Remember being profoundly embarrassed about something back in school? I sure do. The first time I was onstage it did not go well. I was 8 years old and I stood in front of 300 kids and adults. I had one line in a play. The lights were in my eyes, and I heard my cue. I paused dramatically and with great confidence I pushed my voice to the back of the room with the soon to be immortal words, “I will tell all my shoes what fine friends you sell!”
This line brought down the house, but I was mortified. My face went the shade of a ripe August tomato. The gales of laughter continued until I left the stage. I was profoundly embarrassed for weeks afterwards. Kids quoted me in the hallway. “Hey Hawke! Did you talk to your shoes today?”
Heck, I remember being 16 and being embarrassed by spontaneous erections. They weren’t even my erections, they belonged to someone else, but I was still embarrassed. When you’re in your fifties, the feeling you get from spontaneous erections is not embarrassment. It’s full on pride and maybe a bit of amazement.
A whole lot of our younger lives seemed taken up with this intense desire to avoid embarrassment. Through every stage of school and into adulthood, I lived in great fear of doing, saying, or wearing the wrong thing. Being pointed at in derision always seemed like the worst punishment we could face.
But I’ve noticed a real change since I’ve kept riding around the sun. There is a profound lack of embarrassment in my life. I wonder if it’s the same for you as well.
I mean really, who are we trying to impress? The cool kids from grade 10 all have high blood pressure and are trying to figure out how to get their 30 year old son out of the basement.
In fact, I may have taken this too far as my standards for my behaviour are getting lower and lower. Unshaven? Check. Not showered? Double check. Telling dirty jokes at funerals? OK, not quite there yet, but there’s still time.
It’s very liberating to not give a crap about other people’s opinions. Can you think of times when you were embarrassed? Of course! Now, can you think of times when other people were really embarrassed? Probably not half as many. The lesson here is that we might remember our own embarrassing moments, but no one else does.
So really, if you’re still embarrassed about something, let yourself off the hook.
I’ve also noticed that people really don’t care much about what other folks do. It can take an awful lot for people to even notice strange behaviour in public. People will actually go out of their way not to mention that something about you is different. We’re all too busy trying to get to the bank before it closes or running to the grocery store to get more chocolate pudding. Unless your idiosyncrasies make the news, it’s not an issue.
I figured out one day that most of us are way too involved in our own story and our own thoughts to even pay attention to anything other than ourselves for a couple of minutes. Once you realize this, heck, to even be noticed by the world at large is a major accomplishment.
Most of us are terrified of letting anyone see who we truly are with our foibles and idiosyncrasies laid bare. The version of ourselves that we present to the world is carefully crafted over many years. What if it slips? What if we let people know who we are?
some of my favourite people on the planet are a bit odd and I love them for it.
Our fear in school, I think, was always that we would be seen as weird and then cast out. Now, some of my favourite people on the planet are a bit odd and I love them for it. You, too?
When we buy something, do we say, “This one is perfect because it’s exactly like all the others!” or do we say “This is unique and interesting and there isn’t one like it anywhere else in the world. I love it!” That rarity, that uniqueness should be valued in ourselves as well.
So, keep on flying that flag. In fact, fly it bigger and bolder than ever before. Be as interesting as possible. It’s your uniqueness that makes living interesting. And heck, now that we’ve already been to the prom the pressure is off. So finally, we get to relax and truly be ourselves.