So here’s a fun fact about me: I embarrass myself a lot. Tripping on the street, spilling a drink in a restaurant, dropping a medicine ball at the gym and watching it roll straight through an open door into a Zumba class, threatening the life of an eighty year old woman whose sight is compromised by her neon sweatband– these things happen to me.
When I was teaching at the University of Utah, I taught an entire class–the first class of the semester–with the back of my skirt unzipped. And, yes, I used the chalkboard frequently. I exposed my bright blue underwear to about twenty-five mostly Mormon undergraduates.
When I went to UVA, I accidentally ran into an old man on the street. I apologized, had a very pleasant five-minute chat with him, left the conversation assuming that he was senile and perhaps had Alzheimer’s–poor crazy old man!–only to find out, upon logging onto my computer a few hours later, that I had been speaking to our university’s president. Maybe the condescending head-pat at the close of our meeting had been too much.
I once asked a friend-of-a-friend (who, in my defense, I hadn’t seen in a few years) to tell me about the process of adopting her baby boy, as I oohed and awed at her clearly Asian baby in the stroller, only to be told that she had actually delivered this baby girl via C-section. There’s just no graceful way of exiting that situation.
So when I started my new job a few weeks ago, I made a promise to myself that I would not do anything embarrassing. I checked and rechecked all buttons and zippers, brushed my teeth between meals, and memorized everyone’s names by heart. Things were going well. And then I walked into a glass wall.
(A side note: interior designers must hate people. Why do they, after so many years, continue to insist on putting floor-to-ceiling glass panes in the middle of nowhere?)
After walking into the glass wall, I immediately initiated my embarrassment-damage-control routine, which I’ve crafted and refined over the years. It’s very efficient for diffusing embarrassing workplace situations, so I’ll share it with you:
- Laugh at yourself. Make everyone around you seem very comfortable laughing at you too (they already are, so if you make them feel comfortable about it, you’ll avoid awkward, insincere apologies later).
- Tell everyone about it. Logical thinking indicates that if you were really embarrassed, you wouldn’t want everyone to know. So by telling everyone, you downplay your own embarrassment and come across as a super confident person who is impervious to the physical and emotional consequences of walking into a glass wall. Also, like the laughing in #1, everyone is already going to talk about it, so let them hear it straight from the source.
- Get over it as quickly as possible. This can be hard. I tend to internalize these things. But whenever I start thinking about (reliving) an embarrassing moment, I remind myself: you literally never have to experience that moment again. That’s the only good thing about living in a world without time machines.