It was night. I was sitting inside The Blind Duck, the student pub at UTM, and sipping Earl Grey tea. I had signed up for the English & Drama Student Society’s poetry slam impulsively, and was now feeling like a deer in headlights.
The event had already started an hour late, and I wasn’t even sure of when I would be called up to perform. I had decided which poem to perform only four hours before, and I recited it to myself what felt like a million times, until I thought I would be okay. Though I tried to psych myself up, telling myself I would blow the audience away, I convinced myself I would be booed off the stage. The more time passed, the more my anxiety grew.
“And our next performer is… Zahaa!” the host finally shouted, both mispronouncing my name and doing nothing to calm my nerves. I made my way to the stage, took the microphone, and opened my mouth. I searched for words, but none came out. I laughed nervously, and wracked my mind. After a moment, I was able to recite some of the lines. Then my mind went blank again and all I could think was, “fuck.”
In that moment, if an asteroid had broken through the Earth’s atmosphere and crashed into The Blind Duck, killing me instantly, I would not have minded.
The sad thing is, this is not the first time that I have embarrassed myself like this, nor will it be the last. While I can’t ensure I never embarrass myself again, I can share what helped me get over this poetic failure.
1. Sleep on it. But first, relive every single detail. Imagine that you’re on a 14-hour flight, and that mortifying moment is the only in-flight movie available in the movie theatre that is your mind. That moment should be the last thing you think of when you fall asleep and the first thing you think of when you wake up. Its image should be seared onto the backs of your eyelids. In time, you’ll realize that the pain of embarrassment has dulled considerably, because you’ve become adjusted to thinking about it constantly.
2. It’s okay to worry about it. So, worry. About anything and everything. Worry that you may never be able to step foot outside of the house again. Worry about the cost of plastic surgery. Worry about someone posting a video of your epic fail online, and never being able to find a job, because after all, why wouldn’t employers care about your ability to recite slam poetry? Worry about the fact that this has never happened to anyone, ever, in the history of the world. Ever. Once your worry goes from reasonable to ridiculous, you’ll know it’s time to move on.
3. Turn it into a funny story. Tell that story to everyone you know, and I mean everyone. Friends, family, neighbours, and your professors. Your second cousin twice-removed. Your great-grandmother to whom you only talk about the weather. If they know you and they weren’t there, then you need to tell them about your embarrassment. Don’t hold any details back either. With every retelling, it becomes easier to laugh at yourself rather than beat yourself up.
4. Share the love. When you learn to look at the glass half full, you’ll want to share the joy with others. Write an article based on the funny story. Hell, write a book about it, then adapt it for television. Produce a spin-off movie of that television show that spawns five blockbuster sequels. Go on Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel to promote it. Make Oprah come back for another season of The Oprah Winfrey Show to promote it.
5. Don’t let it hold you back. Despite what I said earlier, you are not the only person in the history of the world to have embarrassed yourself. Even Beyoncé once fell down on stage while performing, but got back up, finished her show, and went on to become one of the most iconic performers of all time. I’m not saying you’re Beyoncé. Don’t be ridiculous. But the truth is: nothing is holding you back from becoming an icon in your own right – not even a little twinge of embarrassment.