Are there times when, overwhelmed by the weight of world news, you need a moment of lightness or levity? If so, and if you can laugh at yourself, just think of some of the biggest embarrassments or mistakes you recovered well from.
As long as no one was hurt, mistakes and foibles that may have been horrifying when they occurred can be quite funny at some distant date.
Do you need some inspiration, and maybe some laughs, to get you started? If so, here are three stories from my “Embarrassments I Survived” Tour:
I was in the first month of my first job after college one bright June day. Nervous about my first week-long training for a class full of elementary teachers, after the warm up and greeting, I reached up to pull down a projection screen.
Suddenly, it crashed to the floor. Somehow, I had pulled it off the wall.
The class and I were both stunned. Speaking for myself, I was:
- amazed that it was even possible for me to pull a projection screen off a wall
- wondering what to do next about that screen suddenly on the floor
- embarrassed to have done this in front of a room full of people I’d be teaching for the rest of the week.
I collected myself, then joked, “It seems I have much greater strength than I knew!” They laughed. We all relaxed. Then we adapted, projecting the slides on the wall for the remainder of that day.
I once spent, oh, an hour or so with mascara running down my face in rivulets on the sidelines of a high-attendance Big 8 conference college football game. It was early in my career when I was a freelance sports photographer on the weekends. This was a high precipitation day with the temperature teetering on the edge of freezing, and snowflakes turning to rain almost as soon as they fell.
At some point in the second half, I climbed the many steps of the stadium to the restroom, facing hundreds of fans as I climbed, step by step. I noticed many of them were, strangely, staring at me.
Once in the restroom, out of habit, I took a cursory glance at myself in the mirror, expecting to verify that nothing was out of place. Instead I saw a Halloween mask-like face staring back at me. Black streaks were running from the bottom of my eyes down past my chin. It was a bit like the famous Edvard Munch painting, “The Scream.” Horrified, I finally understood why so many people had been looking at me strangely as I climbed the many, many stadium steps.
All I could do at that point was to laugh at myself. I paused for a moment to collect myself, cleaned up my face, and headed back to the sidelines.
An error appeared in the title of the lead article of a scientific journal for which I was the brand new assistant editor.
That’s not the worst of it. — The erroneous word was “menstrual.”
And that embarrassing error went ALL around the world because this was the top scientific journal in its field. I discovered the error in the first few minutes of the first morning back to work after my honeymoon. And while the error ultimately escaped correction, it had not escaped detection in the rounds of printer’s proofs. I’d caught it before the magazine was printed, and called it to the printer’s attention. But he had apparently not taken me all that seriously.
We both learned.
The correct word, by the way, was “menstrua.” And while that word, from my perspective, was an unfortunate and risky word choice on the part of the authors, it was scientifically correct in the way it was being used in the title. “Menstrual” was not. So back to work on that first day home from the honeymoon, I took one look at the fresh issue of the scientific journal for which I was responsible for successful production and distribution and was, naturally, horrified.
What did I do next? Well, thankfully, my new manager was on vacation and didn’t catch the embarrassing error before I did. I started by calling the authors of the article to apologize and assure them we would print a correction. Then I called the scientific editor of the journal, a world-renowned expert in the field who was a professor at the University of Wisconsin. He laughed in the midst of the dilemma because he, too, had thought “menstrua” was a risky word choice, and he could see I was doing my best to clean up the mess I had not caused. And then I called printer.
I let him know that I’d meant what I’d said when I’d said, “Here are the corrections. MAKE SURE you catch this one…the erroneous “L” on the lead title.”
It was ultimately probably a blessing in disguise, for while my predecessor in that job had apparently been fairly casual about the journal, the printer realized quickly that on my watch, we would be working to high standards. And we would expect to, and would work hard to get it right. He realized that, like Horton in “Horton Hatches the Egg,” I meant what I said, and I said what I meant, and we would get along fine as long as he understood that. Oh, and by the way, I took friendly hassling from the scientific editor in Madison, WI for the rest of the time that we worked together. He thought the whole circumstance was ultimately VERY funny because he could see that I took my new job seriously and would do what I could to protect the results of his hard work as the editor of this world-renowned journal.
Well, there are more embarrassments and mistakes I’ve made that I could share, but I’ll leave it at that. The point, of course, is that the humility and, ultimately, the humor that these experiences bring every time I recall them is always a good and refreshing thing.
What about you? What are your “Embarrassments I Survived” stories? And what did they ultimately help you learn or do? Whatever they are, always remember that last part…you survived them!