The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines shame as a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety. Synonyms include humiliation, regret, disgrace, odium and reproach.

I think we are all guilty of feeling shame sometimes. Some of us feel it more than others. I often feel like I live my life in shame. A lack of self-esteem and/or pride in my accomplishments makes me feel unworthy. As a 35-year-old man, I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never really dated or the really shameful truth that I’m a virgin. [Isn’t that crazy? If I were a female, it might be seen as a symbol of purity, but as a guy, it makes me feel like a total loser, incapable of finding any woman to love me.]

Other people might feel shame for their lack of educational attainment, or their debt. Some people are shamed by their friends or family for the choices they’ve made in their life, perhaps especially if their family is religious. People are dis-communicated for having a child out of wedlock or for coming out as lesbian, gay or bisexual.

SNL Church Lady via Giphy

Popular culture has turned it into a joke, of sorts. The walk of shame is when someone is caught wearing the same clothes the following day after a night of an unplanned sexual encounter. The Urban Dictionary definition describes the walk of shame as “when someone leaves the home of a sexual escapade (quite possibly with someone you met the night before) in the morning; hair sticking out in all directions, lines on your face, and missing at least one article of clothing.”

Shame is also a weapon to be wielded against your detractors. To shame (v) someone can mean to best them in a competition, to disgrace them, or to cause them to feel guilty. Shame is an invisible force, with so much power to strike to the core of a person and make them feel unworthy of even the smallest appreciation from others.


Feeling shame can affect the way we live our lives, and especially how we spend our money. A lot of people would never be caught dead wearing store brand sneakers or workout clothes, so they pay 5x as much for the Nike, Under Armor, Adidas, or Lululemon version of the same thing. A 3-year-old Toyota Camry costs 1/3 of the sticker price of a new BMW (and will definitely be cheaper to maintain and probably will last longer), but there’s nothing sexy about rolling out of the dealership in a 2015 Camry with 45,000 miles on it. People will pay-up for an extra bedroom or for a specific school district (even when they don’t have kids) for the feeling of prestige that owning a 4-bedroom house in THE school district gives to them, meanwhile they pay much higher property taxes on top of the much higher sales price (financed for 30 years).

So, what can we do about these feelings of shame, inadequacy, and self-doubt? How can we fend off the urges to spend more for something showier that will cost more money in the short-term and possibly the long-term? By taking pride in your unique accomplishments and your path that led you to where you are today. Respecting yourself and knowing that there’s no one else like you in the whole wide world. Honoring yourself by following your own journey, not by trying to keep up with the Joneses or meeting the unrealistic expectations of others. Making conscious decisions about your present and your future, then mapping out or reverse-engineering a strategy to get you there. It will be much more fruitful than taking a backseat in your own life and watching in shame as everyone else seems to pass you by.

I think we should feel a modicum of shame when we make rash decisions or act foolishly, but we can take pride and feel honor by putting our best foot forward and making thoughtful, honest decisions in our daily lives.

  1. ❤️

    I’d have to say, the number one thing my parents somehow passed on to me is self confidence and the ability to own my life choices with very little shame. Not sure how, but hoping to pass that on to my kiddo as well.

    1. That’s awesome! I take pride in some things, but maintain this fog of shame about lots of others… Working on getting better about it, though!!

  2. What a great post Josh – and I agree, our culture and society is set up to shame and moreover shun those that don’t conform. I think we all need to do you bit to make the world as a whole a more welcoming place.

    1. I think I’ll write a follow-up to this with several real examples of shame I feel, for NO GOOD REASON at all! You’re so right, our society puts emphasis on some really dumb things, and glosses over some really important ones! Thanks for reading and for the comment!

  3. Wow Josh this is an amazing post. I don’t understand the concept of shaming others for their choices. . . My policy has always been “you do you”. Unfortunately not everyone agrees with that, and I’ve been shamed for my choices in the past. It can be hard to see that most of the people doing the shaming are really just projecting, but once you realize that it’s easier to rise above it.

    1. That’s so true about projecting… Reminds me of the line “the lady doth protest too much, methinks” from Hamlet. What are the shamers hiding behind their judginess?

  4. Our culture is beyond beautiful as well as one of the darkest examples of cruelty, it’s all perspective and who we surround ourselves with. Out of many posts that I’ve read, I’m choosing yours to share this with because while your post was great Josh, your tone and the way you write is excellent and hard to find!

    Before I discovered Fire🔥, I was driving the BMW, paying for the high rise, and spending money buying friendships (and while your stuck in that way of living, nothing feels like it will be enough…) however while we feel there are only a few of us, we have to remember that it was also humans and Mr. Money Mustache (😂) that discovered and shared the way to live Financially Independent and there is so many good relationships, times to have, and people to meet in that.

    Your 35, and I turned 23 yesterday but I’d be honored if you would follow me along my journey and speak into it Sir. I’m sure I have lots to learn from you.

    1. You are already wise beyond your years (happy belated birthday). I was driving the BMW until about 15 months ago. Bought it to impress a girl… Imagine that! 🙄 But now I’m much more impressed (personally) with my Hybrid Camry and the fuel economy it gets 🤑.
      Thanks for the comment and the kind words. I’m happy to hear when anyone gets something out of my writing!

      1. Of course! My journey started with seeing all of the unhappiness around me as well as in myself. Started playing the game of Life with the BMW – then took Financial Peace class and sold it – then bought a 2001 Toyota Corolla (to punish myself and lower my value system for a year) and just saved up and paid cash for a 2012 Toyota PriusC that gets 53 mpg in the city. Finally I have pride about driving a cheap paid off economic car! Got my values in check and now I take pride in my savings. 🤑

  5. Yup. I feel this. Brene Brown has written some really impactful things (to me anyway) about shame. I also spend a lot of time thinking about how I was definitely raised with good old fashioned Catholic guilt by my mom, but she also gave me a ton of confidence.

    One of the hardest things for me to see in the PF space is how people really do shame others. For a long time, I just stepped out of conversations about people who lived at home because there is only one narrative: “You’re a freeloading failure who lives at home OR you’re an independent successful person if you don’t.” For me (and for a lot of people!), living at home is the norm. Upset family if you move out before marriage, upset society if you don’t. Weird. Funny that when I finally wrote about it, it was so well received. And other people had similar experiences!

    There’s so much nuance and so many personal choices we miss when we bang the drum so loudly for any one thing. For a community of smart people, I think we’d be a whole lot smarter if we listened more.

    Thanks for writing this, and thanks for being you.

    1. I was definitely guilty of shaming people for living at home after college, since I was “responsible” and bought a house at 23… Little did I know that I’d be living back at home with Mom and Dad from age 26-28, whilst making a piddly little water and barely staying current on my mortgage. Definitely had a rude awakening, and now I commend people who had the foresight to stay at home a little while longer and socking away money or paying off student loans quickly. It’s such an excellent strategy, if all parties involved are ok with the arrangement to give the new grad a huge headstart on their finances!
      Thank you for always making me think and listen

  6. There’s something so important about recognizing the benefits and detriments of shame, and I think you really nailed it in your last paragraph. We should feel shame when we do something rash or for prestige.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: