Getting Past An Embarrassing Start: Harmonizing self-compassion & self-criticism to keep moving forward.

20.09.20 05:16 PM By Heather Kleinschmidt

I couldn’t wait to get started with this new seminar.

It was a last-minute request. But I had a lot of hopes for the impact it could have. It was an extension of something I was already doing and cared a lot about, but it also was a very new style for me.

I logged in. The first person joined.

This is it…

The virtual room filled up.

I got started. And almost instantly, I started fumbling. I lost track of all thought.

I regained composure. Heather, you can do this. Pull it together. Focus on what you’re here to accomplish.

But then I realized there was an important piece I had under-prepared. Fear shot through me. I tried to address the missing piece creatively, but it wasn’t great.

I rushed some parts; I dragged out others. I skipped over things and then had to go back to them.

I stumbled through the rest of the call, and we closed.


The First Time

"If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late."

This is a well-known quote from Reid Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn), and it’s true not only for product launches but any time we do something new.

It’s nice as an inspirational quote — but when it comes to actually living it out, there’s a lot of extra baggage involved…

How do you manage yourself in that moment? And more importantly, what do you do next?

And the bigger question: how do you walk forward — while knowing that you’re not (yet) the most skilled in this, but at the same time wanting to develop that skill?

The Inner Critic
There’s a legitimate discrepancy in front of you between who you are and who you want to be.

But it can be tricky getting the balance right:

There’s a harmony between cutting yourself some slack and asking for more from yourself.

On the one hand, you don’t want to beat yourself up severely for falling short. We’re human. We fall short. It’s just what we do.

But on the other hand, you don’t want to give up on yourself prematurely. There’s a lot to you. There’s so much untapped potential inside, that to let yourself completely off the hook from becoming better is… a legitimate disappointment.

When I find myself in this situation, there are two rules of thumb I follow:

  1. Don’t punish yourself for doing something that you want to see yourself repeat.
  2. Keep your eyes on the situation itself, not on any opinions about you.

1 | Don’t Punish Yourself For Doing Something You Want To See Yourself Repeat

We know that we’re unlikely to repeat behavior that is met with a harsh response.

Yet it’s still easy to find yourself reacting in extreme negative ways — with self-ridicule, self-beration, or negative rumination — when you don’t get the results that you want.


When we associate an unpleasant or painful response with good behavior, we’re less likely to repeat that behavior in the future. When you punish yourself for doing something that’s good — even if the results fell short today — you decrease the likelihood that you’ll ever do better.

Don’t punish yourself for making progress.

Don’t punish yourself for taking a step toward something that matters. Don’t punish yourself for taking a step toward becoming someone you want to become.

You might not be where you want to be (yet)… but if you took positive action toward your valued goal, then you’re not where you were. If you’ve pushed your limits, if you’ve learned something new, then you’ve made progress.

Focus on that.

If you didn’t run as far as the distance goal you set, don’t punish yourself for it. Celebrate the fact that you ran at all. Then learn, and do it again, as you try to get better.

2 | Keep Your Eyes On The Situation Itself, Not On Any Opinions About You
— Focus.

Disregard the roaring spectators — both the cheering fans, and the jeering hecklers. Disregard the goofy mascot. Disregard your parents. Disregard your own yapping inner monologue.

Put your eyes on the net, on the ball, on your positioning. And shoot.

Doing this doesn’t guarantee that you’ll score. But not doing it does guarantee that you’ll miss.

Keep your eyes on the situation itself — on the actions you’re taking, and how those actions influence the outcomes. And then learn.

Whatever happens, learn from it.

If this is truly a valued goal of yours, then nothing matters except getting better at it. You can’t change anything in the past, and you can’t control anything in the future — all you can do is give your best right now, and in doing so, learn from your own actions, your successes, and your failures.

The Place For Criticism
We need the world to be a better place, and the only way the world gets better is when we — each, individually — get better.

And so it’s good for you to push yourself beyond the comforts of who you are now.

We need you to set high standards for yourself. We need you to critique your own output and to seek out constructive feedback.

But there’s a difference between setting high standards and holding yourself accountable to them vs. shoving your own face into the ground when you make an effort and fall short.

Critique is valuable, and it helps you become better; it helps improve the quality of your contribution.

But the purpose of criticism is to identify what’s working and what’s not. The purpose of criticism is to reduce the damage and to bring forward the good, so that the good can flourish.

Always strive for better, but don't punish yourself for doing something good.

The Same Applies To Everyone Else
Don’t punish other people when they make an effort in something that the world needs them to repeat.

Even if the quality wasn’t up to an ideal standard — weigh their output against both the standard and their starting point.

For example, let’s say that a coworker brings you information on a project — but it’s crowded with unnecessary details, they’re way over-communicating, this is your busy season, and they interrupt you to do it.

Your response: you lash out at them.

Do you want them to stop bringing you any and all information?

How can you respond to them in a way that both encourages the core behavior and corrects the problem?

There might be something about the delivery that legitimately needs correction. But aim to find a way to simultaneously encourage the core action. Don’t make them miserable for doing something good.

Only Pursue Your Own Goals
Sometimes, we can feel pressure to make our lives look a certain way. They think they need to wake up at a certain time, work out at least daily, eat a certain diet, work a certain way, spend a certain amount of time with friends and family, etc…

That is not the call of Becoming Better.

That’s a rat race.

You don’t have to pursue any goal that you don’t want to pursue.

But if it’s something that you see would be good…

If it’s something that matters to you, that you want to do better in…

If it’s an identity — a character — that you want to develop in yourself…

Then go for it. And don’t punish yourself when you fall on your face in the pursuit. Keep your eyes on the prize, and let go of all other personal perceptions.

Each week, I do a deep-dive into the question of living meaningfully.

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