Steven, the VP operations of a media company, was asked to present on the organization’s digital transformation program to its top 100 executives during an annual strategy retreat. As public presentations had never been his forte, Steven spent an extraordinary amount of time preparing for the event. But despite these preparations, he blanked out when it was his turn to speak. His presentation was so bumbling and confused that Steven couldn’t bear to go into work the next day…or the next one after that. The complex set of emotions that Steven was feeling have a simple name: shame.
Given the way we react to shame, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the roots of the word derive from an older Proto-Indo-European word meaning “to cover.” To feel ashamed brings up associations of wanting to hide our faces behind our hands, desperate desiring to run away, or even hoping the earth will swallow us up. At the heart of feeling ashamed is a feeling that we are exposed — either to others or to ourselves. No other feeling is more disturbing or destructive to the self.
After a major mistake, it’s natural to feel ashamed. And yet calling in sick like Steven did is not the answer. Instead, you need to understand the feeling and find a way to let it go.
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