On Shame

Below is an excerpt from the last few minutes of Seth Godin’s Startup School Episode #14, The ShipIt Journal. It beautifully sums up the resistance we all go through in our projects, businesses, and daily lives. All credit goes to Seth.

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Shame is the project killer.

The fear of shame is what people use to keep us in line – it is used to keep women in line, the underclasses in line, and it’s what we use to keep each other in line.

  • “Don’t get uppity.”
  • “Don’t speak up.”
  • “You have no right to do that.”

You don’t want to put yourself out there, because we will make you feel shame.

What we do with our projects, and the reason our projects are late – is because we are protecting ourselves by adding fat, insulation, and all these layers on top of it. The reason we use a 100 words to answer a 10-word question, is because the other 90 words are designed to distract the person who asked us the question, so that we never have to say the 10 words that are true.

We’re afraid that if we say the 10 words, the person might actually hear the truth, and say:

  • “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
  • “You should be ashamed that you didn’t know this.”
  • “You should be ashamed that you spoke up about this.”

It’s so much easier to put 90 words on top of it, with committees, even subcommittees, and think:

  • “I can’t do that because…”
  • “You don’t know my real thing…”

Just get to the 10 words because you have nothing to be ashamed of.

You trump the shame by being meaningful. You trump shame by going into the world and doing something that needed to be done in the first place.

How dare the critic who has never produced anything useful, EVER – stand up and point a finger at you. This guy, who puts himself out there on the line – day after day, night after night, who shares and puts stuff out there in the world. How dare you say he should be ashamed of himself, when you have never been in his shoes?

So we just have to let go of this and say:

“I’m not going to be ashamed of who I am and what I care about. If it’s not for you, you’re a nonbeliever and you can move on. But this is me, and this is what I believe in, and I cared enough about this to put it out in the world. If it’s not for you, that’s OK – but I will not accept your shame. I’m being vulnerable because I can get better at this.”

But you may not give me your shame in return – I’m just not going to take it, and its not for you to give me.

Once we can do that – then we can take the next step, and ship the next thing, and the thing after. And over time, the foundation gets stronger and you get better at it. All of a sudden your dreams become projects, projects become businesses, and then you can do it again.

That is the reason why I do these events so that you understand that, and put stuff out into the world.

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