It occurred to me at the gym today, a place where I do some of my best, if not sweaty, thinking, that I have not embarrassed myself in a long time. Something was afoot; I am someone who has spent her life embarrassing herself on a regular basis all the while trying to avoid that very thing. I puzzled on this insight rather than look at the time left on the bike/elliptical/knee splitter I was toiling away on. After some thought I realized that my level of what embarrasses me has diminished over these past few years. At the time I was not sure if that is good or bad. Let me give you an example of a recent incident that would have made me very self-conscious and embarrassed not all that long ago. I was delivering a seminar at the state institution where I work, no not the high security type with nifty jumpsuits, but higher education. My audience was undergraduates taking a class I support. We are talking 20- and a few 30-something’s with a mind’s eye on graduation. I was sharing hero stories to get them started on a self-reflection exercise. I shared a very personal moment in my early education where instead of being tortured by teachers I was given praise. As an undiagnosed dyslexic, the first 3 years of school for me were awful because of the constant ridicule and punishment I received by my teachers, for work I was unable to do. I always choke up in telling the story about the child physiologist who treated me kindly and praised me. She changed my life. In telling my story in front of my students I did indeed choke up, my voice went raspy and tears pooled in my eyes. My students went from slightly fidgety to dead still and silent, all eyes on me. It wasn’t like, as Dane Cook says, “the silent moment that happens when daddy slaps mommy at the dinner table,” but rather something very different. It was what happens when we witness someone having a genuine raw moment, where we can see exactly what they, or in this instance me, were feeling. I was vulnerable. Add to that equation that I am older and an authority figure, and that ups the ante and therefore impact. We do not live in a culture where anyone, much less authority figures, show vulnerability or any real emotions.
I knew going into telling this story that I might choke up, as I have never been able to tell it without doing so in the past. I have also never told the story in any public forum, so crying in a room full of folks was never on the table before. I deliver these seminars for my tutors twice each month. This was the first round and after the fact it seems I realized that I was okay with doing it again, because though it was slightly uncomfortable it was not in the least embarrassing, but rather empowering. I know, I know… that sounds way too bumper-sticker, hallmark channel, woo-woo, sharing circle, self-realization actualization pumped up guru gush mush. But sadly it is true. Being vulnerable as a result of telling a true story with high emotional content didn’t diminish me and show my weakness but rather it revealed my strength. The effect on what turned out to be two classes was profound for me. Both classes reacted the same way. Even though I joked with the second class and warned them what happened in the prior seminar, the disclosure did not lessen any of our reactions. The story, and my vulnerability while telling it, created a moment where everyone connected.
I have spent my life up until a few years ago running from my emotions, the messy and inconvenient bastards that they are, and therefore my humanity. I have gone so far as to avoid anything that would draw attention to me and embarrass me. Which we know makes us a magnet for such events. I died a thousand deaths emotionally because I was avoiding what was part of me. I created more heartache trying to avoid being vulnerable rather than just lean in to the abyss and fall through the looking glass. What I perceived as my weakness was nothing of the like. Nietzsche wrote, “The great epochs of life come when we gain the courage to re-christen our evil as what is best in us.” Nietzsche tells us that by embracing what we fear most about ourselves, our shadow or as he says “evil,” we find our strength. This is the good stuff folks, like full fat eggnog. By being able to look into our darkness, our insecurities, and our depth is where we find grace. This is what the gift of time, humility and an earnest desire to look within for change brings.
Granted this behavior has added to some bad hair choices on my part, but it also led me to quote Dane Cook and Nietzsche in the same piece to illustrate a point. I am not saying I won’t and don’t embarrass myself at all anymore, that is just tempting the Universe to pull some granny panties over my head on laundry day and march me around the town square with toilet paper dragging from my shoe. What I am saying is I try to lean into what makes me uncomfortable or is embarrassing for me all the while making eye contact with those around me. I believe that by doing this I can demonstrate how we can connect on a deeper level in what makes us human: our vulnerability, especially if I have spinach on my teeth. How embarrassing…