What to Do When Humiliation Strikes

Winter is Coming – 

I don’t like having to crawl over top of people, so I always book the aisle seat on airplanes. Aside from the obvious benefit of not giving a lap dance on public transportation, the aisle seat allows for more legroom and first dibs on the snack cart.

I never imagined that there would ever be a drawback to sitting in my beloved aisle seat. Until that fateful flight from Los Angeles to Vancouver. It was a short flight, less than three hours. I wasn’t in the mood to watch a movie so, I opted to scroll through the TV shows offered by my inflight entertainment system, conveniently located on the back of the seat in front of me.

“Ah, this looks interesting. I’ve been hearing about this Game of Thrones show for years. Let’s see what all this ‘winter is coming’ is about.” I said to myself. Well, I actually might have said it out loud because the guy next to me turned and looked as though I was speaking to him.

The show starts out a bit violently. A guy loses his head, some medieval looking guys are running around. It wasn’t too gruesome, so I continue to watch. A short time later a man and woman are in a tent. No violence looks like we’re shifting to romance.

Porn on the Plane

Seconds later a full-on sex scene is right there, on my screen. You GØT fans know what I’m talking about – the scene with Khal Drogo and Daenerys. If you’re not a fan, let me paint a picture: porn.

In an instant I became acutely aware that my screen was visible to the ‘winter is coming guy’ beside me, the guy on the other side of the aisle, and the countless people seated in the rows behind me. I tried pressing that invisible button on the bottom of the screen to get it to shut off. I’m poking the screen so hard the guy in front of me starts to turn around to see what the heck is going on.

I tried to put my hands over the top of the screen to block it. Now I can’t see what’s going on. I move a finger; the scene is filled with horses or something, so I try again to shut the screen off.

By the grace of God, the “view map” option finally appears. We were somewhere over Sacramento. I realize that the inflight shopping magazine is probably best for the remainder of my flight.

So, now I only watch children’s movies or the Map Screen when I fly. Documentaries are too risky, you never know what’s going to pop up.

I recovered from my embarrassing porn on the airplane episode after clearing customs, and my fear of running into ‘winter is coming’ dissipated.

Brené Brown, (who I totally have a girl crush on), teaches that the hallmark of embarrassment is that we know we’re not alone. It’s a fleeting feeling. Thank God the customs lineup moved quickly.

We can all recall an embarrassing moment or two. Perhaps a wardrobe malfunction, spinach in your teeth, laughing out loud at a funeral.

The Humiliation Straightjacket Tightens

The night before I did my TEDx talk I went to the dress rehearsal. I had memorized my talk, and I felt so ready.

The talks were taking place in a beautiful century-old theatre that oozed charm and sophistication. I stepped out on to that red circle carpet, looked into the audience of TEDx volunteers and speakers, and froze.

Some people don’t enjoy public speaking, but I love it and I’ve spoken in front of audiences of 10 to 10,000 people in the US, Canada, and Australia. I’ve always had a great time, maybe not as great at Daenerys and Khal Drogo, but I look forward to speaking in front of people.

However, on this night in front of a crowd of fewer than twenty people, I stood there in the middle of that red circle totally speechless. I couldn’t even remember the first line of my talk. I opened my mouth and nothing came out. I was humiliated.

The TEDx organizer yelled up from the audience, “Don’t worry. Just start again.”

But I couldn’t. I didn’t. I just stood there for what seemed like an eternity. The humiliation I felt bound me like a straightjacket, cutting off my air supply.

I cried on my drive back to the hotel. I had no idea what to do. When my husband called me that night to ask how it went, I said “Good. No problem.” I was so ashamed of my failure; I just couldn’t talk about it. Not even with my biggest supporter who loves me unconditionally.

I kept thinking that the TEDx people were at the theatre, trying to figure out a way to remove me from the program.

What Will People Think?

The “what will people think” theme played out in my head, reminding me that I was a complete failure. How could I possibly call myself a professional speaker if I couldn’t even handle a simple dress rehearsal?

The following morning as I drove to the theatre to deliver my TEDx talk. I called Kevin on the way and told him about my night. He told me that it was a new day and no matter what happened he loved me. He reminded me that I’d given great talks before, and I could again.

I played one of my all-time favorite pump-me-up songs before I go on stage, “Lose Yourself” by Eminem. I love the last line, “You can do anything you set your mind to…”

I reminded myself that if I screwed up again, it wasn’t the end of the world. It would just mean that no one would watch it and it would fade out into the black hole of the internet over time. No big deal.

But that’s not what happened. I delivered the talk, and over 150,000 people watched it in the first 10-weeks. Of course, not everyone liked it, some people threatened to kill me because I worked undercover, but that’s another story for another blog.

At some point in life, we all face humiliation. It may not be on a stage, but it could be the nasty email we regret the moment we hit send, the mugshot that immortalizes a lapse of judgment, or the technology that fails at a critical moment.

And because we’ve faced humiliation in the past, we allow fear to hold us back from living the life we deserve.

What to Do:

If, or should I say when, humiliation strikes, these are some of the things that helped me pick myself up and keep moving forward.

Reach Out to Someone You Trust

Calling Kevin before giving my TEDx talk resulted in a huge lift. His empathy and honesty helped me move past the humiliation and go on to give a great talk.

Brené Brown talks about sharing our humiliation with someone who has “earned the right to hear our stories.”

Make a list of the people you can reach out to when you’re feeling humiliation and shame. So many of us are willing to be there for others, and we forget that others want to be there for us.

Rock it Out

Eminem may not be your rock it out music. You probably have your own go-to songs that pick you up.

Put a playlist together that will help reset the tone after an embarrassment or humiliation. Perhaps Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” or Beyoncé’s “Run the World.”

Whatever helps you get back up, dust yourself off, and continue to kickass.

Trust Yourself

I recovered very quickly after the inappropriate screen show on the airplane. Because I realized that it was an unintentional blunder. That, and I’d likely never see any of the people on the plane again.

The TEDx talk, however, had a lot more significance for me. Because it was all me. I was the one on stage with the microphone, and I was the one who was supposed to be a pro speaker.

But once I took a closer look, I realized that my self-worth wasn’t attached to a talk. I had attached so much importance to 18-minutes of my life that I momentarily allowed it to define me.

When we define ourselves by what we do, we put the power of our happiness, joy, and significance in the hands of others. When we trust ourselves, we understand that getting knocked down doesn’t have to mean we stay down.

Disappointment, embarrassment, and humiliation are guaranteed to happen as we journey through life. But when we realize that our entire identity isn’t on the line, it frees us to take risks, get knocked down, and get back up again. Hey, I think there’s a Tubthumping tune you can add to your playlist, “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You are never gonna keep me down…”


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