When I was a senior in college, I worked at a small think tank. It was an ideal job: I was intellectually stimulated, worked on issues I cared deeply about, and had brilliant and cool supervisors I genuinely got along with. Needless to say, I was thrilled when I got a fellowship to attend a UN conference with them during my winter break. I was flown out from the tundra of my university town to a tropical location for a week to meet with diplomats, attend high-level presentations and panel discussions, and go to international networking events—all with a beach in the background and, in the evenings, a margarita in hand.
I was in a long distance relationship at the time; my boyfriend was finishing his masters degree thousands of miles over an ocean away. Like many couples in our situation, we exchanged NSFW photos to get through the periods of separation, and the timer function on my camera was getting a lot of action.
On the first day of the conference, I asked my favorite boss to take a photo of me at the entrance of the major event pavilion. I handed her my camera, told her how to turn it on, and posed. When she looked at the screen to take the picture, her eyes bulged, she blurted out, "I don't think I'm supposed to see this!" turning her face away and holding the camera as far from her body as possible like it was about to explode. I walked over to see what had happened and immediately felt my heartbeat skyrocket and started to sweat profusely. The camera had been on review mode, and the most recent photo taken featured yours truly splayed in an uncompromising position.
Somehow I managed to turn the camera on the correct setting, hand it back to her and re-pose for the picture without following my panic instinct to shriek and run away. I spent the remainder of the day at the conference hiding from the rest of my group and figuring out how I could possibly fix this before our evening event. I sat in front of my computer for hours drafting, revising, deleting, and re-writing the following:
"So sorry about the camera incident—it is an understatement to say that I am mortified."
After I hit "Send," I read and re-read the email, frantically Gchatting my boyfriend about what had happened and refreshing my email inbox every few seconds via the crappy hotel internet.
My heart sank when when I got her reply:
"I had already forgotten about it :) Not to worry. Glad it was me and not someone else. You can mark it down as another thing you learned—don't mix personal and professional!"
Later in the conference, a prominent attendee propositioned us for a threesome and a drunk colleague started a "Wonderwall" singalong on a public bus, so my faux pas ended up being just one of many. While I can't say what impact the camera incident had on our relationship, we have never acknowledged it again, years later, and remain close—I still consider her a role model and the best boss ever. I also always make sure to delete intimate images ASAP...and I can't be the only one this has happened to, right?
Photo by Tom Newton.