You know those awkward moments when, in a flash, something is said or done and nobody dwells upon it … except you? For example, a person is waving to someone behind you—only you think she’s waving to you. So you wave back and smile as she walks past, unaware you even exist. Then you feel like a tool.
A bunch of people are laughing about a certain scarf that’s soooooo outdated … and you have 10 of them at home. Or people are ripping a column that appeared in so-and-so digest … and it was your column. The person univited from a party is your sister … but nobody knows she’s your sister. People talk about some dork who had cheesecake stuck to his pants … and you were the dork.
Perfect example: A few years ago I thought the checkout kid was wanting to shake my hand, so I extended it. But he was only trying to hand me a receipt. We both felt awkward, and the shake that followed was pathetic.
Last night I had one of these moments.
Returned to the University of Delaware for an event honoring Bill Fleischman, my friend and former journalism professor, who is retiring after 28 years at the school. In the weeks leading up, I was asked on multiple occasions to say a few words on behalf of Bill. I would told I would speak, as would one or two other former journalism students. So I planned a little something in my head, and arrived armed and ready to go.
I’m thinking about the words, going over and over them in my mind. Another former student gets up to speak, does a beautiful job, etc—and I’m getting ready to go next. Then … nothing. They move on to the keynote speaker, Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down. I don’t think anyone knew I was supposed to speak, so there were no overt embarrassing moments. But I felt foolish, in the same way I did with the checkout kid. Not sure why. Just did. A little.
So what was I going to say? During my senior year at UD in 1994, I served as editor of the student newspaper, The Review. On April 1 of that year we printed up the most obnoxious, most vulgar, most … excellent April Fool’s paper of all time. The lead story was SNOOP EXCITED TO ADDRESS BITCHES AT COMMENCEMENT. We also had another piece about midgets fighting to take over the town of Newark. Our cover photograph was a former student, short in stature, with a football helmet concealing his face. We named him Butch Romano and said he was the Blue Hens’ new nose tackle.
Anyhow, the paper came out—and students loved it. L-o-v-e-d it. I still get occassional reminders today, 16 years later. The journalism professors, however, were not happy. I still remember a professor saying that “10 years from now you’ll look back and regret this.” I sort of crawled into Bill’s office, expecting the same. Nope. “Jeff, this is what college newspapers are supposed to do!” he said. “It’s funny. It’s creative. It might go too far, but you’re here to learn and take risks and take shots. What do they expect you to do? Be boring all the time?”
I’ve carried that lesson throughout my career. Take risks. Take shots. Go long. Go for it. Make people uncomfortable.
And, 16 years later, I don’t regret that issue. It’s actually one of the favorite things I’ve ever done.