Over the last couple of years, I have been on a mission to understand the root of why people in the workplace are so unhappy. What I have found through reading, prayer, self-reflection, one-on-one conversations, and numerous efforts to break the chain of bad behavior within the walls of our agency, is that how we treat others on the playground, what we learned from growing up, and what we see on TV or the cruelty of ignorance, does not always stop during the 9 to 5 hours. I have found that shame is what we ourselves usually bring to the party. We don’t screen for it in interviews, we don’t discuss it as part of our management meetings and we certainly don’t speak of it when trying to solve challenges in our business culture. What I have discovered is that we should bring shame out into the open.
Shame, in my opinion, is one of the greatest enemies of innovation – not just in business, but in education, religion, home lives and how people feel about themselves. Shame sneaks itself in as an enemy of the state by housing itself like malware in so many of us, just waiting for the moment to attack and shut us down.
Where does shame come from? I am not a psychologist, although I think I have earned some points here. From what I have learned (over decades in business, and simply from just being a human), I believe that shame is the act of feeling less than others because of either a learned belief system or a standard that has been set. This is very complex – and I am not going to get it all on this blog – but there are some truisms I think you may find helpful.
Shame should never be used as a tool; it should be eliminated at all costs because it is toxic. It leads to an aversion to failure. Shame and failure together are so powerful, they can stop a human in their tracks from advancing in the workplace, making smart decisions, or helping ourselves or others to heal from a tragedy from the past. Failure is something we should embrace. Failure leads to learning. And it needs to be separated from shame – because otherwise, we cannot learn from it, pick ourselves up and move forward.
Shame gives greater powers to “bullies,” and unfortunately, its hidden malware also gives perceived power to tough individuals when not addressed, causing unnecessary workplace drama which is hard to resolve. It stops us from loving the people we truly love from living and learning. It’s costly because it keeps secrets from becoming exposed and subsequently healed. Its power creates moats within people that make it harder to reach those we want to save.
Shame is costly on so many levels. From a business perspective, I worry that the fear of failing is greater than the desire to learn beyond what school has taught us or what we know. Shame makes us take greater financial risks so we can keep up with the Joneses. Shame keeps us in relationships longer than we should, and shame does not allow us to heal our marriages as fast as we could either. Shame forces us to sit at tables and be present with those that have potentially hurt us without the ability to confront and heal. Shame and its hidden secrets not discussed do not allow us to move forward and live the best life possible.
I am often asked how we accomplish so many things either at Marketsmith or in our personal lives. At Marketsmith, Inc., we look at shame dead-on and threaten it at every level. It has no place in our organization. We nurture each other, we help each other, we try to keep up with each other, we over- share, we cry regularly, laugh as much as we can, and we find common ground and create one safe place. Everyone is equal, everyone is appreciated and everyone has value. We look to uncover where shame is hiding and we challenge it. It’s not perfect but there is no shame in that. People may have deep-seated challenges in their personal or professional lives that happened to them prior to their interactions with me or my organization. Along with the leadership team, I hold a hand out and work with them; not coddle, not underestimate, not make excuses. We demand, we are honest, and we ask everyone to do the same. If someone fails, and we all do: then we figure out why and we move on. It’s business: Process over shame. Values over shame. Kindness over shame. It works, trust me, it works.
On a personal level, I made an active choice and a very difficult one early on. I was not going to let my religion or how my parents felt about their religion hide my true person, so I came out and married the woman I love. This has allowed me to thrive. We wanted to have a family and we chose to adopt. We wanted children born in the United States needing a home. There is no shame in having our family not looking like us; there is only honor, love and pride. We and our children are not perfect people; we come with great imperfections from the generational choices made before us, and those we added ourselves. We do not fit the mold of the classic family, yet we do not have shame; we have uniqueness. We are not perfect parents – as a matter of fact, we are far from it and we don’t hide it. I could go on about us, however, wait for the book and then the movie, it will be funnier.
Shame sucks and it sucks on many levels. It is multi-generational and infectious. It sets standards that are impossible to reach and stops humans from reaching their true potential. Shame does not allow people to be who they really are. It stops relationships from forming or from forgiving. Shame sucks and my advice to everyone is to meet shame head on. Meet it with forgiveness, understanding, humor, tolerance, knowledge, action and daylight. Take on shame everywhere it hides. Fear nothing and shame will find its rightful place, which is out of the human psyche.
Make a list of things you feel shameful about and share them with someone you deeply trust, or write a list and then set it afire. Set your shame free and live the life you deserve. You will see that your home life will improve and your work life will flourish. Fear nothing.
I wish you well always.