When You are Awkward – And have to Find a Way to Live With It

Everyone of us has awkward moments in the office. The moments where someone tells you “Have a good day” and you answer with “Fine thank you how are you?”. Or you ask a question at a town hall and no one understands what you said. Or you ask about your co-workers baby and they say they have no children.

Awkward moments are the worst because it is something so little it feels like it could have been avoided if we would have just known better or if we could have done better. It is so easy to be hard on ourselves and so hard to be forgiving. Someone once told me “the hardest thing in life is to forgive yourself” and I would agree. In a work setting, its almost harder because it feels like your career – thus also your ability to provide for yourself – depends on it. You worry that perhaps someone will not want to work with you again. Or if it is a senior manager, you worry how this might effect your promotion. Sometimes you don’t have that many interactions with senior managers (especially if you are in a junior position) and all the exposure you have to senior manager is conversations in the elevator. It makes these minor interacts magnified. You have 3 minutes with someone that could determine the next 3 years of your life. And this fact makes these awkward situations so much worse.

Everyone makes mistakes. And we are the hardest to ourselves because we feel ashamed of who we were in these moments. The thing is shame is hard to deal with. Shame is something that arises from this expectation that we should be some kind of ideal of perfect but we are not. This disconnect makes us feel sad about who we are because we are not the person we want to be. And when we do not fit that ideal, we feel ashamed. Yet – where does this ideal come from? No one is born with the feeling of not being good enough. Society, parents, teachers, these are the ones that put some expectation on us, which we then internalize. And rarely do we make the time to review these expectations and see if we are still in line with them. Perhaps if we did, we would see that saying the wrong thing at the wrong time is really more something to laugh about rather than to be ashamed about.

So remember in these situations – that it is ok to just be yourself. And it is ok to be awkward and to say something silly. If someone hadn’t forced their ideals on you, you would not be feeling ashamed. It is as simple as that. Remember that shame isn’t something you were born feeling, it is an emotion taught to you. Another great saying I learned is: “If you could have done better, you would have”. We often forget we are doing our best with the tools we are given at that moment. And we should feel like we should be dealing with things any better. Just focus on getting to know yourself and the feeling of shame. And when you do notice you feel ashamed, ask yourself whose ideals are you living up to. Because I can tell you for sure it is not your own and those are the only ones that count.

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