Shame, Sucking, and Success Oh My!

It sucks to start something new.

But the higher your capacity for shame, the more successful you'll be. Let me explain.

I recently learned of someone who completed his law degree and decided upon graduation that he really wanted to be a stand up comedian. I wonder how that conversation went with his parents?

He was scared sh*less. But he knew if he didn't act now, he would get caught up in what others felt he should be doing and that he needed to dive in head first. Rather than thinking about it for the next ten years of his life, he decided to kick shame in the gut and get in front of an audience for 365 days straight. No breaks.

Now that's a high capacity for shame. It's mortifying to bomb over and over in front of a live audience. There were literally nights when no one laughed. Still, he pushed through the shame night after night, learning as he went. He tested and re-tested, establishing what worked, what didn't, tweaking and twerking his way to the top. Actually, not to the top. To the middle. 

But it worked. He's now a full time comedian.

Now I'm not telling you to go be a stand up comic. The world's got a ton of those, too many probably and about a million more who are trying it, eek. 

But what might you love to do that you're not doing? What did you do as a child when you hadn't developed a sense of shame? Why aren't you doing it? Why don't you start? What's holding you back?

Okay, now I'm just shaming you.

When you truly love something you will find that you understand the subtleties of the discipline better than most. You "get" the nuances, the little micro steps better than anyone around you- because you love it. Right off the bat your knowledge is at a deeper level that most. That's the great part.

That does NOT mean you won't suck at. You will. That's the bad part. 

BUT putting yourself into situations that carry with it a high sense of shame can be the secret to your success.

I remember very clearly my first week of waitressing. A prerequisite for being an actor.  

I was 20 years old and working at Hobee's restaurant, a local chain that is famous for their blueberry coffee cake. 

When I think about that coffee cake I half want to throw up and half dig into that buttery grossness. If I told you the number of calories it has you would barf.

I remember the sexy khaki pants and my blue apron pulled over my high 1996 pony tail. It was my first time handling the Saturday morning crowd and these people were like pigs in a pen waiting to get their morning grub. 

Not stinky fat pigs rolled around in mud, more like rich pigs who were tired of waiting twenty minutes and wanted to stuff those honey whole wheat pancakes down their throat and chase it down with a red white and blue. That's a strawberry banana blueberry smoothie if you hadn't guessed. So NoCal.

I learned two things.

One, that waitressing was the best frickin' workout, burning probably 2000 calories in a two and 1/2 hour shift. And two, people are assholes. 

The shame I felt in this job was incredible. Every 20 minutes you are at the mercy of each individual table and wonder what sort of person you will get. Sometimes they surprise you and are nice and look you in the eyes. Most of the time I found it was the opposite. It was unfortunate. 

The paycheck was awesome. I could earn $400 dollars on a morning shift, that's how fast the turnover rate was. I cried at least two times a week.

Waitressing in New York City was much much worse.

Cocktail waitressing was mortifying. Working on St. Patty's Day was humiliating. I cried three times a week. And I was a GOOD waitress. Minus the one time this guy asked me for a Johnny Walker Black and I brought him a White Russian. 

I knew it was some color he asked me for. You would have thought I handed him gin with a twist of cyanide. 

But you know what it did for me? I developed a high capacity for shame. 

I'm not talking about deep down shame that might come from a traumatic childhood, so let's not get carried away. 

I'm talking about that feeling of humiliation that creeps up when you think you're going to appear foolish.

The anticipation of shame stops many people dead in their tracks and they never push forward into taking action. 

And that's just a shame.

My god I'm clever.

Most of the time this humiliation is fleeting and the other part of the time it's not nearly as bad as we thought. The truth is people don't tend to remember your failures. We just think they do. 

The truth is no one is really thinking of you anyhow. They're busy thinking of their own shame and humiliation. Wow, that's up-lifting.

That's why we think there are so many over night successes. There aren't really that many. We just don't tend to recognize the many many many failures that successful people go through. We don't recognize that they indeed feel shame too.

So how 'bout we make each other a promise? The next time we're both worried about what other people think let's remember that we're trying to avoid the feeling of shame. I ain't gonna lie, it might be tragic. But if you love it, you'll be able to understand the small micro skills that normal people aren't noticing. And that'll skyrocket you to the top.

Okay, maybe not the top right away. But maybe just above sucking. Good enough for now.

It's usually not as mortifying as you thought. In fact you will probably feel a sense of immense satisfaction for committing to something despite your initial fear. If it's something you truly truly love then it's worth it isn't it?

Most exciting of all if you can push past the shame barrier then you'll be onto the next stage. Skill development! That's sucking at something without the shame. Hooray! Things are looking up!

Soon the feeling of mortification will fall off and and instead you'll feel emboldened. That feeling snowballs and you're off on your new talent. 

So let's both go out and seek out shame. Then kick it in the balls. Maybe we'll find it's the key to success.

Molly BellComment