Don't Take Yourself Too Seriously

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I have a tendency to take myself a bit too seriously at times, especially when I get stressed, irritated, or scared. I’ve noticed that sometimes these feelings not only make me less effective in dealing with a difficult situation, they actually cause the difficulty itself, or at the very least exacerbate it. I also find that in these moments of taking myself too seriously, it’s easy for me to become self-important and to think that the weight of the world is on my shoulders (which is often a bit of an overreaction and almost never helpful). As my friend Theo and I like to say in jest to each other from time to time, “Do you have any idea how important I think I am?”

 

When we take ourselves less seriously, we’re able to see the humor in situations, find the silver lining when things don’t go the way we want them to, and navigate through the ups and downs of life a bit easier.

 

When I was up in Seattle for a speaking engagement a few years ago, I saw just how important finding humor is. I’d flown in the night before the event and was scheduled to speak early the next morning. When I got off the plane I was hungry, so I decided to grab a piece of pizza as I waited for my bag. A few months prior to this, I’d taken a bite out of a frozen strawberry and cracked my left front tooth, which had originally been damaged when I was playing baseball in high school. Due to the initial injury, coupled with the trauma of the frozen strawberry episode, I ended up having to get my front tooth removed, and I was in the process of having an implant (i.e., false tooth) constructed for my mouth. This process actually takes a number of months, and in the interim I was given a non-removable temporary tooth so that I wasn’t walking around with a big hole in the front of my mouth.

 

As you can imagine, this posed some challenges, both in terms of eating and in terms of self-confidence. I’ve long struggled with issues of insecurity related to my appearance, so all in all this tooth problem was pretty traumatic for me.

 

Anyway, there I was in the airport in Seattle eating my pizza and, although I’d learned how to maneuver my food around the temporary front tooth (since I couldn’t really use it to bite with), I took a normal bite without thinking about it. The next thing I knew, I looked down and the tooth had fallen out of my mouth and into my left hand. Although it was a nice catch, I immediately panicked and thought, Oh my God, it’s 7 p.m. and I have to speak at 9 a.m. I’m in Seattle and I now have a missing front tooth. What the heck am I going to do?

 

With the tooth in my pocket and my mouth shut tight, I got my bag and made my way to my hotel as fast as I could. I was pretty freaked out. Thankfully my dentist, Shaya, happens to be a friend of mine; we went to junior high school together and she’s really cool. I was able to call her that night and tell her what happened. She told me not to worry and to put the tooth in some water to soak. After that, I needed to find a drugstore and call her back from there. Luckily there was one just around the corner from my hotel. I called Shaya back as I walked into the store with my heart racing. She directed me to find the aisle where there was denture adhesive and told me which one to pick out. I followed the instructions on the box and did what Shaya told me to do the following morning—basically stick the false tooth back into my mouth using the denture adhesive. While it wasn’t something I’d ever done before (and never thought I’d do in my life), it seemed to work and looked okay, although it felt really weird and made me talk with a little lisp.

 

I took a few deep breaths, said a prayer, and made my way down to the hotel ballroom. As you can probably imagine, I was quite nervous as I stood up in front of hundreds of people to deliver my keynote speech that morning. Being nervous before and even during a speech wasn’t new for me; however, being specifically worried that my tooth might fall out of my mouth or that I might spit it on someone in the front row was definitely a new and odd experience.

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