My friend Annie walked into a job interview for a marketing position and chatted enthusiastically about touchdowns and shoulder pads, only to find out 15 minutes later that Frankie's Football Company was a soccer ball distributor because Frankie comes from Brazil. Another version: My neighbor Bella chatted to flirty, funny Dan all night about getting together for drinks in the neighborhood, only to find out the next week his name is really Don and he's in AA. The embarrassment, the endless what-ifs that result after such crash-and-burn episodes—some people might say these experiences will teach us to do our research before opening our mouths. Maybe that's true. But mortifications of this sort do have more immediate uses. For example, during the blunder, you might think to yourself, "Oh God, why didn't I do my homework?" Right at that moment, you have the chance to answer that question specifically. Maybe you didn't do it because you were thinking about all the imagined perks (the job, the guy) that might result instead of the reality (this job, this guy). Maybe you were busy thinking about how much this opportunity would please somebody else (mom?). Most times, when you really, really desire something, you'll find it sufficiently engaging to learn the vocabulary and facts needed to at least chat with authority about it—and it won't be homework; it won't even be a labor of love. It'll just be the effortless act of discovering what already fascinates you.
4. The Time You Tried Mom's Face Cream Before the Dance
This is a true story. I went to an all-girls school. Even among my own gender, I was not admired or sophisticated or attuned to the ways of womanhood. One Friday night, there was the Snowflake Dance, and, as it happened, I'd read an article in Seventeen (I was 15, of course) about the need to put on moisturizer before applying concealer. That morning, I took my mother's Estée Lauder before-bed cream and rubbed it all over my cheeks and eyes, and then slathered on a number of other seductive-looking, exotic-smelling potions and pigments, all of which caused my skin to explode in hives two hours later. I can't believe I'm saying this, but walking into a gym filled with teenage boys and (much tougher) teenage girls, your face the color and consistency of grated tomato, is a horror everybody should go through. Standing in a corner wanting to die will not make you a strong person. But it will make you realize that regardless of whether you laugh it off or hide or flee the scene, the result will be the same. The guy who's going to like you will laugh with you. The guy who won't will continue to dance with your best friend. No one dance changes much, just as later in life, no one night at a club or a benefit or a college reunion changes much. These are dark, drunken and, for the most part, predetermined events—regardless of the glitter ball and silver balloons. The sooner you bomb out at what you hoped would be the most Cinderella moment in life, the sooner you realize that real fairy tales begin at the dry cleaners or the dog park, places where you might actually meet a dark, handsome stranger and talk to him about what matters—why your mutt, for example, can just be called a mutt instead of shepherd-Lab mix. Because not everything in this life needs an upgrade.
Next: The time you said the totally wrong thing