So a couple of Sundays ago I had what was likely one of the most embarrassing and awkward moments of my life. You want to hear about it? Of course you do. Embarrassing stories are the best.
One of my jobs at church is to play the piano for the congregation while they sing hymns each week. That means that each week I have to prep 3-4 new hymns and be ready to accompany a whole congregation of 100+ people, trying my best not to distract from the solemn spirit of the meeting. Listen, I am not a great piano player. Honestly, I’m barely adequate, but my church desperately needed a piano player and I volunteered, so here I am in all my barely adequate glory.
I’ve shuffled and stumbled my way through each song for the last couple of months and felt OK about my performances, until 2 weeks ago. When it was time for the song that marks the middle of the meeting, I got up to walk the short distance to the piano and instantly realized I got up too fast. I have low blood pressure which means that sometimes when I stand up, my eyes black out for a minute and I get a little dizzy until my body restores equilibrium. That happened this time and the dizziness lingered. I somehow made my way over to the piano and began to play, realizing right away that this song was going to go poorly. I missed several notes and tried my best to catch up to the congregation but it wasn’t working for me. Eventually, the song ended and I breathed a sigh of relief… until I happened to glance out of the corner of my eye and see that the chorister was still standing! She turned around and looked at me and I immediately thought “Oh, no! Did I finish too early? Is there a whole other verse?!” We looked at each other for what seemed an eternity, trying to communicate silently with our eyes, knowing that every single eye in that 100+ peopled room was staring directly at us. I thought she might be trying to tell me there was still another verse so I played a couple of chords, willing the congregation to join me. Spoiler alert: They didn’t join me. I stopped playing and once again tried to silently read the mind of the chorister. “Tell me what you are thinking, woman!” But alas, nothing. Finally, not able to bear the painfully awkward silence any longer I loudly asked the congregation, “Should we sing the last verse?” To which a few of them mercifully replied, “That was the last verse!” Relieved to finally have an answer and realizing that my moment of painful embarrassment had ended, I got off the piano bench and went to sit with my family.
I sat through the rest of the meeting in physical pain from my anxious humiliation, wanting desperately to make some kind of movies-esque exit and just run out of the building shouting “Never again!” But I still had 1 more song to play, so running away was not an option for me. Instead, I focused on my breathing. I honed in on all of my years of doing therapy. “This is embarrassment. I am feeling humiliated. Hi, humiliated part of me. I see you there. What do you need? This is painful, and I will be ok.” I busied myself with my toddler and kept my eyes down, not wanting anyone to see my flushed face and know how truly embarrassed I felt.
In the 30 minutes or so until the last song with all of these intense feelings flowing through me, I realized I had some choices. I could leave and tell my church leaders I’m never playing the piano again. That would definitely spare me from any further embarrassment. I could laugh it off and pretend I wasn’t embarrassed at all (an option I didn’t think I could pull off even if I tried). Or I could face it. I could own the embarrassment and chalk it up to human experience. After going back and forth in my mind, I consciously chose the latter. I knew that one of my most important values in that moment was bravery. Courage over comfort. I needed to chose to be brave and courageous and face this thing head on because running away from it wouldn’t make me happy in the long run.
I survived the closing song and felt a physical relief when it was over. The chorister came over to me after the meeting and as we talked I told her, “Hey! Congratulations! We officially hit the lowest possible level together. No song can ever be worse than it was today so now the only way we have to go is up!” We chuckled and I could see her relax a little at that thought.
Because I went through an incredibly embarrassing experience and lived to tell the tale, I am one step closer to internalizing the fact that my embarrassing failures do not define me. I’m still here. I’m still a competent person with strengths and weaknesses. I still have the same friends and no one seemed to even be all that bothered about it. (At least, no one told me they were bothered by it.) I even made some people smile and connected with them. My church leader and I joked about how we should make up an additional verse to that song and a couple other people expressed empathy, saying they had done something similar to me and it was OK. My husband even got on board and texted me the following week IN THE MIDDLE of one of the songs I was playing and with the message, “Only 4 verses!”
What a shame it would be if I had just given up, if I had held myself to such a high standard that total failure was not an option. I would’ve missed out on connecting with 100+ people in that congregation and helping them see that they aren’t alone in their imperfection. We’re all human and some days we feel that so much more intensely than other days, but it’s always there.
So be kind to yourself. Take risks, go out on a limb, develop that skill you’ve always wanted to try, and get embarrassed. Then come back and tell me all about it because those stories are the best.