Mark once joked that Sammy is like the dog version of me. I laughed it off at the time, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Yep, Sammy and I have much more in common than putting on weight really quickly, being generally lazy, and loving naps. We are, in fact, trying to get by with social awkwardness.
Now, I can’t say for certain that Sammy is, indeed, socially awkward. But when I watch her interactions with other dogs, for example, I feel that she wants to engage but doesn’t really know how to go about it. Case in point: if she is particularly interested in a dog that happens to walk by, she will stop what she’s doing and stare in their direction. Apparently, staring in the dog world is considered rude. But she will stand. And stare. And stare. Sometimes she will whine, as if she wants to go say hi but doesn’t know what to do, like, “omg that dog seems cool but I can’t just go up to her and sniff her butt, right?”
Most of the time, the other party doesn’t want to engage, which is perfectly acceptable. I suppose it’s an unspoken social protocol as it comes to fellow dog walkers; we will err on the side of caution and provide plenty of space when we cross paths. Strange dogs are just that: strange, and unknown.
I often get stuck in that same “frozen” state in social interactions. Even though I’ve had plenty of practice talking to new people, being in a crowd, and even doing some public speaking (omg), every time I have to engage in any of these activities, it fills my insides with a hot, burning anxiety.
It’s hard to imagine being this way and having chosen to become a freelancer. Why would a socially awkward introvert choose a career path that involves having to talk to new people, be in a crowd, and do public speaking? Sounds pretty ridiculous, right? I often have these thoughts and I hammer myself with a series of questions that serve to undermine my own decision (I am my own worst enemy). Like, “why would you leave your perfectly fine, perfectly safe corporate job for this?!” Or, “what makes you think you can overcome this anxiety and actually make something of yourself?!”
The other day, I had to introduce myself and my business in about 90 seconds. I knew this was coming and I prepared. I wrote what I wanted to say and I practiced it aloud over and over again. I practiced it in the car on the way to the engagement. I had practiced enough that I was confident I could rehash my spiel word-for-word.
As I waited patiently for my turn, the hot, burning anxiety started working itself up in the pit of my stomach. Any time, my slide could come up and it would be my turn. Oh boy. It was hard to concentrate on the others’ intros and I started stress-sweating (in all fairness, that room was hot to begin with and it did NOT help).
It was finally my turn. Up until that moment, I had been psyching myself up, you can do this, you can do this, you got this. I stood up and as soon as the words started coming out of my mouth, I started to go blank. My sentences didn’t come out the way I’d written them. My words kept getting jumbled. I was rambling. I was not getting across the information I wanted to the crowd. I kept looking around the room and saw a sea of eyes staring back intently and it threw me off even more.
I eventually got through it, but as soon as I sat down, that hot, burning anxiety turned into hot, burning embarrassment and shame. I wanted the chair to swallow me up and make me disappear. I was so goddamn sweaty and irritated with myself that I wished I could have run away.
Afterwards, I could hardly enjoy myself at the social mixer. I chatted with a couple of people, but when I tried to work myself up to join other groups of people and to meet other new faces, I clammed up. I made myself look busy by checking my phone and then silently slinked away, using the excuse that I had to go pick up my husband from work (I really didn’t have to).
I felt that I’d blown my chance at positioning myself and my business as a value-add to all the members that had been in that room. I had failed to convey what I offered and what I’m good at. Perhaps in that moment, with all the anxiety and embarrassment, I had almost felt a palpable sense of regret on the part of the individual that approved my membership in the first place.
I get over-dramatic, what can I say.
That awful scene has been playing over and over again in my mind. It’s been almost 48 hours and I still cringe so badly whenever I think of what I said (or didn’t say). It makes my insides hurt. I’m actually getting teary-eyed reliving this moment in words.
Okay, let’s take a deep breath.
Knowing that I have a long way to go as it relates to being socially confident, you would think the most logical solution would be avoidance. And believe me, I would LOVE to avoid any situation that causes me to have social anxiety. But life doesn’t work that way and I actively chose a career path that demands I get over my awkwardness and learn the skills required to cope and overcome these situations. I’m fully aware that I have a long way to go before I can stand in front of a room of strangers and speak confidently about myself and my business. I’m trying. I’m really trying.
Is it enough?
Will I be able to overcome?
The biggest lesson I learned from this experience is that no matter how much I tell myself to let go and move on, I’m still not able to (see my previous post about learning to be more like a dog). Letting go and moving on is easier said than done. The reel of embarrassment loves to replay each agonizing moment over and over again for me to relive and dissect, and become embarrassed and shamed so many times over.
Mark tried to console me by saying that some of those people were probably too busy thinking about what they were going to say that they weren’t paying full attention, and most will have forgotten what I said pretty soon after. At the time, it didn’t seem possible that people weren’t thinking, “dude, wtf what a weirdo” (all right so there is a possibility, I can never assume but for the sake of my sanity let’s pretend it’s not possible). It was little consolation and the best I could do to manage – just an hour shy from when the awful introduction happened – was to simply make fun and light of the situation.
But I had some quiet moments today to think about the first part of Mark’s consolation: that some of those people were probably too busy thinking about what they were going to say that they weren’t paying full attention. I fully admit that I was one of those people. I hardly recall what any of the new members had actually said. I remember the gist of their spiels, but not any fine details (confirmation of the second part).
I also remembered that I did choose avoidance to deal with my shame. Even though I could have taken the opportunity to push myself and work through the discomfort, I instead retreated to the easy option of running away. In my anxiety-ridden state, I defaulted to the path of least resistance: make an excuse and GTFO.
So, things I need to work on:
- Practice letting go and moving on. Until it becomes muscle memory. Until that is the default reaction when something doesn’t turn out the way I intended. Practice makes perfect.
- Stop worrying so much about what others think. They are often too busy thinking and worrying about themselves.
- Engage in uncomfortable situations to continue pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone. Work past the hot, burning anxiety. Don’t take the path of least resistance.
As for Sammy, I have helped to develop her own coping skills with her dog social awkwardness. She will either automatically sit for treats (what a good girl), or we engage in a game of “go get it!”, which is me throwing treats in the opposite direction and her running excitedly towards them (because above all things, FOOD IS KING in Sammy’s world).
We’re a team and we’re gonna conquer the awkwardness, one step at a time.
Hi! I’m Cindy and I’m socially awkward, but I’m working on it.
Anyone else experience the same anxiety? If so, how did you overcome it?