by Melissa Tagg
I received an email several months ago I wish I could forget. But I can’t forget it, so I guess writing about it must be the next best thing. LOL!
But seriously…this email took me off guard. It was from a reader of one of my books, and she had—gasp!—found a typo in the book. And she. was. angry. Angry enough to write me a ranting, mean, and weirdly personal email and tell me she wasn’t sure if she was even going to finish reading the novel. This one little typo thoroughly ruined the story for her.
I wish I could say my first response was to brush it off. Laugh about it. Maybe even pray for the lady. Because, after all, if a typo in a book could make her this angry, it’s very possible there was some other troubling thing going on in her life…
But no, my reaction was not to shrug or laugh or pray.
My initial reaction was to shrivel up a little inside. To feel awful. To hop on a mental treadmill of “How did this happen?” and “Why’s she mad at me? This book went through my publisher’s editors and proofreaders, too!” and “How many other people have seen this and mentally mocked me?”
And the worst: “Why do you always rush things, Melissa? Why don’t you do a better job at stuff? If you just would’ve slowed down and read the book one time, you might’ve caught this. It’s so dumb that this happened. You’re so dumb.”
And there it is. That sneaky little thing called shame.
I read a book recently called Daring Greatly by the amazing Brene Brown. If you’d asked me before reading this book if I ever struggled with shame, I’d probably give you a pat, “Oh, probably, at times. Don’t we all?” sort of answer.
But Daring Greatly opened my eyes to the reality of shame as a major human emotion. It’s not just feeling guilty for doing a bad or ridiculous or stupid thing. Shame is actually believing—somewhere, possibly deep down—that I’m a bad or ridiculous or stupid person.
Big, huge life mistakes cause us to feel shame.
But so do those everyday, seemingly innocuous little things—like a typo in a book.
Or the number on a scale. Or a mistake at work. Or an embarrassing flub during a speech. Or a lack of a “plus one” at a wedding. Or an impulsive, passive-aggressive comment you wish you could take back.
This typo and the resulting email brought a flood of humiliation that I now recognize as shame. But as I think about it now, a quote from Daring Greatly comes back to me. Brown is talking about shame resilience and she says:
“Shame resilience is the ability to say, ‘This hurts. This is disappointing, maybe even devastating. But success and recognition and approval are not the values that drive me. My value is courage and I was just courageous. You can move on, shame.’”
Writing a book is courageous. Putting my heart on the page over and over for readers to either love or hate or something-in-between is courageous. Am I really going to let one reader’s oddly intense reaction to a typo take away from that?
The things we do each day, the ways we show up at work, at home, and in the world around us—they’re sprinkled with courageous moments. We beat shame, whether big or small, by valuing those authentic, courageous moments rather than success or approval or the opinions of other people around us.
Like Brene says, we can tell shame to move on. It’s a choice we make—what to value and what not to.
For the record, once I got over my initial shame-filled embarrassment of that email, I was able to laugh a little. And I eventually wrote a polite response, as my Midwestern manners dictated.
But then…I deleted the reader’s email. 🙂
Award-winning author Melissa Tagg is a former reporter, current nonprofit grant writer and total Iowa girl. She writes romantic comedies in the banter-filled style of her favorite 1930s and 40s classic films. Her books have made both the Publisher’s Weekly Top Ten and Amazon bestselling lists. When she’s not writing she can be found hanging out with the coolest family ever, watching old movies, and daydreaming about her next book. Melissa loves connecting with readers on her website and on Facebook and Instagram.
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