Not My Best Moment

Embarrassing episodes are an inevitable part of social interaction, but given the right attitude, they can be transformed from a source of humiliation to a source of humor. There are two messages that I want to convey about embarrassing moments. The first is that when you embarrass yourself, other people don’t care that much. The second is that much can be gained by embracing these moments.

On the first point, even things that feel devastating in the moment are often forgotten ten minutes later. Sophomore year, newly placed in Adams House and eager to make friends, I made it a point to share meals with as many people as possible. One time sitting down at a full table of unfamiliar faces, I knocked over my glass of milk, spilling it all over the table. Mortified, I picked up my tray and left. It wasn’t my best moment, but ten minutes later, I was three tables over joking about the incident with some newly made friends.

I have no idea who was at the table where I spilled the milk, and I’m sure they have no memory of the incident. And if people don’t remember you spilling milk on them, they certainly won’t remember that your shoes didn’t match your outfit last Tuesday or that awkward time when you mistook someone for someone else. This is liberating. It means we are free to experiment; we can try and err all we want as we seek to calibrate our behavior.

The proper way to handle a situation in which someone points out something awkward about you is to embrace it. Consider it the alternative of being defensive. Imagine being in a group, and someone says “oh, all Robert ever does is study” hoping to get some laughs. The last thing I want to do is say, “no that’s not true, I do lots of other things” and then trying to enumerate them. Trying to justify myself in such a context is simply inappropriate. You should feel free to carry on the joke with “no that’s not true, I also practice the violin and participate in quiz bowl” (said with a smile and a pause where the comma is). By agreeing with the attack and taking it one step further, you demonstrate a healthy sense of security and humor. These little things, the willingness to embarrass yourself, make you approachable. They make you human. Responding with confidence and humor makes you fun.

And once you’ve gotten over your fear of embarrassment, so much else follows. You can take your clothes off in front of someone without worrying about impressing them. You can eat a meal in the cafeteria by yourself without feeling like a loser. You can try out for cheerleading without wondering if people will think you’re gay.

Freshman year, spurred by the semi-serious suggestion of my roommate, I tried out for the cheer team. I went to two practices and made more friends than I have through practically any other extracurricular activity. There are lessons to be learned from throwing a girl by her butt over your head that you just can’t learn anywhere else. And the only thing between them and us is a thin wall of self-consciousness.

-Robert