Escaping the Prison of Shame
How to Get Past the Guards and Breathe Again
I’ve never been much of a gambler. A strategist, a risk-taker, yes, but the only odds I liked to play were ones I could control.
My wife and I lost an unborn child last winter. Pregnancy and life itself is full of such low-frequency risks that we forget about: driving, eating at cheap restaurants, swimming, lighting a candle… Many things carry risks of disaster or loss.
Life is vulnerable. Precious.
Since that tragedy we have taken a few months to grieve and decided it was vital for us to both come out from behind the curtain, so to speak. She and I are both writers who have dabbled a bit here on Medium, but we plan to be around quite a bit more in the future.
For my business, I’ve always let my wife be the pretty face. You can see why. She published a lot of the emails to our mailing list and did the talking with our strategic partners.
In this season of grief, she couldn’t keep it up. I decided I’d rather be with her then try to pretend to be her like nothing was wrong. The internet has enough liars, I didn’t need to blend in with that crowd.
When we picked up the old threads and returned to our keyboards, we talked a lot about that. Being real, willing to share. I need to write more for my own business, not just writing the courses and products and showing up to the consulting appointments.
I am the expert, but I’m wearing the business like a mask.
Taking off that mask is scary. I like to hide behind research and storytelling arts and fictional universes to dazzle and distract. I like to hedge bets against my charisma failing, I like to be judged on my work and usefulness the way I always was growing up. I don’t like being known.
It’s because I’m ashamed of myself.
When I was young, somewhere in the hazy preteen years of 11 or 12, I started to write stories with my friends. Not short ones to show my parents and teachers, but two grand epics, tens of thousands of words as I created worlds and cultures with wild abandon.
My friends just kept asking, “What happens next?” Since I never knew, I wrote to find out. By high school I had written two books.
And destroyed them.
Was it a terrible loss for the world? Were they good literature? No, but I put my soul into them and I was terrified of being known, discovered through my writing.
High school was a fresh start. I started a new book. That one is finished, and it has sat for over a decade now in its little file folder, with the first ten pages covered in green ink to match the red comments my English teacher kindly left through the whole work.
I stopped working on it towards the end of my junior year, after the battery of standardized tests drove home the reality that I would be heading off to college to get a real job.
By this point, everyone told me I was a gifted writer, a storyteller that could inspire and educate. But what I was actually being told was “go to college and get a real job.”
Thus began my decade-long mistake. The source, or maybe the continuation of my shame.
I was gifted, but what I heard about being a writer — a starving, penniless writer — made me turn away from my talents and the greatest joy of my life in search of money. Hilariously, college drained any money I did have so that by the time I realized my mistake I had to scrap and scrape along.
Jordan Aspen opened my eyes to what I had been doing during those shameful, wasted years.
Writing, communication as a whole, is vital. Experts in communication aren’t destined for starvation. Writing is an incredibly useful talent, and as you work your way up in a company you use communication skills more and more exclusively.
Everything starts with writing, and I’d given it up.
When I picked up my pen again I was rusty, but I looked back at that childhood story I kept. I could see my gift, feel it in my chest.
I’m writing to you now because I want you to avoid my shame.
Invest in your talents. Use your strengths and gifts. Invest in yourself and make the life you know you truly want. Life is too short for regrets.
Call it a gamble if you need the excuse. What you might lose is nothing compared to the gain, and you are the cards in your hand.
Statistically, I spent 15% of my life running away from a “useless” talent. I wasted years of education and piles of cash chasing a degree and life I didn’t even want because I was too spineless to go after what I wanted.
I was too ashamed to go after the life I wanted.
See, shame is addictive. It will take you years to escape on your own. It may already have cost you years and joys. For me, I can’t fathom what it cost me monetarily as I returned to writing a decade later than I could have started. Who knows where my business would be!
You need to be more ambitious than I was. You need to work hard to get what you want, what you actually want. If you don’t take control, your life will be chaos. You’ll be dragged this way and that and back again.
Bet on yourself. Make a move forward in faith. “Don’t doubt,” as the book of James says, “for the one who doubts is like a wave on the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.”
If you don’t have a vision, if you want to be ambitious and escape whatever your shame-of-choice is, schedule a call with me. I’d be honored to talk you through where you are and help you figure out what’s next.
It took a great grief to get me to let go of the last bit of shame and admit to what I need to do. I have held myself back for too long. You don’t have time to waste. Nobody does.
I’m Paul Aspen. Nice to meet you. I help busy parents take control of the chaos around them, starting in the home. Too many parents don’t ask for help because they are so focused on putting their little ones first. I aim to help them.
Parent or not, I beg you: For your sake and the people around you, invest in yourself. Whoever you’re helping, you can’t run on empty for long. Build yourself up, get strong.
No amount of usefulness or helping other people will get you out of the prison of shame. You have to value yourself. You must come to recognize your worth and value while admitting the truth of the shameful acts from your past.
Prisoners often use their time to work out, To build themselves up stronger. In the prison of shame, it’s not just the smart play; it’s the only way out.