I can’t believe I did that!
I mean really; what could have I been thinking? I’m too embarrassed to describe the event, but I will say that it was inappropriate.
And to top it off, it was with a very put together professional who could be of immense value in my professional growth and a great friend in my future.
It reminds me of a similar humility producing event that occurred very early in my professional career where I was at lunch with three of my business colleagues. I had just started the job, and a colleague – also new – asked me if I wanted to join her and two of our more senior colleagues for lunch; one being very senior to us.
Anyway the topic of oral care came up and the ladies were very anti-dentist and were sharing their favorite horror story dentist visit. Being the spontaneous extrovert that I am, I jumped in with “I actually haven’t had any bad dentist experiences, in fact – drum roll please – the best head I ever had was in a dentist’s office.”
To my horror, I recognized what I had said. I knew enough about American culture to know what the word head communicates to North Americans.
I could hear my mother reciting
the four things that come not back:
- the sped arrow
- the past life
- the lost opportunity and
- the spoken word.
Less than a week on the job, I had just told three professional women that I had the best head in my life at the dentist’s office.
“Time out!” I said. “Let’s talk about cultural differences.”
They, themselves shocked, were looking at me with looks of curious disbelief.
“You see where I come from the word head is more commonly used to express what you would call a buzz.” Then I proceed to explain that I had been given nitrous oxide as part of my oral surgery to remove an impacted wisdom tooth. It felt so good that I was oblivious to any pain or discomfort.
They looked at each other and then abruptly laughed out loud.
Whew! They had accepted my gaff for the honest blunder that it was.
How does one come back from a humility producer?
The question is how does one come back from something like that? Make no mistake, there is an impact. For example, for years after the one colleague that stayed in the company with me would sometimes greet me on a Monday morning and loudly ask “Had any good head lately Pete?”
When you commit such a “crime” there really is a consequence. In one respect you can’t come back from it. It’s like your own personal invasion of Iraq.
You can’t just withdraw and pretend like it never happened. Every time you show up at the UN, you know … people talk. And forget about taking Iraq out for a drink.
Even if she’s polite enough to accept the invitation, you know what she sees when she looks at you: an invasion-justifying, selfish creep.
That’s not the truth about you of course, but you have given her valid grounds to see you this way.
In the grand scheme of humility-producing actions that I have done in my life the one that prompted me to write this post is certainly not the worst, but it is the first that I’ve done in a long time, and I thought I would write about it because it brings up a couple things that I think are important to understand and incorporate into the practice of your life.
Don’t beat yourself up … repeatedly
First, please understand that beating yourself up about something you thought, said, or did is not very helpful. It is probably the case that human beings are the only creatures on the planet capable of punishing themselves over and over again for a single event.
Indeed, we can keep up the self-flagellation for a lifetime.
Definitely do learn from the incident (see below), but be clear that there was the incident (whatever happened) and the story you make up about it (thank you Landmark Education), and they are not the same thing.
You get to choose the story you make up about whatever happens, and as a human being you have the capacity to invent an infinite number of stories about anything that happens. Why pick a story that doesn’t move you forward in life?
Living your life as a practice means that you have in the background your greatness and that life is all about the ups and downs; they can’t exist without each other. Growth in your life requires downs, failures, breakdowns, heartache and loss. If you don’t experience at least some of these you cannot grow, in fact you’re not living.
Life isn’t only about happiness!
If you don’t have other emotions you wouldn’t know what happiness was, and life would be a gigantic flatline even if all your circumstances are what you think you would like.
Learn from it
Second, learn from the things that don’t work in your life. Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end in a situation that doesn’t work, your job is to learn from it without assassinating possibilities or relationships.
What this looks like is giving up judging people and events as bad or wrong.
People will always do things that don’t work, and most times they have no awareness of the event and its effect on others. Assigning a quality to that person’s character like bad, evil, or shallow closes off possibilities for both you and them. Usually, it’s also a sign that you do the same to yourself. Take a look and see.
So, where does that leave me with this person that I committed my latest humility-producing event?
Feeling and being great – as long as I live the practice that I preach.
That person will continue to occur for me as judging me and what I did as long as I continue to be the same of myself; I love myself too much to continue carrying that around. I’ve moved on, accepting the consequence of a moment of unconsciousness. At the very least it has reminded me that a teacher dwells within every circumstance of life.