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Why laughing at your mistakes is the perfect way to move past them

In a world where everyone feels pressured to be perfect, former White House speechwriter David Litt found that sometimes the best way to get ahead is simply to laugh at your mistakes and admit you’re only human. Liff offers his humble opinion on the secret power of self-deprecation.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    In our social media-focused world, sometimes, it can seem like everybody is bragging about their accomplishments, but what if we didn't show the best and the greatest, but rather shared or talked about our mistakes?

    Tonight, former White House speechwriter David Litt offers his Humble Opinion on the secret power of self-deprecation.

  • David Litt:

    It's 2011. I'm 25 years old, a junior White House speechwriter, and just seconds ago, I have been introduced to President Obama for the very first time.

    I have imagined this moment for years. This is my chance to make an impression. The president looks at me and says, "How's it going?"

    And exactly one thought runs through my head: "I didn't realize we were going to have to answer questions."

    And I have literally no idea what I said after that. I actually blacked out.

    I guess it can't have been too bad, because, for the next few years, I did keep writing speeches and jokes for President Obama.

    And one thing he understood when it came to comedy is that the number one rule of political humor is, be self-deprecating. Don't be afraid to make fun of yourself.

    But how many of us follow that rule in our own lives? We're always told, put your best foot forward. Fake it until you make it. Don't let them see you sweat.

    And, sometimes, that really is good advice. There's no reason to wallow in every failure. If somebody asks you in a job interview, what's your biggest weakness, do not them tell the truth.

    But what I have learned is that you don't have to be president to benefit from a little bit of self-deprecation. Sometimes, the best way to get ahead is to put your worst foot forward.

    In a world where everyone feels pressure to be perfect, there's real value in admitting that you're only human. When you can laugh at your own mistakes and get other people to laugh at them too, that helps give you the confidence to move past them.

    Self-deprecation is a way to admit your faults without letting them define you. It's also a way to stay balanced. You need to leave room for humility. We all need to acknowledge that we're going to try our hardest, and, even so, we will sometimes come up short.

    Only humor lets you have both doubt and self-confidence simultaneously. And laughing at yourself takes the pressure off everyone around you, because, when we're kids, we think the world is run by these perfect grownups. But then we get older, and we learn the truth: There are no grownups. There's just us.

    And we're not perfect. We stumble, and we come up short, and we black out in front of presidents.

    OK, maybe that last one was just me.

    But the point is, once we accept our own imperfections, it doesn't have to be disappointing. It's liberating, because it means we don't have to wait for perfect people to come save us.

    Instead, we can do what everyone who came before us did. We can each be only human, and yet, somehow together, we can do big things.

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