The Only Guaranteed Cure for the Fear of Public Embarrassment

I got caught red-handed.

By a bunch of observant readers right in the middle of a viral blog post—a letter I wrote to my daughter about the real source of her beauty.

Near the beginning of the letter, I wrote, “When you have a daughter you start to realize she’s just as strong as everyone else in the house—a force to be reckoned with, a soul on fire with the same life and gifts and passions as any man.”

You start to realize. Start.

Vigilant readers asked, “But what about all the women you knew before your daughter? What about your wife?”

I read the comments to my wife, secretly hoping for a little reassurance. Instead, she raised her eyebrows. And her strong eyes—the fierce eyes I fell in love with—asked their own simple question, “Well?”

My daughter comes by her passion honestly.

So, I had to sit with how to respond to such an accusation. I had to sift through all the layers of self-protection and defensiveness to settle into this response:

Good catch.

I have to respond that way, because the truth is, if we’re afraid of being caught in the act of our own immaturity, we will forever be afraid to grow.

The Threat of Public Embarrassment

We have created a culture of perfection and protection—admitting we’ve been wrong can ruin us in a myriad of ways. If a leader admits he’s wrong, his numbers plummet and his electorate votes him out. If a doctor makes a mistake, a beautiful vocation may be in jeopardy of ruin. If a waiter makes a mistake, they are trained to never admit it, for fear of a lawsuit. Even hot coffee is subject to litigation.

We have banned mistakes from the public square.

But the problem is, when we quit admitting we are wrong, we have quit growing. Growing up isn’t about growing perfect—it’s about growing out of our fear of imperfection. It’s about embracing that we all make mistakes—we’re all immature, we’re all a work in progress, we’re all on a journey of our own becoming.

When honesty about our own immaturity is banned from the public square, we are left with three options: insist on our own personal perfection, hide our mistakes and cover up our imperfections, or confess our mistakes and immaturity privately, confidentially.

Admittedly, as a psychologist, I’m the beneficiary of this culture. People come to me to confess they are human. Because there are very few places in the world they’re allowed to do so.

The Grace of a Little One

Several days after I read the critique of my letter, I was taking my daughter to school. For weeks, on the way to school, we’ve been playing the Frozen soundtrack—over and over and over. And we play a game in which I try to time our arrival at school to coincide exactly with the end of a song. When we arrive at school as the song ends, she declares from the back seat, “Perfect timing!”

I’m not saying I’ve run red lights to time it perfectly, but I’m also not denying it.

Dads will do almost anything to hear proclamations of perfection from their little girl.

On this day, though, I pulled into the parking lot and we weren’t even close to the end of the song. I looked in the rearview mirror at my daughter and I sighed, “Bad timing.”

She looked at me quizzically, broke into a radiant grin, and said, “Don’t worry, Daddy, we get to do it again tomorrow!”

We get to do it again tomorrow.

The grace of a little one is the best kind of grace, isn’t it?

The Freedom of Delight

What is grace?

Grace is the presence that knows you’re a work in progress and is simply delighting in your becoming. And its delight is what gives us the space and strength to enter into our own humanity—all of our immaturity and messiness—to claim our mistakes, and to confess them without fear. Grace is the quiet voice within, always whispering, “I’m quite fond of you, even in your messy becoming.”

Grace can come to us in any way and through anyone.

Grace is a raised eyebrow and an implied question—“Well?”—and a welcoming embrace anyway. And on a cold winter morning, grace came to me through my little one’s declaration, “We get to do it again tomorrow!”

Not, “You’ll get it right tomorrow.”

Not even, “You’ll do better next time.”

Rather, “We get to do it again tomorrow. Together. And that’s all that matters.”

All of us are still just growing up. Even if you’re a shrink. Even if you’re a dad who wrote a really popular letter.

But we’re all swimming in grace, and we all have a chance to do it again tomorrow.

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About Kelly

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.