For when you think you screwed it up; How you can’t do it wrong

It’s funny how your shit follows you. Today I found myself reliving a scenario from 8 years ago when I got slammed for what I thought was doing the right thing, and I was told it wasn’t good enough.

I had overheard at a dinner party that there was a misprint of some PR merchandise that was going to be released to the public at a big event. The merchandise had been commissioned in NY, the event in London, and it was being discussed as an example as to why regionalization in the organization was so important.

A few days later, I shared the conversation with my boss’s boss’s boss expecting a thank you for the report back. Instead I got put in a corner.

Did I not see how catastrophic this was? A misprint being shown to the public? This was unacceptable. How come I didn’t say something sooner!?

I was slightly baffled. My role had nothing to do with the event or mistake, and the situation was above my pay grade. Plus, I did say something. I was telling her, right then and there.

After the initial shock faded, I could see her perspective. My response was reflective of a disempowering hierarchical cultural norm that basically said, ‘If it’s not in your job description, you can’t do anything about it.’ Her perspective was different… we are all in this together. You see something, you say something.

Ok cool, got it.

Today I was in a similar situation, totally different context. I was having the same reaction my boss’s’ boss’s boss had, “This is a mistake! Catastrophic! Can’t happen!” And a knee-jerk reaction to fix the situation.

Except 8 years later, I’m more attuned to my need to fix and control. I recognize it as a symptom of fear. I try to practice, ‘It’s OK to Let Go’, and not need things to be perfect. 

At the same time, I’m an advocate for speaking up when no one else is, using your voice and expressing your truth; ie if you see something, say something.

I was torn. Do I say something or not? If I don’t say something, will this be the demise of something great? If I do say something, will I just become known as the un-evolved control-freak?

I decided to take a shower; because that seems to always solve everything.

And of course, that’s when I realized I was afraid of reliving the same blow-back from the situation 8 years ago. My panic this time round to fix and control was part of a survival tactic…. ‘Hurry up and say something to show you are brave enough so they can’t shame you for staying silent.’

That didn’t feel 100% good though; it wasn’t my whole truth, and there was more fear. Fear that I would somehow be made wrong for butting my nose in where it wasn’t invited.

It felt like whether or not I said anything, I was screwed.

And then the ball dropped. This wasn’t even about using my voice. This was about my fear of being wrong. A default assumption of shame that says, no matter what I choose to do, I will be wrong.

It was this fear that was keeping me vacillating back and forth between the two options. I wanted to just stay still and hope to wait it out without anyone noticing I had some thing to say.  Except my conscious knew I had something to say and was urging me to do so. But since there was no clear safe way out, my thoughts just ended up running on a loop.

This is a type of trauma response; a mental ‘freeze’ response when you can’t find a way out; a safe 3rd option.

The trauma in this case might not seem like anything dramatic; worst case scenario I’d be told off, made to be wrong, and I’d feel a bit of shame. But it’s the shame that can be traumatic; a deep seeded unshakeable belief that when you are wrong, you are no longer worthy of having a voice, of being alive. You’re no longer worthy of love. It’s like and emotional and spiritual death.

Thankfully today I was able to find a 3rd option; a way out. I sensed I didn’t have the whole picture, and that I could keep silent and it was going to be ok. I also deep down knew that if I did say something, the others involved would appreciate my concern. And if I told them how I was really feeling, they would probably help me grow through this experience. A combination of Truth and Love.

That’s what helps the fear calm down.

My shower was an act of love; recognizing I needed space and meeting my own need.

So was allowing myself to voice my concern and speak my truth.

As was letting it all go after that and continuing on with my day without getting fixated on the worst case scenario, and instead envisioning the best case scenario.

It’s taken years to get to this place; where I can feel the fear and not be captive to it. Where my nervous system is resourced enough that it can bounce back to a stable place on its own.

It’s taken many, many truth and love-filled steps to get here. A call to the therapist, slowing down the pace of my work, lots of walks in the trees, a bookcase full of journals, and lots of other forms of self-care and support.

If you’re reading this and can relate to that feeling of ‘Aaaaaahhhh! I’m screwed no matter what I do!’, combined with the tightening up of your body and your mind running on a loop, it’s OK. And it’s gonna be OK.

Find some loving action to plant your feet into. Find someone that you can trust to speak your truth to, where you feel safe to use your voice.

And it’s ok to ask for help. There is no shame in that. You can’t do asking for help wrong. Even if the other person tries to make you wrong.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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