Regularly, Deeply Embarrassed

“Maturity begins with the capacity to sense and, in good time and without defensiveness, admit to our own craziness. If we are not regularly deeply embarrassed by who we are, the journey to self-knowledge hasn’t begun.”

– Alain de Botton

The post office was a mess today. Because, well, December 14.

I knew it as soon as I entered the parking lot and someone swooped into the spot that was clearly mine. That’s right! Mine!

The line for counter service was out the door and the line for self-service was shorter but disorganized and chaotic. A man leaving the store started blathering about how even though he’s a proud liberal democrat he still hates the government, his post office experience wringing out the last of his tolerance.

I didn’t even need to be there. Not really. The post office is located next to the library, a place I did need to go today and since I was close by I stopped in to mail an oversized envelope and buy some stamps. Nothing urgent and a big mistake.

One of the things that defines my own craziness is my flat refusal to bail out on lost cause situations like this one. I finish things, even when it makes no sense to do so (from a common sense, maintaining sanity perspective,  that is). The thought of having wasted the trip, the time, the energy…to park, to walk, to wait…it annoys me so much that I just don’t and won’t.

And the recorder in my head plays out the same call and response soundtrack every time: What is everyone’s problem? Why are you doing this to yourself? Why is everyone so awkward, slow and unprepared? Take a breath, welcome the opportunity for patience and understanding. I would happily be patient and understanding if this place weren’t a complete mess. I should just go. I’m not leaving until I get what I came for, etc.

This stubborn “stick it out at all cost” attitude isn’t my only brand of crazy, of course. I’ve written recently about my compulsion to make sure my car is pointed in the direction I’ll be going next; I must have the dishwasher loaded a certain way, my shirts folded a certain way; and for all of that anal retentiveness I will regularly complete things so quickly (so efficiently I tell myself) that I make and miss easily correctable mistakes. Yes, “regularly and deeply embarrassed.”

This is a great time of year to get in touch with your own crazy. Every anxiety is heightened, every situation more compressed, every responsibility hard up against the clock that tells us that the year is done. It’s a perfect time to take stock, feel a little embarrassed by our self-importance (not ashamed, mind you, but embarrassed) and have a self-deprecating laugh at it all.

I know that self-knowledge comes at a steep price. It is never found in the discount bin or the holiday close-out pile. It is always marked at full MSRP and it never, ever, includes free shipping or free returns. That’s the bad news.

The good news it that it’s always a perfect fit and is worth every penny you pay for it.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.


7 thoughts on “Regularly, Deeply Embarrassed

  1. Oh my sadly I relate to some of this too, however I recall Liam reading a new book and saying “this is the worst trash I’ve ever read” in order I’m thinking to release him from this distress, I would often “say put it down forget it,” but would he ? NO if he started it he had to finish what ever……..I’ve even found notations in some of his books saying how terrible a book was…..funny quarks some of us have, but recognizing them is fun too………

  2. Thanks, Bret. I struggled for a very long time with the question, “how will this be used against me later?” I still struggle with it sometimes, if I’m honest. But what inevitably happens is that I when I air my own craziness it opens a small space for someone else to air theirs and I am reminded yet again of the power of candor as a stimulus for candor. Just when it seems I’m out on that limb all alone, someone rushes out there to join me. It might break from our combined weight but at least we’re going down together! : )

  3. David, love the post. Being able to laugh at our own craziness is probably the pinnacle of mental health, and yet much harder to do than we will admit. I find it so easy to identify the minor craziness in others (ticks, compulsions, etc.), but rarely want to admit to my own dirty laundry. And then the question is, “is it safe to air my dirty laundry?” Or, “If I do feel safe to admit and air my dirty laundry now, how will it be used against me later?” Vulnerable, raw, exposed….. but the path to true self awareness and ultimate health. Thanks for sharing.

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