I arrived at my office holiday party with a plan:
I was wearing a DIY top that looked like a Christmas tree. My work friends were waiting for me inside. I already picked out what song I was going to sing for the karaoke portion of the evening. Tonight was going to cement my position in this company as the perfect employee that people would want to have around during and after work hours. Everything was going according to plan.
I even ran into my work BFF on the way in. We were excitedly talking as we got to the entrance and then SPLAT!
I walked right into the door at the main entrance. Thankfully, I was able to break my fall with my face. It took me a second to come to and then I saw the VP of Marketing who was greeting people at the door staring at me. The Head of HR started walking over to see if I’m ok. She’s smiling, it looks like she’s holding back laughter. My friend just bursts out laughing. I felt my face turning red. Someone please hand me a cyanide pill.
That was three years ago. We’ve all been there, figuratively (and sometimes literally) falling flat on our faces. For years, people have given me the same advice on how to best handle these types of situations:
“Just brush it off.”
“You need to laugh with them so that they’re not laughing at you.”
“Don’t get embarrassed.”
Don’t get embarrassed? That’s my favorite one of all. Who says that? So many highly educated people have given me that exact advice. Like, I’ve never thought of that before. Let me just make myself feel a certain way. Why didn’t they teach that concept in any of the psychology classes that I’ve taken in college? That will just solve the entire mental health crisis that our country is facing. Just don’t feel sad anymore! Done. YAY!
Clearly that’s not how it works. That’s actually not how life works. I believe the reality is that situations (embarrassing or not) that you don’t plan for are going to happen whether you like it or not. What you are able to control are the ways that you react to them. I’m not saying you can control how you feel, but by mitigating huge reaction to what happens, you can keep the situation from escalating from an embarrassing instance to a humiliating event.
Here are a few things to keep in mind on your mitigation journey:
Face the situation head on!
When I face-planted into that door my first and natural reaction was to hide in the break room and never come out ever again. But I forced myself to make light of the situation and address what had happened directly. I believe I was like “typical me!” and laughed while my friend was checking to see if I looked like I had been beat up or not. By avoiding the situation you will drag things out and possibly make things worse. When you act as if it’s not big deal, most likely even those who’ve found it to be funny will soon lose interest.
This part is much easier said than done. But the truth is that you’re making matters much worse for yourself by replaying the situation in your head over and over. Even if whatever had occurred really was that bad (not likely but I’ll humor you for argument’s sake), by obsessing about the incident you will end up blowing the entire incident out of proportion. The next time the horrifying memory pops back into your head do what I do, take a walk around the building. While you walk, look at each person that you pass and count them. Each of those people are not thinking about what happened, only you are.
No one cares that much about what happened.
Speaking of forgetting, that brings me to my other point. The only person dwelling on what happened is you. Trust me, everyone else has so many of their own problems (and likely their own embarrassing incidents) that they don’t have time to think about yours. For example, when was the last time that you had a really hearty laugh? Was it because someone was humiliated? Likely not, the funny situations that our brains are inclined to remember are the ones that are mutually funny to everyone involved. During instances where people are humiliated, we instinctively will mentally cringe and not store that in our memory because we identify with the fact that it can happen to anyone.
Talk about it with your friends.
Even if this friend was not there at the time, telling someone else about the humiliating incident will make you feel better by getting it off your chest. Not only will BOTH of you have a hearty laugh over what happened but keeping things to yourself will only make things worse. By saying it out loud, you will be doing both of you guys a favor. Confiding in someone you trust will help you keep things in perspective and your friend will likely identify with what happened. Being able to laugh at yourself is a necessary step in moving beyond any type of mortifying incident.
We’ve all been there…
…maybe not exactly in the same situations as each other. But “there” as in wanting to crawl into a hole and die because we felt like total idiots. Trust me, it’s never really that bad. Being able to laugh at yourself comes more easily to some than to others. But it’s not impossible. When you see your friend in this type of situation, try to gauge right away how they are feeling. If you’re not sure what to do because they feel awful, the least you can do is literally stand next to them and not laugh. When you’re standing by them you are signaling to others that they’re not alone. Correction: When you’re a part of the TTF community, you’re never alone.