Sunday, January 06, 2013

Day 6: My most embarrassing moments

On Day 6 of "January Blog-a-Day," I've spent a lot of time trying to recall those moments I've tried hard to forget, the most embarrassing moments of my life. Fortunately most (but not all) of them happened when I was quite a bit younger. I make it my goal most of the time these days to avoid severe embarrassment.

The first such moment I can recall came when I was about 7. My parents were good friends with another young couple. I don't recall his name, but I think hers was Donna.

One day they were visiting our home. My brother and I shared a room and I was in there getting dressed. Basically I had my pants around my knees when she opened the door and sauntered in to say hi.

She shut the door, quickly realizing the invasion of privacy, but I remember that I was excruciatingly embarrassed about this and had a hard time facing her, for years. Which is kind of funny when I think back on it ... I'm sure a woman her age (and she was probably in her 30s) could care less about a 7-year-old with his pants around his knees. But it was awful (for me) nonetheless.

I felt similarly embarrassed when I was in my early 40s and needed to have a sonogram done related to a testicular cyst. When I reported for the procedure I discovered the technician who was going to be "handling" me was an attractive young woman in her 20s. Flustered, I objected, and she got offended, saying something like "I'll have you know I am a professional quite capable of handling this, but if you need someone else I guess we can try and find someone else to do it." I was now severely embarrassed about objecting, and against my better judgment relented. This became the most awkward half hour of my life.

But perhaps my most severe embarrassment had nothing to do with having my pants down, at least literally. (And thank God, because this was in front of a group of about 200 or 300 writers!) I had been contacted by a Christian writer's association and asked to speak at a meeting. The topic sounded very harmless: "Freelance writing opportunities with nonprofits." (This was after the economic downturn had begun, and the answer was fairly quick and simple ... there really weren't very many!)

I had been a writer and editor with World Vision in the past, but at this time I was content manager for our website.

The communication surrounding this request was fairly minimal and I was under the impression I was going to be doing something quite casual, perhaps leading a small group discussion. So I didn't do much preparation.

The week before the scheduled event I tried to contact the organization to get more details about what was expected, but couldn't get ahold of anyone.

Then the day of the event came. I spent an hour that morning trying to prepare some material, still very unsure of the venue. Finally, as I drove the two hours or so north to the church where the meeting was occurring, I began to get a very bad feeling in the pit of my stomach, and actually stopped at one point, thinking I might be sick.

But I finally arrived, about 20 minutes before the meeting was supposed to start. I drove around the campus of this very large church, looking for small-ish classrooms I thought might hold such a meeting, but finding none occupied.

When I had made nearly a complete circuit, I came to a parking lot full of cars, in front of a large auditorium. I walked in and there were dozens of tables set up, with hundreds of people milling around. They had packets and people were writing checks to the front desk receptionist to get into this meeting. A program was being displayed above the podium on the stage in front of this group, and on it I saw my name as the "keynote speaker."

Now trying very hard not to throw up, I checked in and was greeted by the receptionist, who seemed very glad to see me. "So I'm the speaker?" I squeaked out in a small voice, hopefully sounding not quite as terrified as I now felt. She took it as a statement, not a question.

"Yes, Mr. Short, so glad to meet you! We're so looking forward to what you have to share with us!"

"That's nice," I squeaked back. "And do you know exactly how long I have to share that?"

"I think we have you scheduled for 50 minutes," she replied nonchalantly, "but we have also left about 10 or 15 minutes in the schedule for questions. You start in 15. You should sit at that table in front."

I would do that, I assured her, but needed to make a brief stop first. I turned and stumbled back out to my car. The temptation to start it and drive away was almost too much to resist.

Instead, I called my wife. In a torrent of tears I told her my dilemma. I was the keynote speaker at a big conference. In 10 minutes I had to get up and deliver an inspiring talk to hundreds of professionals. And I had no idea what I was going to say.

God bless her, my cool, calm and collected nursing wife told me that I would do just fine. "You are a natural born storyteller," she assured me. "Just do what you enjoy doing ... tell stories." She then prayed for me, then finished with, "Remember I love you ... no matter what happens!" We said goodbye. I mopped my face then plodded back into the room, finding my place with 2 minutes to spare.

Two minutes later I was being introduced by someone I had never met, and found myself walking up to a microphone in front of hundreds of hushed and expectant communications professionals. I still had no idea what I was going to say. All I could do was pray silently: "God, please take over my lips!"

And, to this day, although I felt excruciatingly embarrassed at my plight, I still have no idea whether my listeners suspected I was completely unprepared to speak. (Or whether anyone demanded their money back!) I spoke for about 40 minutes, taking my wife's advice and telling as many stories as I could muster. I then took questions.

Even after the official question-and-answer time was over, I found a line of folks who made their way forward after I was done, and I stayed and talked with them for some time afterward. And I quite enjoyed doing so. The people I met were wonderful. (Possibly they just felt sorry for me, I'm not sure!)

But, I learned a very valuable lesson ... ALWAYS ask lots of questions when you're asked to speak, and make sure you know (and are prepared for) exactly what you're getting yourself into! I don't mind speaking, and I even preach occasionally at our church. But now, I'm always sure first that I know EXACTLY what I want to communicate.

OK, enough about my embarrassing moments ... let's change the subject to YOU. I really would like to hear how you have handled those difficult times in your life when you were "caught with your pants down" ... either literally, or figuratively!

1 comment:

Kristin Mahoney said...

I have only a few stories that are so embarrasing that I still get that awful "I can never live this down" feeling in the pit of my stomach. One involves trying to catch a baseball with the hand that did not have the glove on it and getting a ball straight to the forehead. Another couple involve wasps, gaps in clothing, and public locations such as the Puyallup fair. One of these incidents involved an overly helpful person who tried to rescue me from the bee that crawled into the collar of my shirt. In another case I was starting to go after the bee before I realized that I really needed to excuse myself before I did so. It was bad enough that it happened once, but it happened twice! I am no longer afraid of bee stings so much as I am afraid of bees in public.
I think my most embarrassing moment might be the time I let myself declare, in the middle of a baseball game, that I knew more about an aspect of the sport than my coach did. Needless to say I was asked to leave the field of play for a while and then lectured severely afterward. The greatest sting is that the person who was sent to lecture me was probably the least qualified to do so as she had done the same type of thing at times. Talk about being humbled!