The Sitcom Cringe

Past glory may be uplifting, but failure is what makes you grow.

I’m really proud of a talk I did in Victoria BC at Social Media Camp a few weeks ago. Re-watching the video is weird– there are good parts where I feel I was doing well, and bad parts where I was slower. Being a perfectionist means you’re always thinking of what you could have done better, of course, but largely I think it was a good show.

But here’s what’s interesting. While I watch the bad parts, I still cringe, like they’re happening right now. It’s like watching an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, it’s horrible. I’ve watched clips like this many times before, and I always get that feeling–the sitcom cringe.

Of course it’s absolutely useless to cringe during one of these moments. But we can’t help it, even if it’s not real. Eventually, it started giving me a feeling like “ok, clearly it wasn’t that bad. I survived, didn’t I?”

I have a theory: the more you review past failure, the more it strengthens you. If I read old blog posts from 5 years ago, I realize what a train wreck I was then. I have access to the exact feelings, the writing/audio/video, how badly I dressed… I have access to it all. And yet, I made it, I handled it fine. I made it. So now, it’s just a big joke.

Go take a look at some of your old posts. You can go to your blog, or Facebook, or whatever else you use. Listen to one of your old podcasts. Look back at what’s happened, and what you’ve become since then.

We never see growth happen, but it does. Look back at yourself. I think you’ll find it relieving.





7 responses to “The Sitcom Cringe”

  1. Dan Dashnaw Avatar

    Interesting perspective…

    I have mixed feelings about using ‘negative’ past performances as references for inspiration. Learning from mistakes is important, of course, but reenforcing negative feelings by repeatedly re-experiencing past blunders can lead to questionable psychological consequences. My feeling is that the relief you describe by recognizing that ‘you’ve made it out ok’ can easily be overshadowed when intentionally feeding your self-doubt demons. Such a practice certainly substantiate the ever-looming belief that you’re a failure who will never be good enough, if you’re not careful. 😉

  2. Colleen Clifford Avatar

    I’ve got my share of “classics” that should never really see the light of day again. But, strangely, for me it works in the opposite direction, too. I look back on some of the papers I wrote in college and HATED — and reading them now I am AMAZED at how good they were.

    So am I really that bad a judge of my own work in the moment, or do my tastes and opinion on what constitutes good writing change as I age? Both…?

  3. John McLachlan Avatar

    For me, it’s a tossup. I do agree with Dan Dashnaw that too much focus on these past failures could lead to problems.

    I recently went back 30 years and read some journal entries I made. WOW. Who was that guy? Well, in fact, I still am that guy and it is interesting to see how far I’ve come, but at some point, it’s kind of useless.

    I think of Bob Dylan’s line from the song “She Belongs To Me” which goes “she’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist, she don’t look back.” A lot to be said for it.

  4. Corey Koehler Avatar

    Great advice! I am a musician and I’ve been doing this for awhile. Many times what you thought was a great performance wasn’t so great after listening – and you learn from it. But also a perceived bad performance highlights something that you thought was a train wreck but actually works out great and becomes a new addition to future performances. In the end it adds to your confidence level which in turn adds to your overall performance/growth. Thats my two cents anyway.

  5. Ryan G Avatar

    Yup so true. In high school I started writing song lyrics and poems but shortly after high school I trashed all my writings b\c I just didn’t relate to them anymore. I regretted trashing them and now I try to keep everything I so that I can go back and learn from them as you suggest. It’s amazing how much our perceptions and awareness can change in just a few months time. In most cases, we ourselves might be the only one that detects a change.

  6. Caio Avatar

    Well, a teacher once told me something very interesting: “If you want to know, to be sure, that something you wrote is good or not, you have to keep it safe somewhere hidden from everybody and especially from you, then, after some time, you take it back and read it, then you will know the truth, I mean, If it’s ridiculous or not”.

    But I’ve done it before, and seriously, it doesn’t work for me, I always have the feeling that I was incredibly ridiculous!

  7. Chris Burdge Avatar

    Julien, we are usually our own worst critics. I suppose that’s a good thing. Someone once said an unexamined life is not worth living. We learn and we grow.

    Me, I loved your talk as much as the first one I saw last January. And I look forward to hearing you again. You are one interesting dude and have much to share. Until then…

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