It’s the season of vampires, ghosts, and coffins planted in front yards. It’s the season to be “scared” in a fun way.
But beyond the fantasy and the levity of this holiday, I’m using this month’s One Small Thing to talk about what really scares me and keeps me from being my best self. I’m not terrified of spiders. I’m terrified of failure. And imperfection. And the shame that comes from both.
Historically, I’ve coped with these fears by “doing.” Working harder. Exercising more. Taking on “one more thing.” Keeping my demons out by giving them no time or attention.
I cope that way because, for me, the opposite of doing more isn’t doing less. The opposite of doing is feeling. Feeling that I’m not enough. Worrying that I may have let someone down. Telling myself that I’m not achieving.
I’m “doing” because I’m hiding from my scary self.
My younger daughter, Ciara, who has her graduate degree in psychology, has instinctively understood since she was a young girl the need to discuss failures. If she had a bad day at school, she would tell me about it. Dozens of times over the years, she has said to me, “Mom, I don’t need you to help me fix it. I just need you to tell me you understand how bad I feel and how hard the situation is. I want empathy, not a solution.”
Out of the mouths of babes.
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I look back on my years as a single mother and realize how rarely I came home from work and told my daughters I was struggling. I never shared my mistakes and failures, never admitted when I felt like an outsider or didn’t know what to do. I felt that if I told them I was imperfect, or that I was having difficulties, they might question my ability as a mother or have less respect for me. As a single mom, I feared my failures would worry them. I also believed that since I was the only active parent, the high bar I set for them would be the one model they had to set standards for themselves. So, I put on a brave face, rarely talked about the struggles in my day (or my life) and boxed up my self-doubt.
In retrospect, this was a huge mistake. I now see, years later, that I learned more in the times I failed or fell short of the mark than in the times I hit 100%. And I’ve learned more about myself, and have been able to be more empathetic with others, when I have allowed myself to feel: to process the fears, to self-soothe, and most of all, to nurture and forgive my own humanity, just as I would have for my daughter.
Take Small Steps.
Believe me, I haven’t totally mastered this thing yet. When I started to write my new book, The Parlay Effect, it was rejected by every major publishing house and my big-time agent and I parted ways. I was devastated by that failure, and it rekindled my self-doubt. While I did tell a couple of people about my feelings, I didn’t share it broadly because I was so embarrassed.
My One Small Thing for the month of October is to not be fearless but to try to fear less. Not to bottle things up, but to share and allow those I trust to help hold me up. Because it’s too scary to go it alone, and we are stronger when we are connected.
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If some of this self-shaming keeps you up at night too, here are a few small ways to get you back to your safe-place:
Let it Out!
SHARE IT SMALL: With a trusted friend, test sharing a fear or a failure. Tell them that you didn’t do something well or made a mistake, and see what they do to hold your heart or give you a boost. Then be as gentle with yourself as they were with you.
SHARE IT BIG: I’ve seen that when I share my vulnerabilities, it opens the door for others to do the same. Modeling for others and for myself seems to create a safe space for us all to be human. So at your dinner table, or on social media, or at work — those places where we often tell only the perfect stories — take a chance at putting something that scares you out there. You will likely be creating a meaningful cascade for others.
SHARE IT WITH ME: I’m gathering stories of Parlay Effects — outward cascades of good — including how forgiving our own imperfections helps make us and others feel better. Send me an email so that I can learn from and witness this all-important ripple effect.
It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.