One day at lunch, Charlie and a couple of colleagues were talking about embarrassing moments, and one of them asked everyone at the table, “What’s the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you?”
Charlie said, “That’s easy. I went to prep school about 100 miles from home. My parents hardly ever visited the school except for special occasions like Parents Weekend and that kind of stuff. One Saturday, though, they decided to make the drive and watch me play basketball. I was 16 and on the JV team, with hopes of making the varsity the next year, but I was really psyched they were coming to watch a game against another school. A neighbor couple also came along and they brought their daughter, Wendy. Ah, Wendy. We had one date the previous summer, but I was hoping for more this coming summer. Here was my chance to impress mom and dad, but especially Wendy! So, there they all are in the stands. Miraculously, the opening tip went a few feet in front me and I caught it on the fly and without breaking stride, flew down the court and laid it in. The stands erupted in cheers! Life was good! Wendy was no doubt thinking, ‘The boy of my dreams.’ But as I ran up the court to go on defense, my coach was screaming at me, ‘That was the wrong basket!!’ Oh, my God, I scored for the other team. I looked for a hole in the floor to crawl into. I was never so embarrassed. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been so embarrassed since then. But a couple of strange things happened. We exchanged foul shots with the other team, and then the gods gave me another chance and I managed to sink a lucky shot and get fouled. Made the foul shot. We were up 4-3 and that score held until the end of the first quarter. We ended up winning the game by 20-some points (thank God we won!). At halftime I was walking off the court toward the locker room and here comes dad, with this huge grin on his face. He said, ‘That’s the best thing I’ve seen since a guy ran the wrong way for a touchdown in the Rose Bowl. It happens, son. It’s all just a game. Enjoy it. And by the way, do you realize that at the end of the first quarter, you were high scorer for both teams? You had two thirds of their points and three fourths of our points. Now that’s impressive!’ Good old dad. The man always had a way of comforting me and helping me put things in perspective. My embarrassment melted away.”
One of Charlie’s colleagues asked, “Were you the butt of any jokes or taunting around school?”
“Oh, yeh, a couple, but I would just laugh it off and hit them with dad’s high-scorer routine. I’d ask them, how many people do you know who were high scorer for both teams for a whole quarter? I told them the poor team was so bad I wanted to help them out a bit. I also said Wendy thought the whole thing was pretty cool. I didn’t tell them she had a steady boyfriend by the time summer came around. Anyway, when they realized the goof was no big deal for me, they gave it up.”
Charlie’s story is true (I should know!) and it has a few lessons about coping with the stress of making a really big blunder in front of others. First, he had a support network (dad) who helped him put everything in perspective. Second, he was able to put a positive spin on things (high scorer). Third, he injected some self-effacing humor into the event (helping out a poor team). Fourth, the girl didn’t hate him.
In everyone’s life, good things happen and bad things happen. Being able to cope with those latter experiences is the essence of character. But whether it’s in a prep-school gym or on national TV, the dynamics are the same: To be true to ourselves, we must use Acceptance, Accountability, Empathy, and Humility to maintain our integrity, character, and honor. And those values will always help us cope.