I used to find it impossible to admit to my mistakes and failings.
I’d drag myself over hot coals for the slightest misdemeanour, but outing myself to somebody else? Not a fucking chance. I think I thought everyone else was a whole lot closer to perfect than I was, and the only way I could ever be remotely accepted by anyone was to at least pretend that I was too.
When I was younger, this resulted in me snaring myself in kneejerk denials that led to bizarre, convoluted, improv lie-trains that surely weren’t fooling anyone. As I grew up, I calmed my powerful instinct to deny, and instead developed a more sophisticated tactic of mitigating my blame. I also learned to skirt around the lie; to say true but misleading or distracting things that let me avoid disclosing the dirt.
I always felt guilty about trying to shirk the guilt, so I was always struggling to change my behaviour. But the shame within me was just so crippling that I was never wholly successful. I could never fully own my shortcomings.
A few years ago, I was working for board at a family homestead in Northern California and one of my hosts took me into San Francisco to meet her friend who was flying in. We were meeting in a jazz bar, and after we found parking, there was a short walk up a decently inclined street. I hadn’t given it a thought, and started walking at my usual pace when my host had to stop me. She was very overweight and couldn’t keep up.
She told me about how she could barely walk a block these days, and hills got her out of breath in a few steps, as we made our slow and staggered ascent. What she described, and what I could see, was a reality I couldn’t imagine, and had my mind reeling at the countless implications it must have for every moment of her life.
But then, more strikingly, she very matter-of-factly told me how deeply it bothered her, how it was a very real, very big problem in her life that she was very aware of, and how simultaneously she was very aware of the fact she was doing absolutely nothing about it. No excuses, no complaining, no sugarcoating, no joking, no agenda – just a plain, simple describing of the very personal facts in a totally casual, unloaded way.
This was a quality of hers that I saw displayed a number of times while I stayed there. She just owned herself and her flaws entirely. Fucking wow. I want that level of bravery. I think that was the first time I’d really seen true authenticity modelled to me in the real world. It was inspiring, and it stayed with me.
There are still certain areas of my life that I find it difficult to own up to, but damn have I come a long way. Finding a metric to aspire to instead of a metric to fear made all the difference.