Since a very young age, I’ve been infamous for putting my foot in my mouth. Whether as a result of an ill-timed observation, a hastily invented excuse, or an unintentional slight, I am no stranger to the immediate chagrin and panic that comes after saying something you wish you could take back, but can’t.
However, there is one silver lining to this predisposition, I’ve discovered. Over the years I’ve become awesome at making apologies. In fact, sometimes I even end up better off after making the apology than I would’ve been without the original offense.
Case in point: Once, when I was a freshman in college, I showed up late to class by about fifteen minutes or so and missed handing in a paper that was worth 15% of my grade. (I can’t remember why I was late, but I think it had been one of those days where a lot of small things went wrong until the day had reached a sort of snowball effect and time / space held no coherent meaning.)
Anyway, at the end of class, my professor–who didn’t know me by name at that point–asked me why I had been late. I could have just said “I’m sorry, it won’t happen again. Will you please accept my paper anyway?” but in a moment of panic and supreme idiocy, I invented a monstrous tale full of disaster and woe, which culminated in my falling down a long flight of stairs and possibly fracturing my patella. (Don’t laugh. This is a true story, and at the time I really didn’t realize that a fractured patella is not nearly as hilarious as it sounds.)
As it turned out, my professor’s son had recently fallen from a motorcycle and fractured his OWN patella, and he thought it was weird because his son was in a full cast whereas I was merely limping.
***Side note. Not sure if I’ve brought this up yet, but here’s another little tidbit about me: I CANNOT get away with anything even remotely dishonest. In my life, if I even think about stepping over the line, karma has been known to bitch slap me into humiliating oblivion like the disobedient ginger-haired step-child from which I derive my alias.***
After slinking home in shame and simmering in an acidy vat of penitence for a few hours, I sat down and wrote an apology letter to my professor, explaining how sorry I was for lying to his face about why I was late. There was no excuse for dishonesty, even if it did involve a significant chunk of my grade, and I would never be able to live with myself if I got an A at the cost of my self-respect. I think I might have even woven a metaphor about the strength of Moldovan Oak Trees into that, somehow, but I can’t remember the specifics.
From the day I handed in that letter, that professor never forgot my name again. He was one of my strongest supporters when it came time to apply for the program, and he even ended up writing me a few letters of recommendation for jobs after I graduated.
So, friends. The moral of this story is that sometimes [or often, if you’re me], you screw up. Sometimes you feel like you stuck your foot in your mouth, or maybe you shot yourself in the foot… or any other negative foot-related metaphors humankind has come up with. Bottom line is, you’ve never felt so low.
But if you really think about it, isn’t your lowest point a great place to start? After all, you can only go up from there. And let’s not forget that people who’ve just been disappointed by you tend to have low expectations, expectations that you can easily exceed if you try.