My recent vacation to London, England was a long overdue change of scenery and a chance to deposit myself into a familiar cultural setting. With English being our common language, I thought I would fit right in. That wasn’t quite the case, however. I learned quickly that the bathroom was called a toilet, the elevator a lift, and fanny, well, fanny is not a polite word for butt, it’s slang for another part of a woman’s anatomy.
One day, the tour bus (or, known in the UK as a Coach) took us outside of London to Henry VIII’s summer palace. During lunch, I decided to try a kale and strawberry smoothie. I brought it back to our too small table and before long the drink was on my lap leaving sticky greenness everywhere. Our day was only half over and I had dinner plans with relatives that evening. I was aghast.
Back on the bus, I sat in the front, next to our tour operator, Rose. In front of us was our bus driver, George. “How did you like the Palace?” Rose asked, innocently. “I loved it,” I replied, “except I spilled a vegetable smoothie all over my pants.” George, who never spoke a word before, started to snicker. “I can’t even wash them or rinse them out until I get back to the hotel tonight!” I lamented, to which George lost his composure completely. He and Rose had a healthy chuckle and I was a little surprised by their response.
“There’s something you ought to know,” said Rose with amusement. In England we say trousers. Pants are underpants.” Even though, to me, trousers is a word I associate more with my grandmother, I thanked Rose for clarifying, and we all had a good laugh. Not 24 hours later, I found myself in a Notting Hill clothing shop asking if I could try on a pair of pants in my size. When I noticed the grin on the saleswoman’s face, I caught myself and rephrased my question. Later on that evening I did it again when I “showed off” my new pants at dinner.
Now, back at home, I might have been embarrassed, impatient, or even ashamed by my slow learning. But the fact that I was on vacation, making mistakes was a source of delight. Most importantly, I laughed at myself while others lovingly laughed along with me.
We’ve all found ourselves in situations we’re unfamiliar with. We don’t know the rules and we have to learn to adapt. So many of us go through life being fearful of doing the wrong thing. We don’t try to stretch ourselves lest we feel embarrassed or judged or foolish. Whether we’re starting a new job, learning a new subject, or trying to navigate a new social context, is it possible to embrace challenges with a vacationer’s mind and even delight in our mistakes?
Mistakes are an opportunity for connection and even empathy. In fact, chances are that you’re kinder when pointing out someone else’s misstep. Before you entertain a punishing thought, try to catch yourself and lighten up. When Rose corrected me, and George was laughing, I laughed at myself too. I didn’t blush with embarrassment. From our group chuckle we all became closer. Rather than feeling vulnerable, hurt or resentful when someone points out a mistake, try receiving new information with some gratitude and a willingness to apply it. Even when I forgot myself several times, trousers became my favourite souvenir word! Holding onto our mistakes — remembering that stupid thing we said over and over again is not going to change a thing. You said it, you did it, you learned something new, now keep moving. Even though I had to spend a whole day in sticky green pants, once I let go of wishing things were different, it didn’t matter to me anymore. In fact, it became a conversation starter!
Confidence comes when we open the door to making mistakes, whatever they may be. And when that door opens and hits us in the pants (or the fanny), we can smile, get back on the bus (or coach) and delight in the fact that we learned something new. Happy trails.