Laugh at Yourself

Some of our dearest blogging friends have written about ‘heroes’ recently and as I read, and reread their posts, my mind started to hum with notes of recognition and gratitude for the many people in my life who’ve been beacons and inspirations.  Most of all, one person popped forward…my friend Phil.

I’m surprised I haven’t written about him yet because the stories…oh, the stories…they’re a writer’s treasure trove of topics.  My guess is that I’m sentimental and melancholy about the ‘good old days’ when my hero/mentor guided me into my professional life.  I’ve kept those nuggets tucked away, not willing to share him…until now.

My friendship with Phil was forged as equal parts professional and personal.  He knew all about my family, our hardships and in turn, he was generous and open about his path and the call he answered by choosing to serve others.  So many in the “helping professions” experience rocky roads of their own and I believe that’s where my deep empathy comes from.  Resiliency despite pain…fortitude forged from a blessed mix of release and recovery.  That was my friend Phil…and I’d love to introduce you to him as I share one silly story from my precious vault of “Phil Fun”.

My all-time favorite role as a college professor involved teaching a weekend immersion and experiential humanistic psychology course. The syllabus included a mix of lectures, hand-on activities, reaction papers and theoretical ‘deep dives’.

I was new to teaching and the prospect of being with 24 students for two weekends…especially the nine-hour days on Saturdays scared the life out of me.  Friday nights?  I figured I could fill and finagle to get through four hours of non-stop instruction…but double that on Saturday?  I was scared, despite my qualifications.

Phil?  He was excited to have me on deck to observe as an instructor-in-training.  He generously provided his outline, assignments, and his activity ‘took kit’….ferreted from his archives in the archaeological dig that was his office.  His inner sanctum.  Phil had a reputation for being nimble in the classroom, able to pivot and adjust his instruction, as needed – ever focused on ensuring he ‘reached’ every student and I knew I was a fortunate understudy.

We met a few times before the course began and worked out the details of my role, which lectures I’d cover and which activities were mine to facilitate.  I felt comfortable…to a point…but I worried about the big unknown – how 24 strangers (our students) would respond to the content, the heavy interaction…and me.

Most of all, I worried about ground rules and ensuring comfort and safety for all – given the inherent disclosure aspects of the experiential course.  I reviewed the syllabus repetitively, consulting with Phil, seeking his guidance.  Was it strong enough about privacy and confidentiality?  Were the ground rules explicit enough? Phil saw past my spoken concerns, assuring me that I would know how to intervene and redirect any rogue or wayward students, but still, I had the sweats.  The new teacher flop sweats.

In the first session, I watched Phil work the room, despite looks of disinterest and indifference from several students who sat with arms folded – postures that screamed “I dare you to try…you can’t get to me, buddy.”  Anxious me kept my eyes on Phil as he deftly covered the first chunks of content and gave the students a ten-minute break.  Thank God.  Time to confer, I thought.  But Phil?  Unfazed.  He just said, “We’ve got a couple of tough nuts. Watch. We’ll get to them.”  Oh, golly.  He was right but he couldn’t have anticipated the method.

When our students began to roll back into class, Phil was futzing with an old school overhead projector and as he bent over to plug it in and make adjustments, he farted.  Not a tiny poof that might’ve gone unnoticed, attributed to background noise or perhaps the sound of a squeaky wheel on the projector cart. Nope – this was a highly audible whopper and as Phil turned to face the students (who’d had the full visual of seeing his backside front and center as said-fart escaped) the class was entirely silent. Pin drop.

The students stopped, frozen in place.  Even the stragglers who were doing last-minute surfing of the communal snack table, grabbing cookies and chips, became statues…until Phil said:

“Oh, my.  Excuse me.  I knew those grapes were going to be a problem.  Let’s scrap the next topic and talk about our most embarrassing moments!”

In the next 20 minutes, Phil briefly told a couple of anecdotes –  memorable, laughable, endearing “Phil stories” – and it was just what the class needed to reset, begin again.  In small groups we asked the students to share – according to their comfort level – the funniest and/or most embarrassing scenes from their lives.  Phil had broken the ice…in the most unconventional way and the room was rocking with energy and giggles.

When Phil called time on the small group work, he finessed his way into an extemporaneous lecture about humility, humor, and the need for laughter…topics intended for the following Friday night about stress relief, hormones, and illness. 

Phil’s toot?  The most unconventional ice-breaker EVER.  As soon as Phil “owned it” and showed that it was okay to talk about embarrassing moments, even the tough nuts relaxed their defensive postures, smiling, and participating. They were overcome with laughter…at first laughing AT Phil…the farting professor…but soon it didn’t matter.  Climate change occurred.  The room was lighter because Phil provided the gateway to a more relaxed learning environment for all.

Years later, Phil used the ‘toot story’ in legendary fashion – sharing it in his trademark, standing-room-only conference presentations and teaching seminars as an example of shedding the ‘sage on the stage’ persona with students.  He never wanted to be the untouchable professor and learned that humor – especially the self-deprecating variety  – was a gateway.  Toot! Toot!

And so…now you’ve met Phil.  One of my heroes for reminding me that we dare not take ourselves too seriously and for demonstrating, over and over again, that the best game plan is only that.  A plan.  Read the room, the situation.  Trust your instincts and forge ahead.  And if the unexpected happens? Be the first to laugh at yourself.

Love, love, love,

Vicki 💕

27 thoughts on “Laugh at Yourself

  1. I love this Victoria. You had me laughing as I read. I can relate to everything. I also agree with Phil, we need to be at the same level as the students, not something distant. I want my students to feel comfortable approaching me. I also agree with the need to be flexible and adaptable. He sounds like he was a great mentor. I wish I had someone like that when I was starting out – my experience was more sink or swim.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you, Brenda, for seeing Phil! I think I’ve hesitated to write about him because he was/is such a special human — how do I do justice to HIM? And you’re right — what a gift for me as a new…terrified teacher! I’m so glad the post gave you a giggle. Appreciate you!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh, I love your description, especially of Phil’s archaeological dig of office and of course his toot! I found myself right there with you. What a great friend and mentor. I’m in awe of his flexibility and ability to change on a dime. I’m in awe of people like that, an amazing skill. I too would be frightened to death by that type of 24-hour teaching session. Wow! Finally, isn’t it great when we meet heroes like Phil who challenge and inspire us, but also reach back and pull us along, showing us the way and letting know we can do it too. These are wonderful wonderful people! The true angels on earth if you ask me!!!!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Yes….he was/is pretty magical. He’s retired to the great Southwest and we’re in touch by email, but I miss his presence…his essence. What a human! And yes…so talented. Thanks much for reading and for your comment, Brian! 😘😉😘

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Brian absolutely nailed it! Phil sounds amazing–nimble and adaptive with a knack for fostering human connection and cracking open those tough nuts! I remember so many times in my youth hearing the advice “learn to laugh at yourself,” but I think most of us require someone to lead by example, and it sounds like that’s just what Phil did you for and the students.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Oh — great point! Yes — nimble and adaptive – that’s Phil! Never did he miss an opportunity to capitalize on a ‘teachable moment’ — even at his expense. Thanks, Erin. xo! 😘😘😘

      Liked by 2 people

  4. This is such a great post. I love your sentence, “climate change occurred.” That’s the kind of climate change we need! And I love that Phil used the toot story for years to come – reminding us that our most embarrassing moments to great effect again and again. What a great example of resilience, teaching and leadership — all rolled into one!

    Clearly Phil couldn’t have had a more attentive and adept understudy than you. And you’ve honored him so well with this story and the example you provide to all of us!! Thank you, dear Vicki!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes…he had an uncanny way of breaking through with students (tee hee) by making fun of himself. He was the best at using humor in the **just right** way to reach students. A magician! Thanks for reading and for your kind comments, Wynne! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Okay, so a minute ago you had me crying at Walmart—now you’ve got me chortling my way through a Phil-farts workshop. Talking about thinking on your feet. Or your seat. Or whatever. No wonder you love Phil. I love him too!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Julia…Phil would adore you! You’re equally matched in the quick wit department. What a twosome you’d be teaching together…well, heck…doing ANYTHING together! Thanks for making me laugh. xoxoxoxo! 😘😘😘

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh yes…definitely! If I get there first, I’ll save seats for the two of you on the carousel — you know – one of those lovey-dovey two-seaters. Deal! Love you, Julia! 💕💕💕


  6. Your post stirred fond memories of the “Phils” that helped me forge my career. I worked in a predominately male environment so finding my footing as an equal was precarious at times. Had it not been for them, I am not confident I would have managed as well. What a champion of the human spirit Phil proved to be. Thank you for sharing your story.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, for reading and sharing that you had a ‘Phil’ or two looking out for you. You’re right on about the confidence piece — Phil did that for me a million times over and I can only wonder how I might’ve fared without his positive influence. xo to you, Maggie! 💕

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Such a great story, Vicki! Agree with everything that’s been said, but I think Julia’s comment about thinking on your seat is my favorite. You could also say Phil took being a “tutor” to a whole new level. 😉 Seriously though, what a treasure it is to have people like that to show us the way. And the fact that you recognized his wisdom – and gleaned from it – speaks to you. A wonderful story all around, with so many nuggets of wisdom! 🤍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Morning, Kendra! You’ve got me giggling — with your ‘tutor’ comment. That’s hilarious. How DO you do that — funny girl? And yes — I am lucky to have ‘the Philster’ in my life. Thanks so much for reading and for your fun and loving comment. xo! 😘😘😘

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s