“Never let ‘em see you sweat.” I have very distinct memories of one of my mentors telling me this and urging me to laugh at myself more. Thanks to a terrifying combination of clumsiness and perfectionism, I was a young service professional that was prone to visibly suffering every time I showed a weakness to the people I was serving (or working for). What’s lovely about the service role is that our mistakes are usually in front of others. Well maybe it’s not “lovely,” maybe it’s a fiery reckoning of our “shortcomings” in a very public fashion. It can be agonizing, since it’s much more comfortable to be alone with the things we hate about ourselves rather than sharing the torture with the people we’re trying to impress.
He was right, certainly people would rather see me giggle at myself than scoff, but I couldn’t override that feeling of failure when something went wrong when it was my role to deliver for someone. In the maelstrom of blaming some little issue on some innate dysfunction I had, there was no way I could laugh something off without feeling like I was repressing something or faking it (in another article, we’ll look at how easy it is to feel the tension of someone faking it).
Without a foundation of who you are, and the basic understanding that you are awesome and innately lovable, then service will be nothing but one opportunity after another to dislike yourself. From employers, to hostile customers, there are constant invitations to lower your self-worth – and dislike some aspect of yourself that is getting disapproved of.
Later on, I discovered how to meet my mistakes mindfully, and can now embody a lightness, strength and capability in the face of my errors in a way that feels authentic.
In a previous post, I talked about the importance of celebrating mistakes. This involves working with the pain felt around single events unique to a moment. But what about the self-image that gets eroded by these passing moments of error? What about the fixed ideas we carry about value and worth?
We need to celebrate the parts of ourselves that we would normally want to exile. Why?
1) They make us relatable (and connection is the name of the game with service).
2) They’re opportunities for humility (a more powerful quality than whatever it is you so worry you are deficient at).
3) They’re opportunities to serve others that struggle with the same things.
4) They’re opportunities to practice loving very human imperfection (if you can’t love – or even tolerate – it within yourself, then how can you do so with the people you serve?)
This is, after all, why mindful service is such an important path. Not just because we’re reconnecting with the joy of helping others, but because we’re reclaiming ourselves in the process. Don’t just accept your shaggy self, throw a party for it.