Last December I was in a play. It was presented at my church, where the people are kind and compassionate and it’s OK to not be perfect. I felt very comfortable joining in the production. There were no auditions and my daughter was in the cast too. The playwright/director of the show is well-known in the theater world. It was exciting to work with him.
I was very fortunate to get a plum role —not too many lines, but a scene stealer. My character was a naive and spoiled rich lady. It is easier to be up on stage in front of people when in character. Ms. Deehaven (my character name) called for over-the-top theatrics. I had a blast putting her costume together and figuring out her mannerisms and walk.
We had two performances, both on the same day. One in the afternoon and one in the evening. The first performance my sons attended and so did many of the church congregants. My scene and entrance got big laughs and I was on a high.
In between shows a script was passed around for everyone in the cast to sign. My daughter and I signed it. A few minutes later I saw the stage manager and the director/writer looking at the signed script. I swear I heard the stage manager say,”Look Brenda’s signature is bigger than yours J (director’s name)”. I am not 100% sure that is what was said, but it immediately made me ashamed. It looked like I thought I was more important than everyone else on the cast and crew including the renowned playwright. Admittedly, the B and the K in my first and last names are rather large in my signature. I just signed the script with no thought to size of my writing. I did not purposely try to make my name stand out. I didn’t even think it was that big. Embarrassment overcame me.
Instead of looking forward to the next performance, I was now rattled. I didn’t want to appear too full of myself, even though that’s what the character called for. I ended up entering on stage a beat too early and my lines did not get the rousing reception they got in the first show.
That wasn’t the first time I’d felt that sinking feeling. There have been many times I dared to be louder than usual and then got shut down. As a tween or teen I remember singing freely to the radio in my bedroom at my dad’s house. When I walked out of my room everyone laughed and told me not to sing anymore because I was a terrible singer. I did not even know anyone was listening. Shame creeped in. I did not know I was a bad singer. How could I have dared to sing so openly, like I was a good singer?
As a girl, I fought with my sister over use of the bathroom constantly. I’d yell at her to get out when she was taking too long. She’d yell at me for the same reason. The confrontation was bad enough but when I spoke up for myself claiming my turn in the bathroom, I often got insults regarding my appearance in return. She’d pick on my skin, my hair, my teeth, whatever hurt the most. I was no saint and dug into her weak spots as well. The subliminal message being if you stick up for yourself, you are going to get nailed.
If I make myself too big, too seen or if I let myself shine there is a good chance I’m going to get humbled or hurt or both.
I’m finishing up the last details of my book. I have this nagging need to make it perfect — I don’t want to leave it open to criticism. I also want to promote it but not stand out too much. I don’t want to appear too full of myself or leave myself open to deep scrutiny. Just as I don’t like being watched as I perform tasks, I don’t like being watched as I try to make something of myself. I know there are people out there who enjoy finding flaws. Even safe spaces — like my church — can’t protect me.
One of my favorite writers, Brenda Ueland, said we should recklessly make mistakes, the bigger the doozy the better. She said we have to let our real and imaginative selves out to be any good at anything. We are all talented and original if we share our true selves. She said creativity is a generosity. I try to remember her words when I put myself out there and get snapped back into Smallville. Perhaps if we do not get humbled occasionally, we are not taking enough risks? We are not being generous with our creativity and true self?
I know my book will be helpful and offer solace to some. That keeps my chin up and my efforts focused. If I make mistakes, I’ll make sure they are doozies and make for a good story. And if asked to sign one of my books, I’ll keep my signature to a humble size.
Do you keep yourself small to avoid scrutiny? What gives you the strength to shine? Have you been humbled lately?
If you need help getting past shame and learning to shine, please contact me for personal evolution coaching.