How Fear and Shame has made me feel like a Failure!


It seems as though it’s been a few years ago since I last served in the Marines, but the reality is that it’s been almost 7 years. I’ve accomplished a lot, but I’ve also not accomplished what I thought I should have by now. For some time now I’ve felt stuck, like I’m living someone else’s life, and that I can’t seem to get free. Last year has been a year of great personal growth, and I feel as though this year will be even better. In-spite of great personal growth, I’ve still felt that I’m not living up to all that I should be.  I’ve adapted a new mantra for my life going forward, be vulnerable, live with intention, and don’t take things personally. I think the biggest hurdle of that will be the vulnerability part, I still have to overcome many societal, personal, and family norms if I’m to triumph over that one. I’ve come across a writer/researcher/academic who has devoted many years to studying vulnerability, and her work has shed a lot of new light on this subject. If you’ve never heard of Brene Brown, her TED Talk “The Power of Vulnerability” is a great way to be introduced to her work. I was looking for a book for a friend a few weeks ago and came across Daring Greatly, it’s one of several books written by Brene Brown. For the first time I’m beginning to feel as though the layers of the onion are finally starting to be revealed.

There was a movie from the 80’s Gremlins, where these little creatures wreaked havoc on a small town. Although it’s been decades since this movie came out, the term Gremlins is synonymous with something wreaking havoc. For me the more I read Daring Greatly, the more I think that fear of failure and the shame of feeling like I’m not enough, is something that’s holding me back. In her book, Brene Brown talks about how men and women handle shame differently. While I understand that this could be a bit of confirmation bias, I still feel as though without facing these two “gremlins”, it will be hard for me to continue the personal growth I’ve started last year. Without shedding light on these gremlins, I feel as though I may sabotage any progress I’ve made so far.

So what do I have to feel ashamed of? As a male we are told many things, be brave, be strong, don’t be weak, don’t show emotions, you’re supposed to be a provider etc. Not to mention the pressure families put on us, in my culture having children is always a Shame on yousign of prosperity, even if you don’t have a place to put those children, just having them seems to trump everything else. A close second to children, is being married; at least kids should be on the way soon. Then at the least if you’re not married or have kids, having a “good job” and being a “good provider” is an ok substitute for third. While I’m not going to get into why just looking at those things aren’t a healthy way to measure your life; I will admit that I don’t fit any of those criteria. I’ve always seen myself as a rebel and trend setter when it comes to those things, but that hasn’t stopped the questions from family members. After reflecting about it, I’ve realized that not having a secure job for the past 7 years since the Marines, is a pressure that I put on myself. I know that taking 4 years out of that time to go to school is a great use of my time, however it doesn’t stop me from thinking that I should have more. Thinking about those things has led to a feeling of shame, although it’s not at the forefront of my thoughts; I think that it’s the reason why I feel stuck.

Despite my optimism and that I have faith and believe that I’ll get through this, that doesn’t stop the fear from creeping into my thoughts; what if I’m wrong and I never find a “good job”? What if I never get married, or have children? What if what I’ve accomplished is as far as I’ll ever go? What if …? The societal, personal, and family pressures to be successful plagues all of us. Like many others I’m struggling with these things. Despite these burning questions though, I know that I have to wake up each day, and take it one step at a time. So what if I’m not married, being married is the easy part, maintaining a healthy relationship for the rest of your lives is the hard part. So what if I don’t have children, many parents raise their children to be Emotionally unhealthy, or even dysfunctional adults. So what if I don’t have a “good job”, many people who do never spend time enjoying life, or worse yet don’t spend it with their families. I’m at a point where I’m aware of the negative impacts we can have even if we have those things, that knowledge will make me better equipped when I do have those things.

Fear and shame effects ALL of us, we all struggle with it in some form. However we don’t have to let it control our lives, left to grow, shame can make us feel 10 times smaller than we are. Shame can stop us from living fuller happier lives, it can stop us from ever actualizing our full potential. Brene Brown suggests we build up our shame resilience, her research has found that as we look shame in the face and call it out, it’s power on us weakens. As we live each day with intention, being vulnerable to show our real selves; we are able to live more wholeheartedly. So what if you’re ashamed of the way you look, feel, or your education. Einstein didn’t let his look stunt his creativity. Steve Jobs never graduated college; his education didn’t hamper him from creating Apple. To fear and shame I say SO WHAT! I’ve been writing less because of some criticism I got a few weeks back, I allowed someone else’s fears about themselves to influence how I felt about myself. I started writing to show others that they’re not alone in some of their feelings. I don’t write because I’m looking for recognition, or fame; I would have required that people pay me to read my posts if that was the case. We all navigate this world in our little bubbles, and the one thing that’s fundamental is that we all want to feel understood. So I’m saying I hear you, I too feel shame and I’m afraid. To help in overcoming shame, Brene suggests you speak to someone who you trust. I know I’m going out on a limb here and sharing my story with everyone, but I’ll also be asking questions from those close to me. I should mentions also, only tell your story to someone who has shown they are capable of being trusted, if they’ve betrayed your trust before, you probably don’t want them to know you’re ashamed, just saying!

With each day that passes, I grow stronger, and more courageous. I’m confident that I’ll make it, but my life isn’t about the stuff I have at the end of it, it’s about what I do with my time, the people I influence, and those I’m able to help accomplish positive changes. Oh and for the critics I’ll leave you with this gem from Brene Brown:

“If you’re not in the arena with the rest of us, fighting and getting your ass kicked on occasion, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

Go ahead, share your story!

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