I have lived alone for most of my adult life. I know how to buy and sell houses, find a plumber, locate the nearest ER, cook for myself, do almost everything for myself. I cannot however manage to get my clothes on right-side out. At least twice a month I look down and notice, hours into my day, that my shirt is inside out.
I work from home and frequently zoom but even on days I am out in the world. One memorable time I had just started a new job as a high school counselor. A few hours into the today I had my jacket off and was in a crowded hallway filled with lanky, stinky, loud adolescents and some over wrought faculty when I got a tap on my shoulder. A soft-spoken English teacher I knew slightly leaned over and whispered in my ear my shirt was on inside out. He looked positively stricken with embarrassment having to tell me. Or maybe he was embarrassed for me, I don’t know. Clearly, he hated to be the bearer of bad news in such a public place. He watched me with sympathy as his words sunk in. I reached over my shoulder to feel my tag at the back of my neck like a ticket for the hapless train I was aboard, and I burst out laughing. He was startled and I assured him it happened all the time and thanked him and shrugged it off in search of a bathroom to ameliorate my clothing debacle.
In my 30’s, at least one day a week while munching on my peanut butter toast and drinking coffee on the way to work, startling at a stop sign to remember to check my shirt’s orientation. When dressing and doing many things I am not always focused on the task at hand. That has led to some early embarrassment and later humor. I understand many people think that having your shirt inside out, a rogue chunk of hair darting off at a crazy angle, or a wrinkle or two on clothes and faces are embarrassing things and cringe at them. Those are not my people, not my tribe. I used to embarrass easily when I was younger but since I was embarrassing myself on a regular basis, like all things, I got better at it. Better at not caring when it was something silly to be embarrassed about, a mistake, a misstep and bumble, stumble and stomach rumble. I do love alliteration.
There is so much more I don’t care about as I get older because the things, I do care about matter so much more. I have less and less time on this planet and how I use it is the only thing that matters.
The things that have slid way down the list of worries and embarrassment are things having to do with …My face, my soft body, wrinkles, weird clothes moments, bodily functions, wedgies, being wrong, mistakes, being understood, being right, being cool, being liked by people I don’t know or don’t care to know. The not caring list is exhaustive as it should be. This was not an overnight slide. Those who know me, know that when I was younger, I was hyper vigilant with a plan A, B, C, D and scripts for them all so I would not face embarrassment, look stupid or silly. The more I accepted my human frailty of being a goof ball the more head space I opened up for more important things.
I teach my students not to do anything they wouldn’t want their grandmother to know about or they wouldn’t want on a billboard in their hometown. That focus helps identify choices that might cause embarrassment. Everything else is just being human and living in avoidance of being embarrassed is NOT living. It is a recreation of a life for daytime TV on public access stations. Meaning that it is a facsimile of life, a faded paper copy, it is a waste of time, energy, worry, anxiety etc. Letting go of what others are thinking, of worrying about being embarrassed is a brick-by-brick dismantling of what media might be telling us. So, it means we must put down our phones sometimes and have good, real conversations with the people who matter. Then go out into the world and do cool, fun, worthwhile things. Don’t look over your shoulder in real life or digitally to see who is following you just do it and then go do something else. The freedom this brings you is intoxicating, I promise! The stories that cause embarrassment for most people are just funny stories, they are lovely human bits of humor, humility, joy and chagrin all wrapped up together. The people who love me, love me because of who I am not despite of who I am. I am betting the same is true for you…
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