Losing our shame and making more connections

We were at a wedding recently, and another guest asked me about dancing. “How do we learn dance moves?” he asked.

Aside: Let’s assume this conversation is paraphrased. Hypothetically speaking, he and I would not have been having this conversation if we hadn’t been enjoying ourselves. To wit:


A post shared by Josh Shear (@joshuanshear) on

“We’re born with them,” I said, “and we have to learn how to un-forget them.”

As we get older, we start to gain more of a sense of shame. And by “get older,” I mean as we age out of toddlerhood. Because really, we start getting ridiculed for nonconformity pretty early in our school careers.

By the time we’re teenagers, many people are afraid to stand out, and when they do something to “stand out,” usually they do it in groups. The success of Hot Topic points to this. It’s a place where nonconformists can go to conform to each other.

There are, of course, social benefits of conformity. We gain a sense of community. We feel accepted, perhaps even loved. If we conform really well, we get to be very popular. You can sell stuff. If you’re a true nonconformist, your creative output is too, well, weird for everyone else.

You can be different and pretty far out there — Kevin Kelley asserts that if you have 1,000 true fans who will buy whatever you do, you’re free to explore various avenues that will appeal to vastly different groups — but you still have to really resonate for 1,000 people.

I’ll bet if I handed you a pad of paper and a pen (and took your phone away), it would take you at least an hour to write down the names of 1,000 people you either know or have heard of (you’re unlikely to actually know 1,000 people, even if you can count that many people in your network).

Back to shame, and my wedding conversation.

“You look like you’ve got some moves,” he said.

“Nah,” I countered. “I just don’t care if anybody thinks I look silly.” Like this lady.

It’s true. I’m a goofball.

It’s not that I don’t care at all, just that I pick a few things about which I deeply care when it comes to people’s perceptions of me, and the rest of the time, I just want to have some fun. It’s the kind of thing that allows me to come up with creative solutions to some problems but not be able to see outside the box for others.

Brene Brown is a shame and vulnerability researcher. She finds that people who are willing to show vulnerability have empathy and form deeper connections with others.

That’s an oversimplification of her work, but if you want the 20-minute version, she does it much better than I do, so just watch her TED talk:

If you want more, listen to her discussion with Tim Ferriss or Chase Jarvis or Lewis Howes.

If you’re feeling blocked, or alone, or generally bad about yourself, go be silly. Or go cry. Find some vulnerability. Do it in public. That’s where we make our connections.


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