It was my first on campus residency for my MBA program. An intensive three week undertaking that would test the limits for me and my fellow learners. For three weeks we had been pushed to our limits, hitting walls, hooking ourselves up to metaphorical caffeine IV drips, and busting through projects, spreadsheets, presentations, and papers.
Toward the end of the three weeks there was a morning event and I decided to wear my brand new, Calvin Klein, super cute tan dress with a gold zipper all the way up the front. After the event we went to class, where we participated in an exercise that had us moving from table to table, flipcharts and markers abound. This was the life. After a rocky relationship with education in my formative years I had found something that was so on point to where I wanted to be, with people who were like-minded and supportive.
And then, I dropped a marker. The purple marker landed like a thud, rolling gently beneath my feet.
Sitting at the table, closest to the door (thank God, or whoever), I had the skirt of my dress pulled tight and tucked under my legs, and bent down to grab the marker, and that is when it happened.
The ZIPPER SPLIT!
That’s right, like a winter jacket on a fat kid, my zipper had separated at the bottom of the skirt, and was slowly working it’s way up, with nothing underneath but skin and undies.
My face always betrays me, at no point should I legitimately play poker, one raise of an eyebrow will tell you I’m bluffing with a 7-2 off-suit. And so you can imagine that the look on my face at that moment was like an open window to my soul. I quickly pulled the bottom of the dress together, walked away from my table and out the door. Across the hall was a breakout room, that was luckily empty, and so I snuck inside, closed the door and stood still for at least thirty seconds allowing the ridiculousness of what I was facing catch up to me.
I reasoned with myself that all I had to do was undo the zipper all the way, and then rezip, at lunch I could go and change. This would be a breeze.
But you know how they say mothers miraculously find the strength to lift a bus off a child? The strength of my fingers in that moment pried that zipper tab clean off the dress, and I was left with an open dress and no way to close it, not too mention no extra material to just wrap around my body. Add to this, the fact that I left the class with no bag, no phone, no key to my dorm, and no way to get any of those things without entering the classroom.
I took stock of my position in the building. I was close to the stairwell, the time of day meant most people would be in class, it wasn’t a busy campus, and the dorm, well it was a good five minute walk through open campus away. I resolved that I would hold the dress together, dash down the stairs, and make my way across campus to my dorm, where I would ask security to let this poor naked girl into her room to get new clothes. Surely they would take pity on me, and get a good laugh in the process. And thus began what felt like the longest journey of my life.
I made it down the stairs, and peeked out the door. The way was clear and I started to walk quickly across campus, darting behind buildings and trees whenever someone came close. I was like a half-naked Ace Ventura on his way to the shark tank. On my way to the dorm I remembered that I had done laundry that morning and had not moved my clothes from the dryer. Like the gods were smiling down on me at the same time as they were smiting me, I got to my dorm building burst through the door, to the elevator which was miraculously waiting for me, doors open, up to the 4th floor, down the hall, into the laundry room. Threw on jeans and a t-shirt, stuffing the offending dress in the dryer with the rest of my clothes which I would collect at my lunch break and started to make my way back to my class.
The adrenaline of the adventure had me shaking. My whole body was vibrating at a higher than normal level, as I came to terms with how resilient I had proven to be in this otherwise most embarrassing, vulnerable, and exposed moment of my life. I had, within a 15 minute period of time, broken my dress in a way that left me half-naked, snuck out of a class, broke the dress worse, ran across the campus clutching said dress together, changed, and headed back to class before anyone even realized I had disappeared.
Was this the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through? No.
Did it teach me that I could be faced with a ridiculous, embarrassing, and stressful situation and still be ok? Absolutely.
In fact, the thing I did after the zipper break cemented a lifelong friendship. I told someone about it. I decided that it was important to laugh at the situation and so I told the four people I had been working closest with through the three week’s on campus. I took the power of my emotions out of that moment, and allowed laughter to replace stress and friendship to replace fear.
We have these moments in life when we think that we are limited in our choices, that this thing that is happening, this thing right now, that it will break us. I have news for you. It won’t. It will bend you in ways that you didn’t realize you could bend, but when that happens you are creating flexibility in the way you approach things. Think of these moments as yoga for your capabilities.
Bad day at work – that’s just child’s pose.
Babysitter calls in sick – downward facing dog.
Zipper busts on dress in middle of class – pigeon pose.
You might think that there are no options, but sometimes we need to create our own options. That is what I did when I ran out the door of that building, holding together the two sides of my dress like an ill-fitting hospital gown (are there any other kinds). That is what I did, when I decided to depart from the comfort of my 15 year corporate career and go on this adventure I call my business. That is what you do everyday when you make a choice that goes against the grain, pushing you outside your comfort zone. This is where growth happens.
And in the meantime, learn from my experience. When life hands you a busted zipper:
- Remove yourself from the immediate situation
- Take a deep breath and take control
- Start to think through all of the potential solutions to your predicament
- Take action
- Laugh and share