By Leo Babauta
A well-known climbing coach said that the biggest obstacle in the way of people’s growth as climbers is, basically, fear of embarrassment.
When people want to get better at climbing, they try to do it privately, so that no one can see them doing things badly. They’ll go to the climbing gym when no one is watching, or hang out in a corner hoping no one is looking. But they’re missing out on the biggest opportunity — feedback from people who can see things they can’t see.
And the thing getting in the way is fear of embarrassment.
I’ve found that this is true no matter what you’re trying to learn. No matter what you’re trying to grow in. Fear of embarrassment will stop you from getting real growth and transformation.
My belief is not that we should just get over that fear. It’s that we could learn to see embarrassment as an integral part of the growth process.
I’ll talk about why in a moment. But first, let’s look at a few more examples where the fear of embarrassment stops people from growing:
- Writing a book or blog: This one might be a bit obvious — you want to write, you might start writing, but the fear of embarrassment (or being judged) stops you from writing or making the writing public. But even further, we resist getting feedback from people that might improve our writing, because we’re worried that the writing sucks. Imagine getting feedback from readers and more experienced writers who might help you get to the next level — most people cringe at the idea of showing their “embarrassing” writing to people who might judge them.
- Getting coaching or support from others: Most people avoid getting a coach, or getting real support from other people, because they are embarrassed to admit how their growth process looks. I haven’t been doing the things I said I would, I’m struggling, I don’t like things about myself. We have judgement for all of that, and we are embarrassed to show that to others. This stops us from getting support through all of this struggle.
- Taking your business to the next level: Whether you’re launching a new business or wanting your existing business to get to the next level … it can be hard to see where you’re getting stuck. Leadership is lonely, and we can only see what we’ve already learned to see. To get to the next level, it requires getting feedback from someone who can see what we can’t see. But this can feel embarrassing. We avoid getting that kind of support, and that means we struggle to do anything other than what we already know to do.
Hopefully you can see that this can be applied anywhere we want to grow — personal development, taking care of ourselves, deepening in a relationship, dealing with the overwhelming chaos of life. We struggle to get beyond where we are, because we are too embarrassed to get support, feedback, coaching that might take us to the next level.
Why Embarrassment is an Integral Part of the Process
We hope to grow and learn without embarrassing ourselves. If we can learn in private, and then show how good we are //after// we’re really good at it … then we won’t feel embarrassed. We want to avoid that feeling at all costs, even if it means never learning at all.
But that’s not how it works. We have to be willing to be bad at something before we can be good at it. The growth process requires us to mess up, to learn from experience rather than just reading about it or watching videos. The growth process requires us to be messy and stumbling in the unknown … and then to get some support when we stumble, think we’re doing it all wrong, or feel like giving up.
And that is embarrassing. It has to be embarrassing, because we are necessarily pushing beyond the boundaries of the self-image we’ve created for ourselves. We’ve stepped into a new area of growth, which means we can’t be the person who has everything figure out, who has it all together. We want to be the person who has it all together, but that’s only possible if we are not growing.
So we choose to grow and learn, to transform, but that means letting go of who we think we are, and who we’re trying to get others to think we are. That’s a letting go, and it’s embarrassing.
If we avoid that embarrassment (which is natural), we will avoid the growth. We will not step into the unknown, which is where real learning resides. Where meaningful work resides.
How to Work with the Fear of Embarrassment
OK, so you have a fear of embarrassment (of course!), and you can see how it’s holding you back.
How do you work with this fear? It’s a deep topic, but here are some ways to start working with it:
- Recognize when it’s coming up. When you’re avoiding sharing with people, notice the fear. When you don’t want to get feedback or coaching or support, notice the fear. When you’re trying to stay safe or hidden, recognize the fear. Just name it “fear” and don’t get too caught up in what the fear is about.
- Notice the effect the fear has on your life. Where is it holding you back? What is it keeping you safe from? What would be possible if you didn’t have to worry about the fear? How do you feel about all this?
- Ask yourself if you want something different. What would you like that’s outside of the world created by this fear? What would you like to try instead?
- Try something different. What else can you try that isn’t constrained by the fear of embarrassment? If you’re learning to climb, you might try climbing in front of other people and letting yourself do it badly. Dance badly in public and have fun! Write badly in public, sending it out to everyone you know, and ask for feedback. Ask for help. Let yourself be in the unknown. Get support from a coach or a group. Ask a teacher to rip your creation apart. Let. yourself be open to the depth of learning and growth.
- Let yourself be with the fear, with love. The fear of embarrassment will definitely show up as you open yourself to something different, to getting feedback, getting coached, getting supported, getting messy. That’s OK! Fear is not the end of the world, it’s simply our companion in the unknown, in the deep place of transformation. Can you let yourself feel it, and let it simply be there in your experience? Can you give yourself love as you feel the fear?
As you let yourself feel the fear and feel the embarrassment, what will happen is that you start to shed your old self. You no longer need to be constrained by doing things perfectly, impressing anyone, showing the good side of yourself, because you are growing into a new kind of becoming.
What would be possible if you let yourself go through the transformation process? If you’d like to practice deeply with me and others, come talk about being a part of my Fearless Mastery program.