At work we had an office decorating contest, where whole teams decorated their space with a holiday theme. Stakes were high, as the winning team got to leave an hour early. The judge was the chief of staff, who had recently announced his impending departure for a new job.
My team pulled out all the stops with a North Pole theme, but competition was stiff. My boss dressed as Santa and the rest of the team dressed as reindeer. To put us over the top, I offered to dress up as an elf on judgment morning, sit on a table (Elf on the Shelf), and hand out cinnamon buns.
“No, problem,” I thought. “I know the Chief well. He has a great sense of humor. I have a great sense of humor. What could go wrong?”
So the Chief turns the corner to our area and there I am, perched on a table. Only he has someone with him. Someone I don’t know. Uh oh…
He looks at me and starts laughing…pretty hard…and introduces the stranger next to him (who’s dressed in a swanky black suit, I might add) as his replacement, the new Chief of Staff! Yikes! I’m a little embarrassed to meet my boss’ boss dressed as an elf, but that’s recoverable…or so I thought.
I then offer the Chief a cinnamon bun, but as I turn to the new Chief to offer one, the entire container slips out of my hand and all the buns go flying. Right into the new Chief’s chest. Where they proceed to cascade down his suit. And land on his shoes. Scattering sugar glaze along the way.
For what felt like two solid minutes, no one could do anything but stare in shock and horror. Finally I leaped off the table and started picking everything back up.
It has to rank as one of the most mortifying moments of my life.
How to recover?
We are all human, and embarrassing things are bound to happen. Part of maturing is knowing how to handle these situations when they pop up. Here are a few pointers on how to recover:
- Know when to apologize – Taking responsibility is the way to go when you’ve committed a faux pas that impacts someone else, especially if an ‘inside thought’ slips past the mouth filter.
- Know when to ignore the incident – some things really are better left unsaid. If you are lucky enough that no one saw it or heard it, just give yourself a silent “whew!” and move on.
- Laugh about it – awkwardness can be soothed with a sense of humor. Make it so people are laughing with you and not at you if you can. In my incident, my brain was paralyzed with mortification, but the new Chief gamely said “Oh wow, look at all the reindeer poop!” It made everyone laugh again and eased that awkward moment.
- Make a running joke of it – If it’s a recurring thing, make it YOUR thing. If you’ve worn your shirt inside out a couple of times, make a joke out of it. Wear your shirt inside out periodically – on purpose. Embrace your flaws as part of what makes you unique.
- Vent about it – sometimes, just retelling the story to get it off your chest can help you move on. I’ve retold this story to my family and it’ll be a great story at a cocktail party in the future!
- Learn from it – Life has a way of handing us lessons when we least expect it. Don’t beat yourself up and don’t let it happen again if it’s preventable. For example, I hereby solemnly swear that I will never dress as an elf for work again.
The holidays often provide a wealth of opportunities to socialize with friends, colleagues and family. Social opportunities are ripe for mortifying moments! What mortifying moments do you need to recover from?
Leaving you with this from the lighter side: Do you ever get second-hand embarrassment so badly that you have to cover your eyes for a minute?