“Be willing to be uncomfortable. Be comfortable being uncomfortable. It may get tough, but it’s a small price to pay for living a dream.”
It’s funny how life circles around. When we’re kids, we can do things that are silly or awkward, and somehow get away with it. Family and friends will consider our awkward traits as funny. Things like tripping over our own feet, walking into a glass door, or using a word in a sentence incorrectly by mistake. But once we reach our adolescence stage, those mix ups become embarrassing, mortifying, and shameful. We can only hope that by the time we become adults those awkward happenings will subside and our own personal ‘coolness’ factor will come forth and shine as we try to establish a defined personality that will accompany us for the rest of our lives. After which, hopefully we can transition into our elderly years trying to keep up with the latest ‘lingo’ or fashion fad, and we suddenly become hilarious once again…
March the 18 has been donned the ‘National Awkward Moments Day’, something that we all can relate to: those awkward moments that at times give us headaches, a keen feeling of humiliation (in the least fortunate occasions), and in some other moments, amusing anecdotes we can laugh at when sharing them with our friends years later.
It may not be a coincidence that this specific day falls right after Saint Patrick’s Day, a holiday marked by the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol, which means really awkward things are prone to happen.
Awkward moments are a part of life, and they will happen. What to do?
Well, the power of embracing a situation and laughing at yourself can be liberating to begin with. Addressing the event with a sense of humor can help you feel less clumsy and hesitant, and ease the tension that all those involved in it may experience. Bursting into the wrong meeting is not the real problem, it’s how you react or make sense of it… it is our unwillingness to experience these awkward moments what can interfere with our growth and development as human beings and / or as professionals.
Learning is supposed to be uncomfortable, there’s this sensation of clumsiness, while being outside our comfort zone. And that is because the experience of learning is highly emotional: being beginners, making lots (and lots!) of mistakes PUBLIQUELY in the middle of social events, learning centers or workplaces. But that shouldn’t deter us from learning.
Long story short, and as uncomfortable as they are, awkward situations seem to have a purpose: to alert us of social boundaries, and motivate us to avoid making the same mistake twice.
We would like to appear as skilled and confident as anyone else while working, socializing and learning, but that grace and competence take time.
Unfortunately, the advantages of awkwardness have a limit. Think of the people who seem to find nearly every situation awkward, or who find such moments so cringe-worthy that they avoid experiences with a high potential for awkwardness, such as first dates or networking events… by avoiding these experiences, they are also hindering their own development, and probably missing golden opportunities just because they have not found a way to break that harmful thinking pattern that tells them: ‘everyone thinks they are slow-witted or simpleminded.’
Every time that kind of thought storms in, it can be very helpful to give yourself a quick reality check. The next time you have the thought, ‘Oh my gosh, they think I’m a total clutz,’ ask yourself, ‘Is there really evidence to support that thought?’
Trying to run away from the situation will only make it more difficult. Not only will the awkwardness persist if the issue is not resolved right then and there, but so too will your own discomfort. Withdrawing from a situation can actually make that anxiety and that sense of awkwardness worse. You never get to the root, never improve your recovery time nor turn it into a valuable experience and, by retreating from a situation, you could send the unintended message that you’re not fond of the others involved.
Also, we should try to ‘get out of our head’ a little, mishaps can draw unwanted attention to ourselves, but they’re likely less offensive and less noticeable to others than they are to us.
When it comes to language learning, making mistakes is a vital part of the process. If we make mistakes, we’ll learn from them and are less likely to make them the next time around.
Think on this: if you pay attention to your mistakes, you can learn from them and reduce your chances of making more. Also, you have to approach new challenges with the right attitude. It may sound a bit cliché but there is truth to the adage: believing in your ability to learn from mistakes and getting better really does affect your accuracy going forward.
Think about the last time you made an embarrassing mistake. Now, think about whether you’ll ever make that same mistake again. The answer is probably ‘no’… embarrassment is a powerful memory tool, especially if the mistakes were awkward.
Mistakes are an inseparable part of learning a language (either your own native-tongue, or a new one), therefore, the only way to avoid said mistakes would be to avoid speaking and writing in a different language, and that is not a solution.
Try thinking of mistakes as potholes on the road to language learning. If you spot them beforehand, you can swerve. If not, you’re in for a rough ride. That means that it is way easier to avoid making common mistakes by remembering correct examples and putting an extra effort into the most complicated grammatical structures.
Continuously exposing yourself to the language, to how it is properly used in different situations, within various contexts that are both meaningful and memorable (much like a child’s daily experiences with mom and dad), a spontaneous emergence of speech happens. Children make mistakes, and they don’t feel guilty about it, nor ashamed. They keep on trying to produce the right sounds and structures until they finally make it in a natural way.
Turning mistakes into milestones means to putting aside the unsustainable fear of being judged, gaining confidence in ourselves as we recognize we are not invincible, and at the same time, being aware that every mistake we make and we learn to correct, is one more steppingstone that will help us reach our objectives.
Life without challenges would be boring and monotonous, because even when challenges hit you hard and make you fall at times, they also teach you to get up and keep on trying. We need to learn from each and every experience. Bottomline, mistakes are the milestones to success.
“Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” Ms. Frizzle (The Magic School Bus)