I had arrived at the gym, gear in hand with minutes to go before my spinning class when I discovered I had forgot to bring my running shoes. I stood in the middle of the locker room with below-the-knee crop bottoms and ankle-high winter boots, looking (in my mind) silly and feeling foolish. In the past, that would have been enough to send me home, choosing my pride over the class. But with age and experience have come self-acceptance and less concern about what other people might say and I marched out to take the class. As I climbed onto my bike, I felt a surge of pride. Doing what I wanted was winning out over worrying about what other people might think. I had come a long way.
This being April Fools’ Day, I thought it timely to talk about feeling foolish, the lengths we go to avoid it and all the missed opportunities that result from it.
Over the years, I have worked with clients who have lost their jobs or their businesses. For many of these individuals, they could conceive of no greater loss. They felt ashamed, stripped of their dignity, self-worth and power. For some, the impact was so horrific that they avoided telling family members, friends and colleagues. Their beliefs about themselves were reduced to what they imagined others would think of them and the negative stereotypes they secretly harboured about themselves. Had they shared their thoughts and feelings with others, they likely would have found others to be sympathetic and helpful. But the concern of looking foolish kept them from doing so.
I have also seen clients who have been interested in developing relationships with others, but kept their distance out of fear of being rejected and looking foolish. I have known students who wouldn’t ask questions in class for fear of being mocked and looking foolish. I have heard from young people who avoided parties, lest they wear or say the wrong thing and look foolish. I have seen people avoid new activities because of their concern of not being able to perform well and looking foolish. There has been much time wasted, energy spent and opportunities missed in our efforts to fit in, not make waves, and do the “right” thing.
When I think of all the famous people in this world whose questionable activities have landed them in what I like to call the “hotlight,” I am always amazed at how they not only survive, but often thrive after the incident. I wonder why we mere mortals are so mortified by the small and inconsequential things we do that cause no harm to anyone but our bruised egos. Life is too short to worry about pleasing all the people in the world.
So in honour of April Fools’ Day, I propose that we consider allowing ourselves to be, to stop censoring ourselves when we think we might look foolish, and take chances to prove that our preconceived notions are not always accurate. Let me know how it goes.
And to those of you who took the challenge of reducing your complaints, how did you do? I found it a lot harder than I expected, but I am not giving up. Let me know how it was for you. I’d love to hear from you.
Barbara Fish, M.Ed.
Personal and Career Counsellor
“Helping Your Life Work”
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