Reflections on Shame & Wholehearted Living

You only live onceOn a recent trip to Denver for a conference, I had a world of swirling thoughts on my mind. On the plane, I was surrounded by noise, little kids laughing and crying, and the brightness of the clouds viewed from the top rather than the bottom. I chose to spend the three and half hour flight reflecting. Two books I recently finished for #52in52 are Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson and Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. Both sparked a tremendous amount of reflection. Richard Carlson taught me that by becoming a better listener, ignoring most negative thoughts, demonstrating gratitude, and viewing myself in my entirety, I can live a more calm, grateful, and peaceful life. Brene Brown speaks to concepts of shame, vulnerability, how we armor ourselves against shame, and wholehearted living. In a poolside conversation at NASPA with two amazing and inspirational women, I shared that I was reading this book and the concept of shame. We had a thought provoking conversation that prompted me to ask myself: What is my Shame?

My shame is that I do not love or care for myself in the same wholehearted way I love and care for others.

Being a teenager in rural Pennsylvania as the daughter of a single parent, the day consisted of school, practice, cleaning the house, homework, making dinner, and sometimes working at the ice cream shop. Nothing was enough. The house could be spotless, but why aren’t the clean dishes put away? I slept in a broken recliner in a living room where the ceiling was propped up by a 2 x 4 and the front door stayed closed by a dining room chair being propped up against it because it didn’t stay closed on its own. Life was about being as miserable as the person I shared a home with and surviving. Don’t step out of the norm. Don’t be your own person. There wasn’t the time or patience. Things were hard. One night, while dishing up a bowl of ice cream, I overheard a phone conversation centering around my favorite person in the world, who loved me unconditionally, falling off the wagon. In my teenage mind, all of this connected to my sense of self-worth, or lack their of.

Since that time, life has had a number of successes and challenges. Some build confidence, faith, and excitement for the future and others take a scoop out of the confidence bucket. This is a part of my narrative, my story. Right now, my life is the best it has ever been. Right now, I am in a safe place where I can look back at my history, the good and the bad and the really ugly, and understand it from a safe place and distance.

Overvalue what they're not  Negative thoughts, criticisms, and doubts, much harsher than anything someone else could say or think, fill my mind more often than I would like. What’s worse is that I give them credence. Consistently, I fail to view myself in my entirety and focus too much on the negative. As I learned from reading Daring Greatly, it takes a tremendous amount of courage to own our greatness. I do enough. I have enough. I am enough.  Wholeheartedness & self worth is not determined by how much I get done, know, do, or have. Treating myself this way opens the door for others to do the same and affirm the negative rather than see the positive and uplifting it.

Making time for myself and my goals, and viewing my failures and disappointments as opportunities to gain perspective and fully appreciate my successes and accomplishments is critical. Taking time – making time – to run, read, practice Italian, eat healthy, and just be is the best thing I can do for myself. The number of times I answer the phone, stay at work late, take another meeting, or do something because someone else needs or wants something is significantly greater than the number of times I don’t do these things as a way of caring for myself (another strategy in Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff).

My life has changed significantly in the last 10 years. I’m married. My partner and I live in a new home that we own and drive vehicles that get us safely to work. We have two dogs that we adore and will add kids to the mix someday. If my life has taught me anything it is that it is possible to not only survive, but thrive in this life. I think I’ve lost sight of this, partially because of the small stuff. I’m so scared to be happy because I’m terrified the other shoe is going to drop (a form of armor), we will lose everything and wind up back in the trailer, a loved one will pas away. All of this could happen but that doesn’t mean it will happen and to use my grandmother’s expression – I have about as much control over that as I do the “price of tea in China”.

My narrative, my story, has already changed so much. The aspects of my changed narrative are environmental and external. Now that I am in a physically safe and healthy place, I need to work on the internal part of my worth and love myself as wholly as I love the very real, beautiful, and remarkable people surrounding me. Life is more than the unmet expectations of others and I need to meet my own expectations for who I am, who I can be, goals I have, and the life I want to live. My greatest accomplishment is not what I get done in a day, or a life, it is that I have overcome physical and emotional hurt, pain, and abuse to love deeply a handful of family and friends that I could not live without. Because I have overcome these things, and my life is so good and healthy right now, I don’t need to exert all of my energy managing my external world. I can be vulnerable and focus internally to forge happiness with myself, from within.

Reflecting on the Past

For those of you out there who have embarked on a similar mindset or broken your own mold, what thoughts can you offer? I’d love to hear your story. 


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