If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably had your share of derpy moments with those awkward and often embarrassing times when your face turns red and you let out a nervous chuckle. If you were anything like me during middle school… well, let’s just say that those moments did not make the sixth grade very pleasant. The most recent example of this awkwardness happened on a trip to the grocery store with my roommate. While he paid for our breakfast items, I decided I’d pick up a deck of playing cards. So, I walked up to the cashier—a friendly, cute looking gal—and armed with my best smile and confident charm, I placed the card pack on the counter and said, “Just this today.” She smiled at me and said, “Alright, credit card?” For a moment, my brain fritzed out and screamed at me, “No cash? NO CASH?!?” Obviously, the register could take cash, but having entered derp mode, I simply said, “Uh… credit card.” So, recomposing myself, I swiped my card on the machine and… nothing happened. I stared blankly at the screen for a good two minutes while my brain went “Red Alert! Red Alert! System malfunction!” Then the cashier, with a quiet chuckle, gently told me, “Oh, you have to turn your card the other way.” “Oh, uh,” was all I managed to say followed by a nervous chuckle. Red face? Check. Nervous chuckle? Check. Embarrassing yourself in front of a cute girl? Unfortunately, check. Derp-cycle complete.
Now, regardless of what you think of me, all of us have done things or been in situations that have made us feel foolish or even downright stupid, and there are probably more than a few of you that let those moments burrow into your head and sit there like a sad song stuck on repeat, myself included. So, I’m going to share a bit of what I’ve learned since middle school and hope that one of you finds it helpful (I wouldn’t be writing this otherwise).
The insecurity in being derpy comes from elevated expectations and the fear of what might happen if those expectations aren’t met. Tell me if this sounds familiar: parents expecting you to have your life figured out by the time you graduate high school, college interviewers expecting you to have a good answer when they ask you “What’s your five-year plan?”, or even your own high self-expectations of being the best at everything. Now, none of those things are bad, and if you do have your life figured out, complete with a five-year plan that you’ve already set in motion, and you constantly meet your own lofty standards, then I applaud you and humbly ask that you share your secrets to success in the comment section. But for those of us that have mini-panic attacks when asked to swipe our credit cards, those expectations come with an incredible amount of pressure, and the sad song it creates is an anxious tune called, “What if I Fail?” It’s constricting, scary, even; walking around like you might accidentally step on a piece of glass that’ll reveal how flawed you really are. Seeing dry spots in the reflecting pool of our competency can make us feel vulnerable, and being vulnerable, by instinct, makes us feel like we ought to avoid moments of derpiness like the plague.
But there is growth in derpiness, just as there is freedom in vulnerability. And the first step in realizing that is to let go of expectations; what others expect of you, what you expect of yourself, just breathe in and let it all out. True, it’s easier said than done, but when you stop worrying about reaching for a bar that makes you afraid of heights, you can focus on actual growth, on learning, on doing. And that’s the second step. Shia LaBeouf was right when he said, “Just do it”, but I personally believe Benedict Cumberbatch says it better.
Do something new, something that makes you feel vulnerable, step out of the boundaries of your strengths and try tackling the things that will, at first, make you feel stupid. And if you happen to have one of those moments accidentally, fantastic! You’ve discovered a gap in your knowledge and now have an opportunity to fill it. Yes, it might cost some pride and dignity, but there is an entire universe filled with wonders and people who know more than ourselves that are ready help us grow if we only allow ourselves to trust our vulnerability, to let go of the worry from expectations, and to just start doing. It’s what the folks in the Math Department call having a “growth mindset”: viewing our capacity for understanding and growth as something limitless. That being said, I’ll leave you now with a request and a challenge: go forth, and have a growth mindset, trust your vulnerability, release your expectations, and feel free to be derpy.