Should have noted the article at the time, this might be the one I’m talking about, but she writes about this a lot.) It’s a powerful force in our human psyche, more powerful than most of us ever think about. Remember that dream about showing up at a public event and realizing you’ve forgotten to put on a shirt? That’s a big time humiliation dream.
Fear of humiliation is the major component in fear of failure. We don’t want to look like an idiot in front of other people, so we don’t take risks, we don’t take chances, we don’t push ourselves. We don’t mind screwing up in private, but boy, we sure don’t want an audience.
I know this is true, because I’ve had people say to my face they could never admit in public that they made a mistake, like I have occasionally in articles I’ve written or speeches I’ve given. They didn’t congratulate me on figuring out a major goof in how I publicized an event. They didn’t thank me for sharing the information so they could avoid the same goof. They said they were amazed I would admit to making a mistake, in public.
It occurred to me that maybe I have a high threshold for humiliation…?
Nah, that’s not it. I lie awake at night reliving my failures and inadequacies as often as anyone. Sometimes more! I’m just as afraid of being exposed as an idiot as anybody.
It seems, though, that it simply doesn’t stop me as often as most other people.
If I had to point to a reason, I’d say I have a teensy wee bit more awareness that the fear of humiliation is somewhat temporary, that we are destined to slog through it at some point in our lives anyway because we can’t avoid EVERY situation where we could be humiliated. Since we can’t avoid it all, we might as well at least choose the circumstances. And I’d rather choose circumstances that involve taking chances with living my dream—being an artist—than ordinary everyday run-of-the-mill humiliation.
Mix in an ability to laugh at yourself occasionally, and the ability to learn from mistakes (instead of running and hiding) and you have a powerful recipe for success. If you can write about it or talk about it in a way that makes OTHER people laugh, too, but also get them to realize that you didn’t die, you just goofed up, then you can teach people how they can do it, too.
Remember the shirtless scene in the movie ROMY AND MICHELLE’S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION? In a shirtless dream sequence (which is the major clue that it IS a dream), klutzy and wacky Michelle accepts an award for being the most blazing success in her class. She gives a lovely little speech and ends by brushing off the shirtless thing with a breezy, “Oh, and I forgot to put my shirt on this morning.” The crowed breaks into wild applause.
I wish I could be as breezy with my fear. I’m not.
But I have a little bit of courage when it comes to acting on my dreams despite my fears.
And so can you.
(P.S. And I just realized I misspelled “high” in high school” in the RU version! Owning up so you can see it didn’t ruin my art career, nor detract much from my purpose.) 🙂