Successful Futurist Robert Scoble found his voice to speak of his Silent Shame. This is his story
Republished in full with permission
The Silent Shame
I am about to share something very dark and deep about myself that I’ve been hiding from everyone for 40 years and I am doing that to help other people who have gone through the same thing and also help myself become a better person.
It all started in a dusty pickup truck about 40 years ago. My favorite person in the world, a coach and trusted family friend, was teaching me to drive. We were on a dirt road somewhere. The details don’t matter and, anyway, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to forget. He was so much cooler than my parents, taking me to amusement parks, hiking trips, and more. Or so I thought at the time.
But that day he put his hand on my crotch as I was grinding gears in his truck and said
“let’s keep this as our little secret, shall we?”
Truth was I liked the attention and even the secrecy. There’s a reason why apps like Secret are so addictive to some.
No one I had liked so much had ever paid attention sexually to me before and it was a thrill. Later in life as I’ve started talking about this day some of my friends said “I would have punched him.” But truth is they don’t pick kids who will punch back. I had been “groomed” by a pedophile.
Along with the thrill, though, a deep shame came. I knew what we were doing was wrong someway. I started wishing I had punched him and run out of his truck. The fact that I didn’t makes me feel weak. It’s one reason why I seek a bit of power in my life and am enjoying the role I hold in the industry. One guy wrote me once and said I was a narcissistic jerk. That hurt, but truth was he wasn’t far from the truth, he just didn’t know why. I was keeping a secret from everyone, and even trying to hide it from myself.
That day in the truck my childhood was stolen and I want it back.
I’ve been running from the shame ever since. Trying to erase those images from my brain. With every drug I can find. At first I took to running. Ever hear of a runner’s high? I ran three hours a day in high school and four marathons. It was a good drug, one I’m thinking of going back to except it takes so much time. Then I got into the drug of photography. Capturing someone else’s world helped me escape mine. I had several other sexual relationships with men (including a much older school teacher, who also had been abused as a child). They could tell I was a wounded animal (sometimes I catch myself doing that, I can usually pick out the other people who have shame in their heads). Those new relationships piled on the shame and I started craving structure and people who were “good” and had strict personal borders in my life.
I grew very religious back in the 1980s (learned my video skills as cameraman on a church TV crew). Prayer and praise actually are still among the most powerful drugs I’ve used to escape my shame. Later came work. Which I did as much as I could. Like 19 hours a day. I often can’t sleep because of the shame, so I get up and start answering email or looking at Facebook to escape the shame.
Still doing that drug, gave up the drug of religion for a variety of reasons which will have to wait for a future day to discuss.
And I’ve tried many of the other drugs, too. Coachella. New Orleans. Austin City Limits. Sex. The best food in the world. Being on the deck of an aircraft carrier. Getting a tour of the White House. Of Apple Computer when it was only one building. Having Siri be launched in my son’s bedroom.
New drugs still exist to try. Kite surfing and meditation are the two most attractive ones that I see friends doing.
All ways to escape the shame. Last week I visited the Jameson Distillery near Cork, Ireland, thanks to the F.ounders conference and having a magical experience. Why was it magical? Because the shame couldn’t be heard in my head.
Have you ever gotten drunk with some of the best entrepreneurs the world has ever known? I have, and damn, was it fun (which is how we got to the video of dancing and fun that we had in a traditional pub near Cork, Ireland). And, yes, alcohol helps me escape from the shame. Often I use it too much, which is something I’m struggling with. Also another post for a future day.
So why disclose my shame now, in such a public way? This is the scariest post I’ve ever done. It is the first time I’m really sharing myself at a deep level.
Well, first, when Tim Cook came out, that inspired me. He wrote that he hopes it helps one other kid deal with the inner turmoil that is our sexuality. It helped me. I understood when he said he wanted his privacy. It’s very uncomfortable to discuss our sexual selves, it breaks all sorts of social rules. Funny for a guy who is so public, huh? Even I have something I want to hide from all of you (and from myself, even).
One thing I worked through is how confusing this made my sexuality. At many points in my life I asked myself “am I gay?” Truth is I’m not attracted to most men, but once in a while that confusion springs forth. Let’s just say I’m mostly heterosexual. Maryam and I have a glorious sex life and that has helped me to heal as well.
The real reason I am sharing this now is I’ve learned several times I’m not alone. I’ve been telling this privately to friends and people who get close enough that I want to get real with and listening.
Quite a few of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs told me of their own shame and similar experiences they’ve had as kids.
You would be shocked at what they told me happened to them as kids. Some of their stories shock me and I’m not easily shockable. This post is for them, they are my heroes and if I get any credit for this post, the credit should go to them. They were brave enough to open up with me and talk about their shame and just how it’s driven them the way it drives me. If I had one dream other than seeing the next new thing it would be to remove the taboos that surround discussions of sex. We need to get there if we are gonna fix the “brogrammer” problems of how we treat women here. Really hard stuff, but it’s partly here because we can’t really discuss sex with each other and certainly not here on Facebook, right? If you are uncomfortable, I guarantee you I’m more uncomfortable with discussing such here.
Cindy Gallop’s words on that topic also encouraged me.
Others in the tech industry are dealing with other private shames. A close family member has a gambling addiction. He’s destroyed nearly everything he’s ever had (and he once had a lot) and is now trying to rebuild his life. I can see the shame in his eyes. It’s why we get along so well.
But it goes back to that secret shame.
Because I told no one for decades I wasn’t able to really deal with the shame properly. I did things I am further ashamed of. I’ve hurt people, including my own family members. My kids, for instance, don’t have a traditional dad to go and play baseball with. Partly because doing that reminds me too much of the man that stole my childhood. The coach and I played ball together.
My wife, Maryam, has dealt with the aftermath and sometimes I see the pain in her eyes as she sees me trying to escape the pain, often doing destructive, sometimes inappropriate, and hurtful things. Which deepens my shame.
She is a saint and forgives so quickly that it helps us both heal. I am sorry for the hurt I gave to Patrick’s mom as I was dealing with this shame, too. She helped me on my journey, but our marriage breaking up and the pain I brought to her added to my shame.
I keep people from really knowing me because of the shame. My relationship with family members and even trusted friends has never been close. Well, until Andy Grignon came into my life. He wasn’t treated well by Steve Jobs, so we compare our pain and that greatly helps me. Andy, you really are dear to me. Thank you!
This is why I am sharing it now. Next January I turn 50. This year I’ve been thinking back on my life and what I’ve done and seen just how deeply that day in the pickup truck affected me. As I look forward to the next decade, trying to be a better human being, I see that I can only be a better human being by not hiding my shame any longer.
I, like Tim Cook, hope it will help one person who is facing the secret shame and confusion that this kind of shame brings. Please don’t keep your secret as long as I kept mine. The only way to get your childhood back is to tell someone. Yes, I’ve seen a few therapists, they haven’t really helped because I can’t even be honest with them about the things I’ve done and the depths of my shame. I’ll go back now that I can tell the truth.
I wish I had talked to my parents or a counselor four decades ago. Not to punish those who do this but to help you deal with it in a healthier way than I often have. I have forgiven the man who stole my childhood, mostly. I don’t think of him, but I think of the experiences I never was able to have that my son is having now while he’s going to school in New York and discovering his own sexuality the regular way (Patrick, I love you, and you make me proud every day and I’m reliving my childhood partly through you as you fall in love and push yourself).
The man who did this to me was also abused as a child. He had his childhood stolen and was just trying to get his back, which is why this is such a hard cycle to break. I wish we could talk more about sexuality so we could get more people in this situation help like I’ve gotten help.
Last night I was talking with several people about why I love new things (in this case new kinds of music that usually piss people of my generation off, for a variety of reasons). New things are a drug and it’s my favorite drug. It’s why I want an Oculus Rift so badly.
That day did give me some gifts.
Empathy for people, especially those that are suffering in some way. It’s why I stop and am helpful to people suffering (and why I fit into Rackspace so well. Its culture is to be helpful, which is why we push ourselves to provide great service to companies and people).
It’s why I listen so patiently to so many pitches. The suffering in the eyes of the entrepreneurs who might be facing rejection and the pressure that comes from credit card balances that are getting higher catches me and I don’t want to be the one to add onto that struggle. Crushing the dreams of entrepreneurs comes with this job but I try to do everything I can to help them.
Every entrepreneur has stories of suffering if you ask. Several people told me they don’t understand how I can be so patient as we walked the floor of Web Summit (I’m often asked to take selfies or listen to pitches as I walk around these things, I always take the time to do it and hopefully tell them a story that gets them to laugh. Might be the only joy they get in the week. Sorry if I didn’t come up to that high bar in an interaction with you).
Anyway, as I get to the bottom of this post I feel a sense of relief. I can stop hiding my shame. A new phase of my life is about to begin. Thank you for being there for me. I’ve received so much love from all of you for such a long time that you’ve given me the bravery to discuss this. You have no idea how deeply I love each of you for giving me that gift and to the others who have given me such great experiences, which is one way you all are giving me my childhood back. Thank you!
One more thing, as I was walking through the airport toward Maryam I realized that this is why I don’t manage people and don’t start companies. I can’t trust people enough because of what that man stole from me that day. Writing this post helped me already with seeing a destructive set of behaviors toward others that I’ll work on fixing. Also, Maryam read this post and it already helped make our relationship deeper, and for that alone it’s worth all the risk of opening up to all of you and all the consequences that could come. Which is why I hid this shame from all of you all of these years.
Thank you Dublin and to Paddy Cosgrave and his team for giving me an extraordinary week and getting me to see myself in a whole new way.