Leaning In to Those Awkward Moments

By Kathleen Gerwin

For those of you who have spent any time around teenagers, I’m going to wager that you’ve heard this sentence uttered more than once: “Oh my God, that’s SO awkward.” As a high school teacher, it’s a phrase I cannot seem to escape and one that seems to be applied to just about everything, from a parent’s overly enthusiastic greeting, to public speaking, and everything in between.

Some of this is just part of growing up. In adolescence, as your body and mind are betraying you, developing in new and strange ways, it’s difficult to not view things through the lens of awkwardness. Who among us can forget those painful adolescent moments when it felt as if the room was closing in on us and melting into the floor seemed like the best possible outcome?

What worries me about teenagers today, however, is twofold.

First, the fact that many normal, developmentally appropriate situations are being painted as awkward. For example: on a recent service trip with my students, I was driving a group of seniors from our Habitat worksite to the Church that was hosting us for dinner. Our GPS had taken us off-course, so I asked one of the girls to call the Church to inform our host that we would be a few minutes late. From the look on my otherwise extremely extroverted, socially adept student’s face, you would have thought that I had asked her to run through the parking lot naked. “Ms. GERWIN,” she cried, “That’s so AWKWARD!” The rest of girls chimed in, agreeing that calling a stranger —even for less than a minute to convey information—was in the 7th Ring of Awkward Hell.

The second, and potentially more troubling fact, is that this generation of teens seems to have far more ways to avert or avoid those awkward moments: texting has made it so every response can be edited and reviewed by a jury of peers; silent moments at dinner can be filled with time on your phone or the drone of the TV; in a photo-shop, Facebook-centric world, pictures and profiles can be cleaned up so only the most “acceptable” self has to be presented to the world. The danger is that rather than having to sit in those awkward moments, teens—and perhaps all of us—never have the chance to come to the other side of those uncomfortable situations and realize that they won’t, in fact, kill us. Awkward moments, like adolescence, are periods of growth—often far from pleasant, but necessary if we are to develop properly.

The gift of sitting in awkwardness is the realization that there is a Self within us that goes beyond feelings, situations, or judgments. And that is certainly nothing to feel awkward about.