Quote of the Day: Embarrassment

 

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. — Steve Jobs

The rate at which a person can mature is directly proportional to the embarrassment he can tolerate. — Douglas Engelbart

For my first show at ‘SNL’, I wrote a Bill Clinton sketch, and during our read-through, it wasn’t getting any laughs. This weight of embarrassment came over me, and I felt like I was sweating from my spine out. But I realized, ‘Okay, that happened, and I did not die.’ You’ve got to experience failure to understand that you can survive it. —Tina Fey

 I think the most debilitating emotion I have ever experienced is embarrassment. You can ask me about fear, anger, or sadness, but embarrassment takes the cake. Even if the event that has caused me to be embarrassed is not my fault, it doesn’t matter. I’ve always struggled with it.

I think one of the worst situations where I was embarrassed was when I had an article on writing published in a small business magazine. They even included a beautiful photo of a Mont Blanc pen. Unfortunately, the assistant editor or text guy, or whatever he was, was furious with his employer. So he decided to take it out on me and published my article with numerous typographical errors. Obviously, on purpose.

It was horrendous.

The main editor apologized profusely, but the worst part was that people blamed me, not the publisher. How could I write an article, on writing no less, with all those mistakes?? How could I call myself an expert on writing?

Eventually I got over it (it still makes me silently blush) and the editor wrote an apology in a later issue, but by then the damage was done.

Time and distance are often healers. Nowadays, I find I’m rarely plagued by embarrassment. It arises when I forget something important, or when I make a big mistake (a holdover from my perfectionist days). I finally realized and accepted that stuff happens to all of us. And opportunities to groan at yourself increase as you get older. But I now know that for the most part, nobody cares. And I’ve tried to follow their example. In fact, sometimes I laugh at my boo-boos and others join in.

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  1. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    When I was a teenager I took flying lessons. The day of my solo cross country came and I was excited. Part of the drill is to get someone at each stop en route to sign your flight log book. I flew from Tamiami Airport to a small strip in Belle Glade on the south end of Lake Okeechobee for my first stop. I excitedly entered the fixed base operator’s office to find someone to sign my logbook. The man there slowly leafed through my logbook without saying anything. I started to get nervous. Finally, he looked up and told me to look out the window and tell him which way the wind sock was pointing. I looked and realized that I had executed a downwind landing rather than an upwind landing as I should have done. No harm on this particularly day but if it had occurred with a strong tailwind I could have been pushed off the runway at the far end. I was mortified. The man said, as he signed my logbook, “I think you learn more from being embarrassed than being yelled at.” He was right. 

    • #1
  2. Susan Quinn Member
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Rodin (View Comment):

    When I was a teenager I took flying lessons. The day of my solo cross country came and I was excited. Part of the drill is to get someone at each stop en route to sign your flight log book. I flew from Tamiami Airport to a small strip in Belle Glade on the south end of Lake Okeechobee for my first stop. I excitedly entered the fixed base operator’s office to find someone to sign my logbook. The man there slowly leafed through my logbook without saying anything. I started to get nervous. Finally, he looked up and told me to look out the window and tell him which way the wind sock was pointing. I looked and realized that I had executed a downwind landing rather than an upwind landing as I should have done. No harm on this particularly day but if it had occurred with a strong tailwind I could have been pushed off the runway at the far end. I was mortified. The man said, as he signed my logbook, “I think you learn more from being embarrassed than being yelled at.” He was right.

    Excellent example! He was right.

    • #2
  3. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Rodin (View Comment):

    When I was a teenager I took flying lessons. The day of my solo cross country came and I was excited. Part of the drill is to get someone at each stop en route to sign your flight log book. I flew from Tamiami Airport to a small strip in Belle Glade on the south end of Lake Okeechobee for my first stop. I excitedly entered the fixed base operator’s office to find someone to sign my logbook. The man there slowly leafed through my logbook without saying anything. I started to get nervous. Finally, he looked up and told me to look out the window and tell him which way the wind sock was pointing. I looked and realized that I had executed a downwind landing rather than an upwind landing as I should have done. No harm on this particularly day but if it had occurred with a strong tailwind I could have been pushed off the runway at the far end. I was mortified. The man said, as he signed my logbook, “I think you learn more from being embarrassed than being yelled at.” He was right.

    Plus, you had enough knowledge to know that you should be embarrassed. In effect an unwritten test. You passed, and that was worth a signature.

    • #3
  4. She Member
    She
    @She

    Susan Quinn: But time and distance are often healers. Nowadays, I find I’m rarely plagued by embarrassment. It arises when I forget something important, or when I make a big mistake (a holdover from my perfectionist days).

    I’m totally with you, Susan.  I’ve found there are fewer and fewer opportunities for embarrassment as I’ve aged, and at this point in my life they’re usually limited to (thankfully rather minor) scenarios like forgetting that I agreed to meet someone for lunch at the local coffee shop and not turning up on the date and time specified, or when I pledge to do something for a person or organization, and then don’t follow through.  There’s usually an element of “Rats, I’ve inconvenienced or let down someone else.”  When it comes to letting myself down because I forgot something, or didn’t complete a mission I had set for myself, I’m far less hard on myself than I used to be, and I generally just give myself a break and shrug it off.

    What no longer embarrasses me at all is the behavior of other people.  My mother, may she rest in peace, was an extremely difficult woman who became more difficult with age.  She never took well to not being the center of attention, she had no inhibitions about being as disruptive and vulgar as possible, and she was often extraordinarily and very publicly rude and verbally abusive, even–or perhaps especially–to members of her own family.  I’m not convinced all of that was her own fault, or a circumstance that she had complete control over, but it was sometimes horrifying to live with.

    In such situations, my younger self would regularly wish that the floor would open up and swallow me, or that I could just crawl into a hole and quietly expire.  Even though she’s been gone for many years now, those wounds still smart, both for me and my siblings.  But I no longer allow the inexcusable behavior of others to define my own reaction, and I no longer shrivel up, cower, or turn tomato-red with embarrassment, when faced with them. We each own our behavior, and someone else’s rudeness doesn’t reflect on me.

    I think that’s a lesson that only comes with maturity.  Perhaps it’s one that some people never learn.

    • #4
  5. Susan Quinn Member
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    My mother also behaved in ways that were embarrassing, but I don’t think her actions were as extreme as your mother’s. I finally got to the point where I told myself, “That’s Mom,” and in later years, let go of much of my judgment. Most of her rancor wasn’t aimed at her children as we grew up, but she loved to brag about things she believed or had done (that she hadn’t). But as I said, I let most of it go. It’s so liberating when one does that.

    • #5
  6. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge
    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.
    @BartholomewXerxesOgilvieJr

    It is interesting how one’s capacity for, and sensitivity to, embarrassment change over the course of one’s life. When you’re a teenager, I would almost go so far as to say that embarrassment is the most important motivator, more powerful than self-preservation or common sense. When you’re a teenager, you might be so embarrassed by some social faux pas that you can’t face going to school the next day. Or ever again, you think.

    Then you get older and you learn that no one ever died from embarrassment. Sure, I still get embarrassed if I commit some stupid gaffe, but I know the feeling will fade, and (more importantly) that everyone else will forget about it almost immediately. If they noticed at all.

    • #6
  7. Susan Quinn Member
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    All true. Thanks, BXO.

    • #7
  8. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment):

    It is interesting how one’s capacity for, and sensitivity to, embarrassment change over the course of one’s life. When you’re a teenager, I would almost go so far as to say that embarrassment is the most important motivator, more powerful than self-preservation or common sense. When you’re a teenager, you might be so embarrassed by some social faux pas that you can’t face going to school the next day. Or ever again, you think.

    Then you get older and you learn that no one ever died from embarrassment. Sure, I still get embarrassed if I commit some stupid gaffe, but I know the feeling will fade, and (more importantly) that everyone else will forget about it almost immediately. If they noticed at all.

    Along those lines, a wise man once said: “We’d all be surprised if we knew how few times others think of us.”

    • #8
  9. Susan Quinn Member
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):
    Along those lines, a wise man once said: “We’d all be surprised if we knew how few times others think of us.”

    I love it! Thanks, Jim 

    • #9
  10. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    Susan, reading your post got me to thinking.  I agree that embarassment is, as you say, a debilitating emotion.  I think shame may be even more debilitating.  The two are often linked.  

    • #10
  11. Susan Quinn Member
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    DaveSchmidt (View Comment):

    Susan, reading your post got me to thinking. I agree that embarassment is, as you say, a debilitating emotion. I think shame may be even more debilitating. The two are often linked.

    You’re right! They may indeed be linked.

    • #11
  12. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Rodin (View Comment):

    When I was a teenager I took flying lessons. The day of my solo cross country came and I was excited. Part of the drill is to get someone at each stop en route to sign your flight log book. I flew from Tamiami Airport to a small strip in Belle Glade on the south end of Lake Okeechobee for my first stop. I excitedly entered the fixed base operator’s office to find someone to sign my logbook. The man there slowly leafed through my logbook without saying anything. I started to get nervous. Finally, he looked up and told me to look out the window and tell him which way the wind sock was pointing. I looked and realized that I had executed a downwind landing rather than an upwind landing as I should have done. No harm on this particularly day but if it had occurred with a strong tailwind I could have been pushed off the runway at the far end. I was mortified. The man said, as he signed my logbook, “I think you learn more from being embarrassed than being yelled at.” He was right.

    One time, I was directed to make a downwind landing by ATC, and subsequently, a downwind takeoff.  It was at the Florence, SC airport during my solo cross-country, and there was an air show in progress.  The main runway was designated one-directional for the event, regardless of wind direction . . .

    • #12
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