“Excuse me while I remove my foot from my mouth”… This sentence has come to mind many times in my life. I am a veritable master at saying the right thing at the wrong time. Or to stumble into a situation where I say something that makes people look at me like I might as well have been wearing a polka dot purple pony suit! And the feeling in my stomach – well it is like a butter churn takes up residence in there and started churning! I am also the very fortunate owner of skin that gets flushed bright red on such occasions. So not only do I now stand out by my actions or my words – I am now also beaming in glowing red from my crown to my neck. Real inconspicuous, right?
Well, it is my lot in life. Being a blasting six feet tall I am not a discreet and non-descript woman. My hair is usually catching the rays of the sun and when all purple/red/gold colors are activated – well, you get the point. Add to it what my High School year book described as my “arm, boob, and booty” movements – I am not someone that is easily overlooked.
A typical experience from my childhood exemplifies this feature of mine to stick out like a sore thumb: I was with my parents at a classical concert in a big hall. I was wearing my favorite PINK pants, and a pink and white striped shirt (yes those tasty early 70’s). I had decided that the sound was not good where we sat – or I wanted to see better – so much to my mother’s horror – I decided to find a vantage point along the side of the hall. I leaned my left shoulder up against the wall, sticking my 11 year old belly and hips out to the side. It was a comfortable pose – and I could see and hear fine. Standing there, I noticed my mother trying to get my attention. She was being discreet about it – and I figured that she just wanted me to come back and sit down. So I ignored her. The poor woman! Having me as a daughter must have been a challenge on so many fronts! And then I noticed that people were starting to look at me, snicker, and whisper, tap their neighbor, whisper, laugh with a hand over their mouth, etc. I was starting to feel the familiar burning in my cheeks. I wonder what they were laughing at. I stood there with my cheeks on fire, my pink outfit glowing in the semi-lit hall. A sudden impulse made me look down – and there it was: My zipper was wide open and one could see the white underwear underneath! The horror show churning in my stomach reached unbearable heights; I had embarrassed my mother, had made a fool out of myself, and had shown the whole wide world what an idiot I was! Those were my thoughts as I ran to the restroom to fix myself up. Slinking back into my seat later, I felt a whole chorus of self-blame pulsate through my being.
And this kind of thing happens regularly in my life. Always has, always will.
As I have gotten older, it has become clear to me that it is not what happens to me – or even what perceived mistakes I make – it is totally and completely about what I take them to mean. If I look at the incident with the pink pants – well – I gave people a good laugh in an otherwise mediocre concert. It was my perception that made the moment embarrassing. My purple/pink/gold complexions were only embarrassing, because I did not see the humor in the situation myself.
I have an internal checklist I use now, whenever I get ready to remove foot from mouth – or start beating myself up about something I did that I thought made me look or sound foolish. I will share it with you here:
- Did I intend to hurt someone with my actions/words? (If answer is “no” I move on)
- What were my intentions?
- How can I better my chances of expressing those intentions in the future?
This removes the guilt and the feeling of “being stupid” pretty much every time. Of course if the answer is “yes” to the first question, it is a completely different kind of inner assessment I conduct! I will share that one with you another day….
It is amazing how much relief there can be in forgiving ourselves for our own imperfections. To move even further than just forgiving; to actually find joy in learning from everything that happens to us: The good, the bad and the ugly all have components that are our teachers. I think looking at ourselves as (at times funny) works in progress – and not as completed and static expressions of perfection is very liberating. Thomas Watson said: “To succeed double your error rate!” Hey – with that definition I am edging closer to success every day!
I would love to hear what you think – and if you have a funny story – that was embarrassing at the time, I’d love for you to share it. Or share anything else that comes to mind in the comments…