College has many intimidating aspects. You have textbooks to pay for, classes to register for, campus to explore, dining halls to survive and roommates to squabble with. Students may not expect embarrassment as one of these new obstacles. We all had our moments of fail in high school, but college becomes another monster to defeat. You can get stuck in your desk in front of a class of 200 people instead of 20, you can forget your lines in front of the drama professor who also happens acts as the state playwright laureate and while your high school teachers expected immaturity, college professors use the most searing glares to express their disappointment in your lack of adulting. Slip-ups or flubs seem more serious and more humiliating in college.
But you can have hope for coping with the special embarrassments available at college: take it from me and my personal, public moments of failure.
I did well in my freshman classes: quietly paying attention, taking extensive notes and saying somewhat intelligent things. I rode my successful, non-embarrassing wave right into my final anthropology class, where I fell off the coolness surfboard.
The professor used a family tree to test our understanding of kinship and genealogy in various societies. The tree used circles to represent women and squares for men, and I knew exactly how to explain that one troublesome line of descent. “I think I see hints of a matrilineal society in this family tree,” I said confidently. “You see, that round circle . . .”
Did I just say round circle? Judging by the way my classmates and professor burst out laughing, I did. That wouldn’t act as the last time I would blurt out something completely embarrassing in front of all my peers, but it certainly acted as one of my more memorable failures. “Round circle” proved completely redundant and stupid enough to have a whole classroom cracking up. But I found myself laughing out loud along with everyone else.
My classmates felt genuinely amused, but they didn’t make fun of me. Hearing others laughing and relaxing for a moment felt more valuable than impressing anyone with my knowledge. I also realized that I didn’t have to see my slip up as a big deal. Realistically, we all make that kind of mistake and the people around us soon forget.
My slip of the tongue felt embarrassing for one single moment, but only that moment. Laughing about it proved much more enjoyable and productive, than fuming and cringing. I’ve tried to keep that same attitude and level of perspective for all my (many) other embarrassing verbal moments, and it has left me a slightly more amused and less prideful person.
My lesson from my anthropology class also applied to another embarrassing incident in my freshman year. One morning during my freshman year, I stumbled out of my room and into the hall bathroom, in my pajamas and without my cochlear implant. As a hearing impaired person, not wearing the implant leaves me completely deaf. But surely I didn’t need hearing for a quick bathroom run?
Half-conscious, I locked the bathroom door behind me. A few minutes later, I tried to open that door, and couldn’t budge it. The lock had malfunctioned, and I found myself trapped in a gross college bathroom. And I couldn’t hear.
The door locked from the inside, so rescuers couldn’t reach the lock (an antique bolt and screw contraption). They would have to rip the door off its hinges to get me out. And how could I get help? I could shout, but in my deaf state, I wouldn’t know if my voice was even loud enough to pass through the thick door and walls. If anybody heard me, I wouldn’t hear their response, either. I would have to scream unceasingly for who knows how long and just pray help arrived.
I took a deep breath and frantically started working on the lock. I spent the next five minutes prying, coaxing, twiddling, wiggling, manipulating, begging, twerking and trying a whole lot of other things to get it open. Finally I twisted a screw just right, and the door popped open. Shaken but happy to escape, I scurried into my room. I should tell somebody and get that lock fixed. But first I’ll just brush my teeth and comb my hair. I grabbed my toothbrush, walked back to the bathroom, stepped through the doorway, closed the door and unthinkingly turned the lock, trapping myself again.
I escaped a death trap of a bathroom and then locked myself back in thirty seconds later. My opinion of my own intelligence dropped sharply that morning, and now I don’t trust myself to perform basic functions while on mental autopilot. Nobody knew it had happened, but that didn’t make the whole thing any less embarrassing for me.
In retrospect, I find my embarrassing moments hilarious. My “round circle” struggle makes me laugh in hindsight. I came out of the bathroom trap safely, and I feel that I should use my panic and stupidity to make others laugh. After all, humor can make the best out of any situation, no matter how humiliating (especially compared to the alternative of angsty brooding).
My bathroom jailbreak also humbles me. Small embarrassments occur naturally in life, and using them as reminders to remain humble and not inflate one’s head can prove valuable. Confessing one’s embarrassing moments allows others to have the pleasure of laughing with you and keeps you grounded.
In the end, college provides many opportunities for embarrassment. The pressure to act mature, to gain respect, to feel accepted by classmates and professors and to perform well academically can make you feel as if you have to act perfectly. It may become easy to lose perspective because of college stress. But you can also see those embarrassments, whether in the classroom or in your alone time, as sources of humor. So make a fool of yourself, just like the rest of us. Laugh with us, and take it easy on yourself.