After a 10 hour day of back-to-back meetings, I realized I’d left behind some highly confidential client documents in a public place.
Others could find, peruse and use the information to their advantage for a variety of reasons. The feeling was crushing – I couldn’t breathe and wanted to vomit. It was as if I’d shared the confessions of a best friend across the internet- exposing my client and demolishing my professional integrity overnight. Although with great effort by a loyal team of colleagues, the file was reclaimed the next morning, WHO had seen the content?
Gremlins of Guilt and Shame Haunted Me
Dr. Brené Brown references these ‘gremlins’ in her Ted Talk: Listening to Shame. She describes the important distinctions between guilt and shame and explores the courage required to be vulnerable if we are to address our mistakes.
“Guilt focuses on the behavior, while shame focuses on the self.”
-Dr. Brené Brown, Listening to Shame Ted Talk
The gremlin of shame had its hands firmly around my neck, pronouncing my unworthiness of professional trust and credibility. While guilt could have suggested it was an innocent mistake, my shame was so heavy it seemed to paralyze any forward action. Through sleepless nights, I sloshed through what Dr. Brown referred to as the ‘swampland of the soul’. It was a putrid pit of self-absorbed worthlessness. I knew I had to climb out or lose my health, self-respect, and the will to work.
It was more than vulnerability I needed. I needed the courage of humility to galvanize a path forward. I started with self-compassion: I forgave myself.
This was a huge first step and wisely written about in Dr. Kristin Neff’s book, Self- Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. It reminded me to talk to myself as I would a loved one. I’d never criticize a client, friend or my children in the belittling way I was talking to myself. Soon, my clients and I were able to meet, share our concerns and devise a way to mitigate the exposure. I also converted to only electronic note taking.
This incident reminded me of the potency of shame, and the importance of self-forgiveness as the first step in vulnerability.
It also highlighted to me that psychologically safe organizations will need to practice forgiveness in small, daily exchanges so they can tease out greatness in each other.
The capability to forgive is one of the greatest strengths’ individuals can give each other.
Forgiveness allows for the risky business of vulnerability. It allows us to let go of shame and gives the freedom to fail forward. Forgiveness is at the bedrock of vulnerability. It is from this foundation that we can truly listen to vs. judge others, and from there — be inspired, feel creative, and create change.
How can you be vulnerable today? Who do you need to forgive – could it possibly be yourself?
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“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”