I’ve dedicated a great deal of energy in my life trying not to make a fool out of myself.
When I was in junior high, I remember thinking EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD was allowed to watch TV shows I wasn’t allowed to watch and listen to music I wasn’t allowed to listen to (at 13, most of life happens in caps-lock).
So to avoid looking foolish, my solution was to wait for the moment my friends began talking about the latest pop culture phenomenon and pretend like I knew exactly what they were talking about.
“Oh, I know! Boyz II men are so bad-ass!”
“Isn’t Clueless like, so totally awesome?!”
Even now that junior high is over (thank God) I still find myself, at times, going to great lengths to not make a fool out of myself.
These days, it looks something like this:
- I prepare and prepare and prepare and over-prepare for speaking engagements, so I make sure not to say anything weird.
- I sometimes agonize over what to post (or not post) on social media.
- I obsess over blog posts. “Did I say it right? Did I miscommunicate? Am I going to look stupid? Do I know what I’m talking about?”
- I hold back from doing things that feel outside of my comfort zone (even something simple, like playing frisbee) because I don’t want to look like I don’t know what I’m doing.
And what good have these obsessions ever done me? Are they preventing me from making a fool out of myself? Probably not.
My latest realization is this:
The harder we work not to make fools out of ourselves, the more foolish we end up looking.
Trying not to make a fool out of myself has kept me from so many things I wanted to do in my life.
It has kept me from trying something new for fear of coming across as incompetent or unintelligent or unrefined (recently a friend offered to let me paint with watercolors and I nearly refused…for fear of looking stupid. I’m so glad I didn’t!)
It has kept me from taking risks.
It’s kept me from speaking up about things that matter to me.
It has kept me from being myself.
What has your fear of looking foolish kept you from doing in your life? When you consider the opportunity cost, ask yourself this: was it worth it?
What if making a fool out of ourselves could actually work to our advantage?
What if the things we think of as “foolish” aren’t really that foolish after all (like being out-of-the-know when it comes to pop culture)? What if they are the pieces of the puzzle that set us apart, that make us who we are?
What if making a fool of yourself could teach you an important lesson?
What if the chance of making a fool of yourself meant you got to try something new? What if you succeeded in an area where you never thought you could?
What if a willingness to make a fool of yourself is a prerequisite for creativity and innovation?
Would you give it a try?
I have a challenge for you—and it’s the same challenge I’ve been giving myself lately. It goes like this:
Go ahead, make a fool of yourself.
Seriously. I mean that as a literal challenge. Look for ways this week you can make a fool of yourself and go for it.
Wait for a moment when you would have, in the past, stayed on the sidelines or held back. But this time, don’t retreat. Don’t back off. Don’t give into fear. Move forward. Make a fool of yourself.
Just see what happens. I think you might be surprised.