As is not unusual for me, I was sitting in a Panera Bread Company waiting for some acquaintances to arrive for a 2:30 p.m. meeting. I came straight from another meeting and was about 45 minutes early. I purchased a cup of hazelnut coffee and sat down to work on my laptop for 30 minutes or so. When I finished replying to a bunch of email, I shut my laptop and started to put it into my bag. While doing so, the corner of the laptop hit my coffee cup and the coffee spilled all over the place.
Thankfully, no one was sitting at the table next to me so no one got burned or even wet from the coffee. I was, however, quite embarrassed. An elderly lady sitting at the table on the other side of me just smiled at me. Who knows what she was thinking about me, the clumsy guy in a suit.
I stood up immediately to find a Panera employee to confess my embarrassing sin. The worker took a few minutes to come over to the table because he was getting some warm towels to clean up my mess. While waiting for him to come over, the lady sitting next to me said, “You may want to tell an employee.” The worker walked over at that point.
Okay, so I just confessed to a very embarrassing occurrence. I’m not sure if I’m more embarrassed about spilling something in public or about wasting my favorite coffee. Maybe it’s that the lady next to me thought I was so lazy that I wouldn’t clean up my mess or tell someone about it.
What is the moral of my embarrassing story? I don’t know about morals of my story but I did learn a few things about how to overcome embarrassment.
1. You can’t control everything – Regardless of how careful you are, an accident can happen. You can plan and prepare. You’ll be careful and deliberate. You might even visualize the outcome. Even with all that, you can’t control what will happen. You can only increase the likelihood of the outcome but you can’t guarantee it.
For example, my co-workers and I put in many hours into prospecting for new clients. We build relationships and make friends. We show our expertise. Eventually we will get the request to provide a proposal. We put in several hours completing and then presenting the proposal to the client. With all that effort, the relationship we built and the expertise we have, we still don’t win all the work on which we propose. We increased our chances through all our work but all that work doesn’t guarantee results.
2. You’ll be criticized – The lady sitting next to me when I spilled my coffee was silently criticizing me. She had been secretly staring at me through the corner of her eyes. Then she spoke up and it was obvious.
Even when there is an eye-witness to an event, that eye-witness still doesn’t know all the details surrounding the decisions being made. This lady must not have seen me get up to talk to an employee about my spilled coffee. If she saw me get up, she must not have seen me talk to the employee. She just wanted to sit there and judge me.
I’m okay with being judged by others. Their judgment of me does not impact me in the least. They can think what they want and I won’t worry about it. However, if it is someone I respect or even a client, of course I take a different stance. I want to be respected for my actions and inactions by those important to me
3. You can clean up a mess – There is no use in crying over spilled coffee. The mess can be cleaned up. Any stain that might be left is only on the surface. It may show but it will not impact how the furniture is used.
Very few mistakes or messes cannot be fixed or cleaned up. Think of all the mistakes you have made during your lifetime. How many of them really had an extraordinary effect on your life? Not many. For those that did have a residual impact, you learned to live with it.
4. You can get more coffee – Spilling my coffee was embarrassing but at least I could get another cup. That is the case with most mistakes. You can usually get right back to where you were before the mistake. If you make a mistake and lose someone’s trust, you can earn it back. You earn money back if you lose it. The only things in this world that we cannot get back are lives and time. Both of those need to be handled with care.
5. Be thankful for good luck – Even though I spilled my coffee all over the bench and table, I’m thankful no one was sitting in the direction of the spill. I got lucky that no one had sat in that seat yet. I didn’t have to deal with a dry cleaning bill or someone being burned.
Your mistakes could be a lot bigger, and although you can correct them, a little luck keeps your mistakes from getting bigger and being harder to fix. I’ll take good luck any day. I don’t believe it is better to be lucky than good but I won’t regret having good luck.
Embarrassing accidents will happen to you regardless of how careful you are. How you react to the embarrassment is the important thing and will empower you to overcome the embarrassment. Like most things in life, our attitudes can make things better or worse. Choose to have a good attitude in everything you do.
What embarrassing stories do you have? Everyone has at least one good one to tell. Do you learn from your embarrassing experiences like I did? I hope you do. Please share your stories in the comments below.