Opinions, Column

Cause of Death: Utter Humiliation

Before the heavens decided what would befall me last Friday, I thought I was invincible.

Well, maybe not invincible, but at the very least, I had enough self-confidence to trust that whatever Friday had in store for me wouldn’t leave me in shambles. I was very wrong.

You see, Friday was supposed to be an exciting day. One of my favorite authors was visiting Boston while touring the country for her new book release, and I had managed to snag a ticket to her book signing before the event sold out. I loved the first hour—I relished the opportunity to listen through the interview and Q&A portion of the event, awestruck that my favorite author was truly standing in front of me.

It was only when the time came for the book signing that things began to take a turn for the worse. As I waited in line, I felt a pit of nerves in my stomach. I never had the opportunity to meet one of my favorite authors before, and I was feeling very intimidated at the thought of having a one-on-one conversation with her. I scrambled to think of conversation starters ahead of time, but in my worried state, my mind was hopelessly blank. Needless to say that when the time came for my book to be signed, our conversation went something like this:

Author: Hi! Nice to meet you. How are you?
Me: I- I am fine—even better now that I am here!
Author: Aww I am happy to hear that.
Me: Thank you so much for coming to Boston!!
Author: Of course, I had to come back to this beautiful bookstore. Though getting here was a bit of a struggle with my flight delay.
Me: Yes, I saw! [Mentally, I was thinking of how this author had posted on Instagram about her flight delay, but I neglected to mention that reference.]
Author: Oh, haha…
Me: Sorry, I just realized that that sounded creepy.
Author: *Slightly chuckles and plasters a smile masking faint concern.*
Me: *Stammers on my words and backs away slowly without saying goodbye.*

I sincerely apologize for any second-hand embarrassment that reading the above dialogue might have given you. I don’t think I need to explain how painful it was to experience firsthand. I felt like my soul had abandoned me amid this encounter, flying as far away from me as possible as if to say, “That girl—she is not me. I am not her.”

Yes, I am blowing this two-minute embarrassing encounter out of proportion. But in the moments after it occurred, I struggled to admit that it actually happened. I told myself every inspirational slogan I could think of: “Embarrassment is a choice,” “There is no happiness without suffering,” and “Embarrassment is where growth happens.” But I realized, after repeating them over and over again, that I was doing everything in my power to avoid sinking into a pit of humiliation that I maybe should have sat in for longer.

As much as I hated how much I had embarrassed myself, it was somehow sort of … refreshing.

My ego had shattered. The locks and bolts that kept my artificial outward persona in place had crumbled. In this moment of utter embarrassment, my true and more fallible self stuck out its imperfect head.

It wasn’t until this awkward moment that I realized just how much I try to avoid embarrassment on a daily basis. I finally acknowledged that my outward persona was just carefully constructed and designed to avoid the very bane of my existence: humiliation.

For all the energy I put into avoiding such a horrible feeling, I ended up falling into the pit anyway. And … it wasn’t the worst thing in the world.

The experience left its mark on me, but not in the way I expected. While I like to joke that this moment scarred me for life, I believe it actually sent me down a rabbit hole that I needed to explore. Life has a way of shredding apart your ego to remind you that the best version of yourself is not the most perfect one. Rather, you are at your best when you’re being authentic. It is very easy to swap our honest imperfections with more impermeable exteriors, but we become much more confident and self-assured when we refuse to mask our unflattering qualities.

My moments of blubbering foolishness were a simple reminder that authenticity doesn’t always look pretty. It can manifest in the form of nervous ramblings and lackluster social skills. My anxiety-ridden fangirling need not be the cause of my disappearance from society.

The next time that you find yourself in a mortifying situation, I would like to offer you some e-tissues in advance. I won’t tell you that embarrassment isn’t real, or that you should shake off your crappy experiences, or that you can pretend they didn’t happen.

No. I would advise that you savor the moment for the authenticity that it pushes you into—as unpretty as it is. In the whirlwind of hectic schedules that college fosters, it becomes harder to uncover experiences that truly remind you of who you are. Embarrassment, for all of its unpleasantness, has a way of doing this effortlessly.

So, while you may mourn the loss of your dignity (as I did at my author meet-and-greet), I have a funny feeling that you will learn to love the person you find underneath all the embarrassment.

February 26, 2023