The Real Risk of Embarrassment

Real Risk of Embarrassment


I hate being embarrassed.

I don’t like being laughed at. Don’t like being talked about. Don’t like the perception that I’m not in control.

Who does, really?

But all the time, effort, energy that I’ve spent trying to avoid embarrassment — have I just kept myself from actually being myself? How many opportunities have I missed?

Real Risk of Embarrassment

Orignal Photo: Stefan – Creative Commons


Who Wants a Free Guitar?

Example — 4th of July  three years ago at a park in San Diego. I heard music playing on the far side, so I rode my bike to find a Beach Boys cover band up on stage playing to a crowd of about 500 people. I’d stood there no more than three minutes when the band made an announcement:

“This will be our last song. We need five volunteers to come on stage and play some air guitar. The crowd will vote on the best performance with the winner getting this!” The lead singer held up a beautiful white Les Paul guitar. “First five that make it up front, make it on stage!”

I couldn’t have pulled up at a better time as I had a 50 foot head start on anyone in the crowd. People began to stand. A few started to run. I took two steps. Then froze. I looked at the size of the crowd. Anxiety rushed through me like Mountain Dew.

Making a fool of myself for a free guitar? Was it worth it?

I didn’t know a soul in the crowd. Get me on stage and I’ll come alive and put on a show. But that takes me getting on stage.

I deliberated. I debated. And by the time I slowly sauntered over, they had chosen the five.

I missed the moment.

I then watched the five who made it on stage give half-hearted, lame attempts at air-guitar — their fear of embarrassment making it embarrassing. I felt sick. That guitar could’ve been mine.

But you have to be on the stage to win. They weren’t going to give the guitar to the bystander in the front row who swore he could’ve done better.

Where Embarrassment Thrives

The possibility for embarrassment and greatness, usually exist in the same space. It’s difficult to remove one and not the other. When you do, you exist in the middle. Mediocrity your brand. No one saying a thing about you — good or bad. Why would they?

That’s where I’ve existed most days. How many moments have I lived in a sterile, white-walled existence where my perceived appearance is the wild card that trumps all?

Well freaking nuts to that.

What question am I most afraid of?

What’s my most embarrassing moment?


What’s my biggest regret?

People love laughing when sharing their most embarrassing story.

I haven’t heard too many snickers when people are sharing their biggest regrets.

The Fear of Embarrassment Kills

The fear of embarrassment poisons creativity.

The fear of embarrassment mitigates risk.

The fear of embarrassment lets insecurities call the shots.

The fear of embarrassment feeds our obsessive comparison disorder. Embarrassment thrives like a fungus in the petri dish of “what will others will think?”

Damn what others think.

Let them exist in the middle.

I want my guitar.

Who’s with me?


  1. Amanda

    Hey again :),

    I am so with you on this it hurts, I have pass up so many things because of the unknown/embarrassment factor. I even hate paying with cash because I don’t want people to have to wait long for me in the check out line. It’s so stupid and I am not sure where I even developed this from but the last few years I have been working my way up and out of this disabling way of thought.

    Your stuff seriously needs to go on my fridge 🙂 And thanks again for the pic love…:)

    • admin

      Thanks Amanda! I was beginning to get embarrassed that I was all alone 🙂

      Love your example of the check out line. I’m the same way. It’s crazy how this fear dictates even the simplest actions of our day.

      And thank you for allowing me to showcase some of your work! You are an amazingly talented photographer and I’m so glad I am able to highlight it here.

  2. Morgan

    As a teenager, I wouldn’t do ANYTHING that would embarrass me. That whole, “gotta keep my cool image going.” But as an adult, I don’t really care about making a fool of myself; even if it involves doing really weird stunts or making myself look or sound stupid in one way or another. Because in the end, I probably won’t see ANY of those people ever again. And if I act stupid in front of my friends, well then so be it, they’re my friends, they should understand that I gotta act a little dumb every now and then. 🙂

    I am so ready to keep embarrassing myself!

    Thanks for this. 🙂

    • admin

      I can definitely relate Morgan. Teenage Paul was debilitated with embarrassment. I still have a long way to go.

      “I am so ready to keep embarrassing myself!” Great line! Thanks Morgan

  3. Tanya

    “But you have to be on the stage to win. They weren’t going to give the guitar to the bystander in the front row who swore he could’ve done better.”

    That chunk there really hits home with me, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had that mindset – that should have been me, I could have done better…why wasn’t it me? What was I so afraid of? It’s amazing how often we really do let fear call the shots, and I’m just now realizing. Couldn’t have read this at a better time in my life, I’m making it a point to concentrate on just being me. There’s no room for embarrassment anymore.

    Great post, Paul!

  4. admin

    “There’s no room for embarrassment anymore” ~ Dang right! Thanks Tanya. So good.

  5. Jim

    Its tricky because your ego wants to make a deal with you that you’ll only go on stage if you are guaranteed not to look lame. Actually the odds of you looking lame are real and the negotiation that goes on with your ego at this point is what causes all the hesitancy. Instead don’t cut any deals that you may not look lame. Look lame 100%. Live life 100% unafraid of appearing lame. Own yourself completely. You want the guitar and you want to go on stage own yourself even if you think others will disown you it. I’m reminded of a religious friend who said Jesus said what you do to the least of these you do to Me – which includes the thoughts we think about ourselves. Scary thought.

    • admin

      Thanks Jim. Some solid wisdom here for sure. “Look lame 100%” Great line! I see a t-shirt line right there…

  6. Lydia Anthony

    With you, been there, you’re awesome.

    At some point, I just stopped caring. I have much more fun now.

    • admin

      Thanks Lydia!

  7. Julie

    This feels like it’s written for me. I was so thin-skinned that I lost a lot of opportunities to make friends and gain experiences. It’s never too late. I’ll start by no longer lurking on the internet and commenting, especially to say thanks. 🙂

    • admin

      Thank you Julie. Well said!

  8. MJ

    If it makes you feel any better, I did do an air guitar competition in College and won, but I didn’t get anything like a guitar. I don’t think I got anything.


    Love this post. Thanks for sharing your story like you do. Sharing with the Future Marriage University (FMU) community at


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