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5 Insights From An Embarrassing Moment

I definitely did not see this coming. One minute I’m engaged in a normal, everyday activity, minding my own business. The next minute, I’m in an awkward situation, with a complete stranger, in an unexpected place.

One of the buildings I used to work in during the corporate days was unusual. I noticed it immediately the first day on the job. But over time this awareness gradually disappeared as it settled into my subconscious.  That is, until one day when someone else new to the building was confronted with the same oddity.

As I entered the restroom that day, for a midmorning bio-break, I was really only aware of one thing — I had to go. Now, I need to pause the story for a moment here because it feels relevant. I’m not sure if this is unique to males, but once the “#1” flow has begun, it is best to let it finish. That’s because it is difficult and inadvisable to interrupt it mid-stream. So, there I was, recycling the morning’s coffee, when SHE exited the stall next to me.

How did I know she was there, you ask? The scream and the slamming stall door were hard to ignore. And in that moment, my very first thought was, “Oh crap, I’m in the lady’s restroom.” Quickly followed by, “Wait, they don’t have urinals.” Then it finally dawned on me that the building got her. You see, the odd thing about this building is the restrooms were clustered by gender  the men’s restrooms, two separate rooms, were on one end of the floor, while the lady’s were on the other.

On this particular morning, this lady had rounded the corner in the hallway, noticed the Men sign on the first door and pivoted right through the other door, assuming it said Women. She proceeded me by maybe a minute, and by the time I was fully engaged in my business she was done. That’s when she realized her mistake. She didn’t notice the two urinals on the way in, but she sure did on her way out. Because I was standing at one of them.

Our conversation was brief:

Lady: “[Scream!] Oh my god. I’m so sorry.” [Stall door slamming shut.]

Me: “I did not see that coming.”

Lady: “I don’t know what I should do. Do you want me to wait?”

Me: “Well, you might as well finish. I’m not stopping until I’m done.”

Lady: “OK, I’m so sorry.” [Fastest hand wash ever]

Although it was startling and embarrassing for her, all she saw was a man standing at a urinal. I saw nothing of her. For obvious reasons, we skipped the customary pleased-to-meet-you pleasantries.

The Lessons

Besides the humorous angle, here’s why I share that story. There are numerous insights here, relating to what happens when we get too comfortable in our thinking or our knowledge. This happens regardless of the roles you play — leader, father, spouse, volunteer, etc. These insights may not all apply to you currently, but if used properly, they may help you avoid an awkward, or worse, situation of your own.

Awareness Fades. At some point during my time in that building, the awareness of this odd restroom arrangement had faded. I was no longer conscious of this knowledge and had taken for granted that everyone else had it to. What have you become unaware of?

Assumptions Are Dangerous. Because she had done it so many times, and likely because she was rushed, this unfortunate lady had assumed her restroom was opposite the men’s. Oops. Just some embarrassment this time. But what about the next time? What assumptions have you been making? What might they cost you?

Blindspots Exist. She had a few. So did I. And you do too. More importantly, what are you doing to minimize them?

Mistakes Happen. It happened, now what? As Rafiki, from The Lion King, says, you can either run from the past or learn from it. There’s always a choice

Don’t Forget to Laugh. There are enough things in life that demand our attention or beckon us to worry or be anxious. It is important, and beneficial, to laugh — at ourselves and with each other. 

My humorous restroom encounter could have gone a number of different ways, but every time I think about it I laugh. Who knew then it would still inspire laughing and some good learning more than a decade later.

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