I can totally relate to the President making what seemed to be a harmless little quip but, in retrospect, a retrospect of approximately two milliseconds, one realizes that was an oh-so-wrong thing to say.
My verbal missteps are legion. Usually they take the form of me making a snide, yet hilarious (to me), statement to someone about someone else’s taste or behavior. And I belatedly learn that the person I am making the remark to is the cousin/sister/brother/wife/take-your-pick of the person I am making the remark about.
When these inevitable ignominious events occur, I usually call my friend Christine to bemoan my latest gaffe. She listens, there is dead silence for about thirty seconds and then I hear Christine’s voice sadly intone “You never learn, do you?”
The answer to that, Christine, would be ‘no’. No, I do not ever learn. I don’t think I will ever learn to keep my mouth shut.
Especially when I am stressed.
Here is one example.
I had a job interview last year. It was when I couldn't drive because of my broken shoulder, but I never stopped looking because I had been out of work for six months at that point. My Dad generously drove me. When I drove anywhere with him, I usually kept my eyes closed so I would be unaware of my imminent death. But I was grateful all the same.
We get to where I am interviewing, a think tank outside of Princeton. I get out of the car AND SO DOES MY DAD!!! AGGHH!! I figured he was going to go get a cup of coffee or something and come back for me, but NOOOO, he comes into the office building with me and sits down in one of the lobby armchairs. What was I going to say, ‘Dad, go away’?!? This sweet man was driving me everywhere. I started praying he wouldn’t be sleeping when I came back down.
One of the interview team comes to get me and I have to introduce him. "Um, this is my father..." I am 54 years old. Oh my God, it was mortifying.
But it got worse.
I joke a lot when I am nervous. It is a VERY VERY bad trait, because you can inadvertently say really inappropriate things to people who are interviewing you!
My interview is being conducted by the charming young man who had come to get me and a very personable older woman. The interview is going great. They love my background. After discussing my professional credentials, the woman asks me the classic, ‘tell me one of your weak points.’ It is one I ask as well when I am hiring and the response actually does tell a lot about the candidate. Do they use it to make themselves shine, do they tell the unfortunate truth or do they look like a deer caught in the headlights?
This job was a public relations position, so I decide to promote my social side. And I say to her, "Well one of my weak points is that I get so interested in people, we could go on and on and I can lose track of time. I love hearing people's stories, even from the very beginning, you know 'I was born a poor black child...'" ha ha ha
Yep, to my own horror, I ACTUALLY SAID THAT!!!
Did I mention the young man interviewing me was black? And from the appalled look on his face, was not a huge Steve Martin fan. He probably was too young to get the reference. But the woman cracked up. She cracked up in an ‘Oh you poor thing did you just completely blow it but thanks because this will give me a story to tell forever’ kind of way.
I could not get out of there fast enough. On the plus side, Dad was awake and oriented when I got back to the lobby. Needless to say, I did not get the job.
The lesson here? Be oh so grateful you are not me.