Key to success: Looking the fool

The first time I bombed in front of a large audience was at my old cousin’s wedding in front of a crowd just shy of four hundred people. My cousin asks me to MC. I say yeah, sure, if it means I don’t have to bring you a wedding present, great. But it was only great insofar as it was a great public humiliation.

I got up to the front of the room, not having prepared anything, and thought of a joke at the table right before I got up to say it. I said the joke. The room was silent. Four hundred people silent. All the eyeballs on me. It felt like the scene in jaws where the guy’s sitting there realizes there’s a shark in the water, with that phototelescopy effect with the dolly supercut (you film buffs will know what I’m talking about, for the rest of you, this:

Blood rushed to my head. There’s was a general dazed and confused feeling. Why were all these people staring at me again? My throat got dry. My face red. Time seemed to slow down. But it hadn’t! In that moment, I realized half a minute had passed by with me listening to the sound of my own heartbeat.

It was a valuable lesson. And I’ve had many a public humiliations since then as well, some while I was completely sober. In the Samurai Brotherhood, and the Conscious Relationship Training group, there is a strict sober policy and a lot of these vulnerable and often embarrassing social incidents occur in these safe group spaces. It’s not a social group and it’s not therapy. But it does resemble something of a Toastmasters mashed up with Alcoholics Anonymous, although you don’t need to have an alcoholic.

We meet every Monday or Tuesday (depending on your schedule) and talk about almost everything and anything. Here are three key points (since the internet likes this kind of lazy formatting) as to why looking like an idiot particularly in this group has and continues to help me.

LOSE YOUR OVER-ATTACHMENT TO LOOKING GOOD

In a safe group setting, there is an aspect to it called the open share, where people are invited to share about what’s going on in their lives — to report their minds. I don’t consider myself special, but I noticed I learned and changed a bit faster than other men in the group. And the reason, I would say is because I was willing to look stupid.

After a share where I would reveal something rather embarrassing or vulnerable, one thing that happened was that I no longer found myself thinking about those insecurities anymore. My ego had been hanging onto this story for so long, and so afraid to reveal it; after I revealed it and nothing happened – well, it stopped bothering the ego as well.

It humbles your ego when you let go of your over-attachment to looking good.

By being honest and vulnerable in a safe space, and I should emphasize SAFE SPACE by typing in all caps, because you definitely do not want to do this type of work at the office or sometimes not even with your wife or girlfriend (maybe it IS about your wife or girlfriend, and seriously, there are just some things they do not want or need to know) and you definitely don’t want to do it in front of a wedding banquet – it’s why safe groups are important for self-development work. The strict confidentiality agreement is key. But anyway, it does humble you, and it humbles your ego when you let go of your over-attachment to looking good.

In a video “How to be confident” by the School of Life, it argues that knowing that everyone is foolish should give you great confidence. Check out the school of life video, it explains it a bit more eloquently than I (I’m not a fan of all their videos, but this one is pretty good, a bit hyperbolic, but who isn’t from time to time, amiright?):

INVEST IN LOSS

There is a Japanese art form called Kintsugi where one breaks a piece of pottery and melds the pottery back together with gold flakes. The result is something more beautiful than the original untainted form.

In western culture, there is an over-indulgence with the pristine, the glossy magazines, make-up, 10’s! We’re aiming for straight up 10’s here! No less than a 9! But it’s the scars that make us who we are; the traumas – physical, mental, and spiritual.

This is strange, but I actually didn’t feel like I grew up until the first time I had my heart broken. I think I was twenty four at the time. And if anyone has ever had their heart broken can attest, it is much worse than any normal physical pain.

I didn’t know how good I was at boxing until the first time I really got my ass kicked. I didn’t know how hard of a punch I could take. And I didn’t know how much I loved stage performance, until I ate it that night at the wedding banquet, but still wanted to do it again. And I have done it again. And it does get easier as I do it more.

It’s so difficult to just get comfortable being in uncomfortable situations. I still went back to the boxing gym, and I improved. I continued to learn and grow in different and beautiful relationships. In the Brotherhood, many relationships are formed because it is a space we’re able to bring our losses; we’re there to work, not to hold hands. It has been said, but it’s worth repeating that it’s not a social group.

Check out nerdwriter1’s video on Kintsugi, embracing damage (most if not all of this guy’s videos are worthwhile, especially if you’re a film nerd like me):

“The world breaks everyone and afterwards many are strong in the broken places.” Ernest Hemmingway, A Farewell to Arms. I would add, respectfully, Mr. Hemmingway, that many are strong insofar as they reveal their broken places and do something with it.

IF IT SCARES YOU, DO IT

There’s a lot to be afraid of in the world, but this fear is predicated on a nervous system that was created to defend against being eaten by a very big cat.

The rest of the stuff we’re afraid of, well, is a bit of a nervous system misfire. In both the Samurai Brotherhood, and the Conscious Relationship Training group, I would share deeply revealing insecurities, and to me it would feel like the world was going to end. But it never did. And the more I reported what was on my mind, the more comfortable I got in my own skin, and the more comfortable I felt in the world.

In the groups, I noticed that even when I was sharing these to-me heart-wrenching and serious stories, people would laugh. And I would laugh, because if we can’t laugh at ourselves then what do we have?

It’s not all about looking the fool, although this post has mostly been about that. There is, of course, room to celebrate achievements and feel good about our deeds. But sometimes, I like to say one thing because the zeitgeist is so heavily in favor of the opposite. It’s about the balance.

During a podcast with comedian Marc Maron, 12 Years a Slave director John Ridley revealed that the biggest lesson he learned from Godfather and Apocalypse Now director Francis Ford Coppola, was that Coppola was able to talk about his achievements and failures in the same breath without being overly aggrandizing, and without too much shame.

The worst part of a major public humiliation is the shunning. I went back to my table where my two brothers had their eyes fixated on the tablecloth. My parents also do not look at me, eyes darted and made contact with one another, but not with me.

The rest of the wedding banquet went OK. I got more and more drunk, and did better and better. I can see why alcoholism is so prevalent. It’s the “I don’t give a fuck” drug of choice. But if you don’t want to ruin your liver, possibly lose your job, or accidently make-out with your friend’s girlfriend, well, a men’s group could be a healthier outlet.

It’s not as easy as drugs.  Being sober and revealing insecure, dark, or weird stuff is usually tougher than non-sober times. But the effects last longer and is much more rewarding in the long run. The group has been a very integral part of my weekly routine. And I think it can help a lot of guys who are seeking something different, become something else, and find their voice in the world.

But then again, don’t take my word for it, after all, I’m just some guy talking about what an idiot he is, writing this post, while sitting on the can.

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