Everyone has an embarrassing story or two or three. Some people let those flashes of embarrassment turn into horrifying moments locked away never to see the light of day again. Others, once the sting has passed, are embraced.
Blair flew across the ocean to visit me, and we met up in Sydney Australia. As a part of our time together, we booked a fancy dinner at one of Sydney’s top restaurants. We spent time at the hotel before dinner getting ready and I chose to wear a simple black dress with a big cut out that exposed my back. It was one of my favorite dresses that I only had an opportunity to wear less than a handfull of times.
Early in our meal, we were already slightly tipsy. We raised our arms and toasted our adventure when suddenly I felt a breeze. My zipper had failed and popped open at the seam. From my armpit to my hip, I was exposed. I quickly wrapped my shawl around myself, but it wasn’t a workable solution. The other diners were going to have a dinner to remember since they were going to see me naked. Crap.
Blair and I strategized and decided to tell our waitress what happened and ask if she could find any safety pins. Five minutes later the maitre d’ came to our table with a small dish of pins for my, uh, little problem.
We headed to the restroom and Blair pinned me as best she could. Luckily it was enough to finish our meal without flashing the other tables. Whew! Not only was it an eventful meal for the two of us, but also for the restaurant staff who all were in on my problem and solution. Thank goodness for discretion (and a good bottle of wine).
It’s easy for an embarrassing moment to become utter humiliation. Trust me, I felt a flash or two when my dress was hanging open. However, the biggest lessons come not by pretending it never happened but instead mindfully embracing your story.
I’ll guess that you have your own embarrassing moments that you’ve managed to endure. The great news is that experience has made you a better leader. No, really.
10 Ways Your Most Embarrassing Moments Boost Your Leadership
You are a survivor.
In the moment, it can feel like the world is spinning. Embarrassment is a powerful emotion, and it can throw you. Instead, when the embarrassment has passed, remind yourself that you got through it. Now you know that you are a survivor and you’ll get through the next challenge too.
You have a great story to share.
We connect to others through our stories. Sharing lessoned learned with your team without a story is, well, not very powerful. Leaders share their stories, even their most embarrassing ones. Show your team you’re human, like them, and make a connection.
You had a memorable moment. Too many days simply pass us by.
As crazy as it sounds, celebrate it. Most of us have lives where one day blends into the next. We’re expert at running on our hamster wheels while our neighbors appear to be doing the same thing. There are too few experiences in life that stick with us, don’t be ashamed of yours.
Your stories hold no power over you.
The stories you tell yourself can keep you deeply stuck. When you cling to your darkest, most embarrassing moments, and replay the horror over and over, you leave no room for growth. As you change your life, you change the story. It’s in your power. Not only can you transform a moment of embarrassment but also any story that’s taking over you life and leadership.
You know the worst most unexpected event won’t throw you off course.
This is a big deal. Many people go through life fearing the unexpected, and you lived through it. As a leader, you’re always dealing with the unexpected and thrown into ambiguous situations. You now have a gift from your embarrassing moments, the gift of knowing the pain is temporary and you can and will keep going.
You laughed at yourself.
The best way to get over yourself and help others move on too is to laugh at yourself. It’s easy to laugh at others, right? With practice, you’ll learn that laughing at yourself is a key leadership skill whether you’re running a business, leading a team, or responsible for your family. It breaks the tension and builds connection.
You let it go.
Replaying crazy events in your mind doesn’t change them. An essential leadership lesson from those embarrassing moments is to let it go. You either learn to let it go or those incidents will eventually define you, and the shame will become a part of who you are.
You learned something about yourself and others.
When my dress was blowing in the wind, I learned a ton about myself, about my friend Blair and about the willingness of others to help. Look for the lessons in even the worst situations and a small part of you might even be glad it happened… eventually.
You don’t live in fear of being embarrassed.
Embarrassing moments suck, but they are unpredictable and unavoidable. You can either live life in a bubble or full-on. Living and leading as your best self means you can’t worry about the potential for embarrassment. Yup, it might happen but truly, who cares? Not you.
You bring compassion for others embarrassing moments.
This is huge. You know the feeling of intense embarrassment and don’t mock others who are going through it. The best leaders bring compassion because they’ve lived through their own less-than-ideal situations too. It’s the marriage between self-awareness and other-awareness that brings out the compassionate leader within you.
Willing to share an embarrassing moment of your own or what you learned from living through it?