My most embarrassing moment happened at work, in front of the entire Marketing department. I’d written a pun-filled petition to help a coworker get a parking spot I thought he deserved. While most of my coworkers shared my love for sarcasm, I learned that our upper management did not — and now, because of me, saw us all as ungrateful complainers. So my boss called a meeting just to publicly chew me out in front of everyone.
While I knew everyone makes mistakes and that people would eventually forget about this, it was a real struggle to move past my embarrassment. My inner critic was screaming, and I began to obsess about what my coworkers and staff would think of me now. I knew if I didn’t do something, my worry would snowball into full on shame.
Embarrassment leaves us feeling exposed, awkward, and full of regret. It’s a public emotion only experienced in relation to other people, driving us to fear what others must think of us (and of course, assuming the worst).
These 6 mindset shifts helped me break my self-defeating thought patterns and stopped me from rehashing the experience over and over. Changing my perspective allowed me to let go of my fear of what other people think of me, empowered me to forgive myself, and gave me clarity to live with unapologetic authenticity.
1. I turn my focus back to my core values.
Core values are qualities that represent our highest priorities and deeply held beliefs. Before I did the inner work to determine what I truly value, I questioned everything I said and did. I felt lost and didn’t have confidence in my decisions. By exploring what was important to me, I discovered that I value compassion above all else.
When I wrote the petition, I thought I was doing a kind act for a friend. Despite the unforeseen outcome, I’d shown up from a place of my values. Today I remind myself that compassion also means self-compassion. When I extend the same compassion to myself as I do to others, I’m able to cut myself some slack and begin to quiet my inner critic.
If you value courage and perseverance, going to the gym becomes more about your progress instead of what others think of your out-of-style gym clothes. If you value inner peace and your plate is already full, saying “no” doesn’t feel so selfish. If you value authenticity and you share your opinion in a crowd, you can confidently be who you are and live your truth.
Knowing your core values will bring clarity to your path and allow you to shift your focus.
2. I get clear on what’s my business — and what’s not.
I learned a life-changing lesson from Byron Katie, a speaker and author who teaches about self-inquiry. She teaches us that there are only three types of business in the world: nature’s, other people’s, and our own.
The weather, the genes you inherit, who’s born, and who dies are nature’s business. While you may impart some influence, you can’t fully control any of these even if you try.
But when it comes to other people’s business, our minds can easily confuse it with our own. What your nosey neighbor thinks of you is actually his business. When your coworker comes in late again, it’s her business. When the driver in the car in front of you doesn’t go when the light turns green, it’s their business.
But if you’re worried about what your neighbor thinks, that’s your business. If you get irritated because your coworker is late again, or you’re angry with the other driver, that’s your business too. What you think, what you feel, and what you do are the only things you can control in life.
By keeping the focus on your own business, you’ll be in a position to better navigate your feelings.
3. I remember that I’m the only one in charge of how I feel.
When we base our feelings on other people’s opinions, we give up ownership of our emotions. We’re allowing other people to be our puppet master, and when they pull the strings just right, we either feel good or bad.
If someone ignores you, chances are your mind immediately assigns meaning to that action. To you, it might mean you aren’t worth their time or you aren’t likable enough, smart enough, or cool enough. You may feel sad or angry, but you’re actually having an emotional reaction to your own thought — not their action.
To change how other people’s actions make you feel, you only need to change your thoughts. Since our thoughts are usually automatic or subconscious, it may take some digging to figure out what thoughts are behind your emotions. But once you do, challenge it, question it, or accept it. Your emotions will follow.
4. I remind myself we all make mistakes, and they don’t define who we are.
Self-compassion is easier when you know you’re not alone. We live in a culture where we don’t often talk about how we feel, yet we’ve truly all experienced the same emotions at one time or another.
When we beat ourselves up for our mistakes, it doesn’t move us forward. The most productive thing you can do is to learn from them. Once you figure out the lesson you can take from the experience, rumination is no longer necessary.
The lesson I learned after the meeting at work was to be more considerate of how others may receive my sense of humor. Not everyone finds me as funny as my husband does. I can make better decisions now because of it.
When you remember that mistakes are just a part of learning and of life, the embarrassment fades and empowerment takes its place.
5. I accept I did the best with what I had at the time.
In the past, no matter what I said or what I accomplished, I always thought I could’ve done better. I set unrealistically high standards for myself, and my inner bully inevitably reared its head when I couldn’t meet them.
My mother used to say “You did the best you could with what you had at the time.” I never really liked that phrase, but she was right.
That’s because everything we do has a positive intent. It may not be obvious, but it’s there. When I wrote the petition at work, I wanted to help a friend. I thought my idea was funny and assumed it would go over well. If I knew what I know now, I wouldn’t have done it.
How much of your life have you spent kicking yourself because you thought you said something dumb? Or because you showed up late? Or that you looked weird? Every time, you did the best you could. Every. Single. Time.
6. I remind myself that not everyone is going to like me, and that’s perfectly okay.
We often hold tight to limiting beliefs. We look at everything around us to prove them to be true and attach our worth to negative opinions. But the opinions of others really have nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.
If you stood in front of 20 strangers and spoke on any topic, some won’t like what you have to say, and others will love it. Some will forget you as soon as they leave, and others may remember you for years. You might remind somebody of their annoying sister-in-law and another of their loving daughter. Yet each person got the exact same you.
By keeping the thought “I allow you to not like me” front and center, you’ll be more relaxed and empowered to be yourself. And the irony is, there’s a better chance that people will like you when you’re being authentic instead of trying to please them.
The bottom line: Letting go of embarrassment starts with changing your focus and your thoughts. Forgiving yourself comes with being gentle and moving forward with the lessons you learned. At the end of the day, you’re allowed to be human, mistakes and all.