Aspiring to Embarrassment

by | Nov 6, 2020 | Change, Learning |

first version

“I wrote this story for you!” My daughter hands me a piece of paper with a few letters on it, her name, and a bunch of decipherable and undecipherable images. She is full of pride and confidence, not even a hint of embarrassment. And she’s off, back to the table to write another story.

Long may this last, I think to myself. Why can I not be more like her.

Most adults are professional stallers, procrastinators, avoiders. We learn this behaviour at a young age. Often when we start school and then we turn pro in our teenage years. We go from ‘here I made this’ to a need for perfection before sharing. And yet, what we fail to realise is that this stops us from learning.

“If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

 Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn

And yet, we’re terrified to share our work. And most of our work is not life threatening. Interestingly, those who’s work is life and death, share their work as a matter of course. Heart surgeon practice constantly. They work as apprentices under the watchful eye of another for years. They know they only get better by continually trying.

But we are terrified to write that book. To launch a course. To give a presentation. Because it is not perfect in our eyes. So we wait. We hide away. Eric Ries says the same thing as Reid Hoffman just it slightly differently.

“No matter how long you wait to release your first version, you will be embarrassed by it.”

But here’s the thing. It’s our future self that will be embarrassed by it. We can be immensely proud of it when we launch. But our future self likely will be a bit embarrassed and that’s a good thing. We should aspire to embarrassment because it means we are learning and growing.

As the British philosopher, Alain de Botton, put it, 

“Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough.”

The second version of a product. Our third book. Our fifth leadership role. And so on. We only get beyond first by doing it for the first time. And when we look back at today, at our ‘first’ and our embarrassed, we should be proud. We should celebrate because it means we are growing.

My daughter was proud of the story she gave me because last week she couldn’t write the letter ‘W’ and this week she could.

Maybe we all could learn from her.

Photo by Bermix Studio


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