The art of embarrassmentMay 1 2012
Misjudgments, mistakes and sheer stupidity account for many of my foibles. The truth is, being mortified is pretty much second nature to me.
I hang my hat on the notion that intent is everything. If only it were enough.
I remember back when I was 7, I was in catechism class and my tummy hurt so badly. Despite repeated acts of waving my arm and asking for a bathroom pass, the teacher was not sympathetic (nuns … don’t even get me started!) so there I sat. I thought that if I could eke out a tiny little silent fart, it would get me by. It was the only survival instinct I had and I went for it. Needless to say my attempt was far from tiny or silent. The sound and the smell ripped through the room like an atom bomb. It’s hard to bounce back from something like that when you’re 7. I still cringe and wince when I think about it.
Then there was the time when in an attempt to surprise my (then) husband, I wrapped myself in saran wrap, put a bow on my head and waited for him to come home. That was about the time I realized I couldn’t walk, I had wrapped my legs together and I couldn’t sit down. It was also the moment that we had a power failure in August in the Valley. By the time my husband got home (about an hour of waiting), I was a smelly ball of sweat that had swelled under the wrapping. We had to cut it all off as the moisture made it impossible to unwrap me (thanks for nothing Cosmopolitan Magazine!). We headed off to the emergency room for the prickly heat that covered 90% of my stinky body. I cling to the fact that my intent was awesome.
Later in years, I remember walking out on stage to deliver a keynote presentation to a room of 150 people only to later discover that the back of my skirt was tucked in to the top of my panty hose and there was a trail of toilet paper hanging from my underwear. Yeah. That wasn’t awesome.
Embarrassing moments are non-discriminating. Age, gender, financial status; we all fall into the pit of humiliation at one point or another. Another indisputable fact is that they help to mold us and define our limits and abilities.
I remember my 7 year old daughter choreographing a musical extravaganza in our backyard for the family and our neighbors. She and her best friends had practiced and planned for weeks. During the performance she took a hell of a tumble off the small trampoline and landed on her face. Stunned, she paused for a brief second then hopped to her feet, extended her arms above her head and yelled to the top of her lungs, “Ta-daaaaaah!” That’s what I’m talking about.
Eventually we learn a lot every time we do goofy things that we later realize we should have known better. All the instances I have had the bravery and insanity to share with you instilled in me an uproarious sense of humor about myself and a bounce back quality that has served me well throughout the years.
If you never venture out of your box, you’ll never humiliate yourself. I’d rather have the humiliation than the box.
I have found that there is tremendous value in the act of being embarrassed. If you can find your way through it to hold your head high, you’re way ahead of the game of life and anything that it can (and will) throw at you.
Fear of being embarrassed or humiliated is what stops so many of us from pursuing the careers, the people, the events we want in our lives. There’s a reason that public speaking is the second biggest fear (dying is the first) that most people harbor. We are so afraid of making a fool of ourselves that we don’t even try. What could be sadder than that?
In being my own best friend, I have found that I am often my own worst enemy. I think that’s true for most of us. Feeling the caution but not listening to the fear is an art form that embarrassment and humiliation teaches us very well.
I can guarantee that my days of doing stupid things are far from over. But I’m comforted by the fact that I have never allowed my failures, faux-paus and misjudgments to hold me down or keep me back.
Like my father always said: never let them see you sweat. They never have.