Years ago I was asked to step in and be a rehearsal pianist for a musical in our local community. I have trouble saying no to desperate people so I relented. They brought me the music the day before and my heart dropped deep into my belly. Unfamiliar and very jazzy, the notes laughed at me from the page. I practiced many hours before the evening arrived and I knew I was going into a disaster situation. Even after practicing I had little feeling for how this music should sound.
When I walked into the theater I felt the electric energy of a wired and demanding director. There was likely no mercy in this man. He did not greet me; he just gave an order on what page I was to begin. I felt my face flush, my pulse race, and all the times I failed at accompanying the piano came rushing through me like a freight train. He stopped me at some point and announced that I should only play the melody line because my rhythm was messing everyone up.
The evening lasted an eternity and to this day I feel the flush of shame. I have played this scene in my head too many times to admit. I was pleasing a relative stranger and completely vulnerable to failure.
The red flag that I was headed into a shame storm was the last minute request of an unknown piece of music. I don't sight read well enough to survive. I have learned to respect my limits as a musician. This means I still try new things but in a healthy working environment.
The gifts of shame can be paralyzing. I find them in stark contrast to the Gifts of Imperfection. While one leaves you in fear, the other bolsters courage. While one moves to estrangement, the other teaches compassion. While one promotes apathy, the other brings connection to people and our life's work. Beware of giving and excepting the gifts of shame.