Astute readers, or anyone who’s known me for more than about 12 minutes, may be aware that I don’t have the world’s best self-esteem. I’m definitely improving in that area but occasionally things happen to remind me I’m possibly not quite there yet. And possibly completely clueless about where “there” even is.
Recently, you may remember, I’ve had some interesting dealings with telecommunications companies. Happily it’s all been sorted now, but my reaction at the beginning was curious. When I decided to sign up for the phone plan, which includes free broadband, I made sure to ask lots of questions because I didn’t want to sign up for the wrong thing. Then a few days later I realised the account hadn’t been set up properly, and when I rang to have it fixed I was told even more things that were wrong with the account. My immediate reaction to this was not, as you might expect, “Oh great. The company has stuffed up.” No, my reaction was, “Oh no, I’VE stuffed up”… followed by feelings of embarrassment and shame, and a strong desire to make sure no one found out what a fool I’d been.
That’s strange, isn’t it? If it hadn’t been for the fact that I had to wait a couple of hours to get home and double-check my contract I might not have even particularly noticed how I was reacting. But in that couple of hours I convinced myself that I’d asked the wrong questions, misunderstood what I was told, misread the information on the website (even though I was looking right at it and it said exactly what it was supposed to say), missed some fine print and generally just made a massive and expensive mistake. So the [il]logical next step from there was to decide that I would never tell anyone about this mistake; I would simply wear the extra expense and pretend it’s what I’d wanted all along. Because it ceased to be about a mistake; it became about me. Anyone can make a mistake, but when I make a mistake like that it somehow proves that I am the person I fear I have always been. I’m stupid, and pathetic, and worthless – and stupid, pathetic, worthless people do stupid things like signing up for the wrong phone plan. So, obviously, I did not want my stupidity to be exposed.
Of course it turned out that I was right in the first place, and the company had made a mistake. I was so relieved to have been spared exposure that I wrote a long and rather nasty complaint letter to the company; a letter which I now regret, since I know it was written out my insecurities and not out of the righteous indignation that I pretended when I wrote it.*
This story ended well, in that the mistake wasn’t mine, but what if it had been my error? I’m sad to say that I probably wouldn’t be blogging about it. I’d probably be keeping it a careful secret, fearful of someone finding out my mistake. Because it’s really all about fear. I fear that the scared, insecure little person inside, the one who feels worthless, is the real me. And when I make a mistake, or think I have made a mistake, that fear grows into a huge monster who manages to devour my perspective. (My counsellor would call this ‘catastrophising’, but I refuse to believe that’s a real word.) The other day, when I was caught up in fear about this mistake and a couple of other things (all of which I blew way out of all proportion, naturally), this blog post came up in my reader: The One Question I Ask When I’m Afraid. You’ll have to hop over to the link to see the question (because it’s worth reading in context). I’ll just say, it helped. And continues to help. I still fear – because I’m human, and that’s what we do – but that one little question is starting to change my perspective.
*For the record, the company hasn’t even acknowledged receipt of my complaint. As someone who worked in a complaints department for 7 years, I’m not overly impressed… but that’s another issue entirely.