What’s your most embarrassing moment? We all have them.
There are the stories we share with friends and laugh about like the one about the time I farted helplessly in Biology class (it echoed like a banshee on the linoleum).
And then there are the stories of which the mere memory makes us cringe. They are the ones we lock up in silence and beg others and our own minds to forget. These are our most shameful moments. There’s nothing funny about sharing them with others.
Here’s one of mine.
My Most Shameful Moment
It was a big show.
We were the opening act for the nationally-touring band, Hey Marseilles.
I mean, we had toured before–we were cool–a five-piece classical folk band–but not like these guys. These guys made money. And, compared to them, we were just five raw dreamers not yet burned, chewed up, and spat out by our late twenties. We scoffed at the idea of growing old as we hid our baby faces best we could.
That night, we played our set, as usual, imagining the crowd’s push and pull to the dynamics of the strings as I prayed my lyrics over their bobbing heads.
I don’t remember why I didn’t have my backup guitar with me–the Taylor 310ce that often stood with patience backstage, tuned to open D for the final song–but, I didn’t. I was left to tune my Washburn Cumberland on stage, a task no one enjoys. The pressure of two-hundred searching eyes, the probing spotlights, and the ever-wavering gauges of public approval can debilitate anyone, even the best.
As if mourning over my music career, the audience watched in petrifying silence as I twisted the strings of my guitar with a waning hope. The ticks of the clock clang like church bells as I struggled to rid the guitar of the pulsing crunch of out-of-tune strings.
Finally, shamed and embarrassed, I gave up before the crowd could give up on me. Even before playing our last song. What a fool. What an idiot. Like Porky Pig I stuttered a “th-that’s all, folks” and whimpered off stage with a worthless instrument, wishing I could crawl into my guitar case but retreating instead to the liquid comfort of the bar.
I didn’t watch Hey Marseilles play. I was too humiliated.
A couple of months later, I would deny any music ability at all and announce my retirement from an “embarrassing” career. I swallowed the pill of a day job and didn’t pick up a guitar again for months, maybe even years.
That night was a night waiting to happen. My unchecked depression and anxiety had been snarling in its cage, prowling, and ready to pounce for years. And, weakened by a poor mental state, I couldn’t maintain the perspective that allowed me to thrive even as a mildly successful folk artist. I left it all, and I slunk into the caves of introversion, hid from family and friends, and, most importantly, stayed clear away from any returning chance of public humiliation.
My Most Shameless Moment
Years later–maybe five–I was a 30-year-old dad of two, checking in for the Partnership For Dads‘ “Better Dad, Better Man” conference. I was asked by my friend, Dwayne Hayes of STAND Magazine, to be a part of a live panel concerning men and depression. As I meandered in, unsure if I was in the right place and already regretting my cuffed pants, I became all too aware of the babyface that has cursed me throughout my life. It shone bright like the lustrous face of a cherub in a sea of hardened veteran dads.
I felt like an imposter.
See, there comes a point in every person’s life when you stop being the arrogant little punk you were in high school or college or maybe even onstage. You quit acting like you have it all together, and, beat up by your twenties, you gain a sobering perspective of real life. Until that point, you’re pushed through a societal system with the promise of a future, clarity, satisfaction, and success only to find yourself on the other end just as aimless as you were before. And, you learn no one has life figured out. Not even close.
I’ve had my juvenile days of pretending I have it all together, preaching to the masses, and saying stupid things that I thought were wise. Now, I’m only wise enough to know I’m not actually very wise. I know I don’t have it all together. But, I think, maybe that’s where wisdom comes from–not from being the pinnacle of strength and success but from having the ability to freely admit weakness.
With that in mind, in a backward way, I hung with the big boys on the depression panel despite my inexperience, babyface, and cuffed pants. It didn’t matter they were older and more accomplished fathers than me because influence is not about a perfect resume. It’s about speaking up when others can’t or won’t. Wisdom is not about having all the answers, but about welcoming others into the struggle. And strength is not in a man’s callousness but in his courage to be weak.
So, that day, at the conference, instead of cowering offstage in shame like I had years before, I welcomed shame. I’d returned to the spotlight, this time, letting it illuminate the darkest parts of me because I’d learned that influence, wisdom, and strength are more in the vulnerability of a withering tree than in the might of an ancient oak. And vulnerability is what people respond to. It’s what people want. It’s what people need.
What’s your most shameful moment? We all have them. How can you take back its power over you?
I think perhaps our most shameful moments are actually our mightiest because vulnerability is contagious. And, there is incredible power in gifting others the life-impacting opportunity to simply say, “me too.”
Shine a spotlight on your shame, and light a match for others in the dark.