I recently started a new job and spent the past weekend on a company retreat in Sydney. My expectations grew as I  heard bits and pieces of colleague’s stories from past retreats. From the sounds of it, the retreat was going to be filled with fun, excitement and a little too much alcohol. What I wasn’t prepared for was the guest speaker who would transform my life.

Sessions were scheduled Friday and Saturday from morning to night. It seemed like it would be a lot of time to sit still and listen to one person speak. The first session commenced and we were greeted by a bright smile, warm energy and texan charm. Our guest speaker was Dr. Brené Brown. I was delighted to hear another north american accent this south of the hemisphere but when she told us she would be speaking about shame and vulnerability, you couldn’t help but uncomfortably wince, why?

Dr. Brown spent 10 years studying vulnerability and shame and assured us we can’t truly learn ‘how-to’ be happy if we don’t first deal with the issues that are holding us back. Her insight struck a chord with me. Getting the most out of the experience would require me to dig deep to my most personal, uncomfortable and vulnerable places.

In no way do I intend to re-teach her session but merely share some valuable lessons I learned. She began by explaining the difference between shame and guilt – how guilt is a focus on behaviour (“It was wrong for me to cheat”) and shame is a focus on self (“I am an idiot for cheating”). Already I began to examine my self talk and how I blamed myself in certain situations.

“Shame corrodes the part of us that wants to be better.”

Brown spoke of how prevalent shame is in day to day life. Many of us have no idea when we are shaming others or that certain adverse reactions we feel are from someone shaming us. What shames us tends to be derived from our conditioning and childhood as she explained, “children store shame as trauma”.

“Shame is the threat of being unlovable.”

She came to a part of her presentation where I began to see shame in an entirely different way. Brené explained shame was about managing perception. The way we want and do not want to be perceived is the number one solicitor of shame. It was all too prevalent in my life. In relationships, friendships and in my family I saw a pattern of constantly being disappointed by people. It wasn’t until this retreat that I realized I would get upset not because of something they did wrong, but because they didn’t live up to my expectations; expectations I unjustly imposed. I realized I needed to love the people in my life for who they are now – not for who I want them to be or foresee them becoming.

Something as simple as asking my partner to clean the counter would cause him shame and myself, anxiety and frustration. “You call this clean!?” – my common response to his cleaning abilities thinking I had clearly been wronged. In reflection, I was unfairly criticizing the way he best knows how to satisfyingly clean a counter; two different perspectives, equally as valid.

This was one of many revelations I had throughout the weekend thanks to her sessions. I love our capability as humans to constantly learn, grow and transform.

I am grateful for change agents, positively transforming and inspiring people’s lives.