What My Mother’s ‘Constipation’ Taught Me About Confidence – Really!

Last week, a client shared that he’s afraid of what people will think if he says something stupid. I told him the following story, but be warned, as it is an oddball tale!

My mother, who didn’t graduate high school, “covered” her insecurities with designer clothes and spoke with an air of authority, even when she didn’t know what she was talking about.

We lived in a Bronx apartment and when I was seven my parents bought a summerhouse in a town along the Jersey shore. It was a new development and it was a simple house –– linoleum tiles atop a concrete slab floor, shingled exterior walls with jalousie windows.  White with a pink trim it was my mother’s longed-for dollhouse.

A problem soon appeared –– we had a mysterious leak. We had no idea why, every morning, moisture was on the tiles. A plumber came and announced that the moisture was “condensation.”

This was a new word for my mother and she was annoyed as all she wanted was to put down wall-to-wall carpeting (yes, in a beach house). This condensation “thing” had to be fixed.

Soon after, a couple named O’Connell bought the house next door. My mother usually kept to herself, but for some reason decided to introduce herself –– that’s what neighbors are supposed to do, yes?

Mary and Jim O’Connell were a middle-aged couple from Massachusetts. When my mother learned that they bought the house as income property she did something she never did – she asked for help.

She told Jim that this was her first house and since he knew houses maybe he could help explain something. She said: “We thought we had a leak, but the plumber said we had constipation. It’s awful. We live in an apartment and don’t have this kind of problem, but since you live in a house, perhaps you’ve had constipation?”

Open-mouthed, Jim stared at my mother. My father was rolling on the ground, but my mother didn’t notice and continued, “We wake up in the morning and constipation is everywhere. We don’t know what to do. What do you suggest?”


Suddenly, Jim figured it out and asked if she meant “condensation.” She claimed that’s what she said but we all assured her that she hadn’t. For a brief moment, she looked embarrassed and then started laughing. Undeterred, she asked Jim if he could help with that “new word.”

Yes, my mother was vain and concerned what people thought of her. But, yes, she could admit a mistake and laugh at herself. It was a great gift and a lesson I shared with my client who is worried about what people will think of him.

Laughter is not only the “best medicine” it’s also a sure way to overcome embarrassment.

And, in case you’re wondering, my parents and the O’Connell’s became great friends.

What about you? 

Can you laugh at your ‘constipation’?!

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