science of us

It’s Good to Imagine Being Embarrassed

Photo: Shuji Kobayashi/Getty Images

There’s something I’d like to try, although it has a fairly high chance of not working out, which I imagine would cause me to feel stupid, awkward/foolish, rejected, and out of step with social cues. Maybe the timing will be better later, but until then, I don’t do it. And probably that’s smart, or maybe not, I don’t know.

A recent essay on Psychology Today makes me think I should just do this thing. The story is about our fear of embarrassment, and how it — more than our fear of failure — is generally what inhibits us. But if we press down on our embarrassment by actually envisioning the things we’re afraid might happen — the truly worst-case scenarios — they’re usually not so bad. And even if they did happen, it would probably be useful and interesting. (As long as these things aren’t illegal or destructive.) The visual it gives me is of breaking through paper walls.

It’s all easier said than done, but I like this way of thinking. I also like the author Marty Nemko’s straightforward summary of some common things we avoid doing and why:

For fear of seeming like a loser, being unwilling to ask one’s network for job leads.

For fear of sounding awkward, not asking someone for a date.

For fear of showing vulnerability, being too withholding.

Life is short, and there are worse things than looking foolish, feeling rejected, and being laughed at. Nemko also urges people, when confronting a problem, to ask themselves: “What would the Wise One within me do?” I can imagine that this is probably not everyone’s preferred way of thinking about things, but I like it, although I feel as if the wise one within me is constantly tapping on their watch, like, do NOT wait! And I’m not sure how accurate that is.

Fantasizing about embarrassment also reminds me of the “20 seconds of courage” concept, which is a little cheesy and which I learned about in an exercise context (although it apparently originated in a Matt Damon family drama), but which applies everywhere: You don’t need courage all the time, you just need it for 20 seconds (or 5) to flick something into motion.

It’s Good to Imagine Being Embarrassed