Hello and a happy Friday to you, lovely human!
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned a topic I was working on that wasn't quite ready for publishing. Here it is!
Every morning, during my time at the 9-5 job, there was a moment that I absolutely dreaded.
It wasn’t waking up while it was still dark out during the wintertime. It wasn’t getting out of my warm house and into the brisk outdoors. It wasn’t even waiting in traffic for 40 minutes surrounded by other frustrated, road raging drivers. Those who read Road Rage know how dreadful that was for me. Well, I dreaded those things too, but they are not the moment to which I am referring.
The moment in question occurred just after entering my work’s building and reaching the elevators. Finding no one in sight, I would press the button, take a little breath, and say to myself “Please, please let me ride this elevator alone.”
I considered my solo ride to be the last moment to myself before my active day began.
If I had to share the elevator ride, I would much prefer it to be filled completely with people.
To me, sharing a ride with only one person was the absolute worst.
Having only one other person there increased the probability of me having to engage in the dreaded “small talk”. Dum dum dummmmm.
Any introverts in the house?! No? Well, I wouldn’t expect you to announce yourselves. But I know you’re there, and I love you.
I’ve always considered myself to be right in between being an introverted extrovert and an extroverted introvert. Those who understand that, know the fine line. Those who don’t, well, it’s possible you never will.
Interestingly, if you were to put me in a social setting with a hundred people, I would be completely fine! In fact, I’d love it! - insert the extrovert part here.
But if you were to put me in an elevator with a stranger going up 6 floors, oh man, I would likely consider taking the stairs.
To me, the fewer the people to converse with, the more intimate the conversation might become. The more attention is put on each word, the sharper I felt I needed to be with the direction of the conversation.
I have several good friends who can talk about anything, and any point, for as long as is necessary. I, myself, hadn’t mastered this superpower quite yet.
The problem was not getting intimate in conversation.
I LOVE getting deep and real with someone. I want to know how they feel, what they think, their perspectives, all that fun stuff! The problem was the time constraints. How deep can I really get during a 5 minute elevator ride in the morning? Actually, one can share quite a bit in 5 minutes.
But the pressure that came with filling in the silence was deafening to me.
Have any of you ever felt that? The awkward silence where you just know both of you are hoping the other won’t say anything so neither would need to engage in conversation.
I believe that’s called social anxiety.
As you know, I like to explore and question things I think I know. I’m always open to new perspectives. Just because I believe things to be a certain way, doesn’t mean they can be no other way. So, naturally, I asked myself the question:
What is social anxiety, and from where does it stem?
As always, all I can really know for sure is my own experience. Ergo, in my opinion, social anxiety came from the belief that I needed to be a certain way in order to be “correct” or "normal".
If I was not that way, I would be “wrong” which is the worst thing that could happen to me.
I used to feel this pressure in my chest when I was faced with a situation where I needed to say or do something specific or in a certain way for it to have been done right. That pressure of doing it wrong was so great, I would often stumble upon my words and completely forget my speech. This self-fulfilling prophecy was my downfall. I was so scared of my words failing me, that I would, in turn, forget my words.
This was true in many areas of my life.
When I was in high school, my teachers would often do this exercise where they had each student read a paragraph from a book out loud.
I used to count how many students were ahead of me and find the paragraph I would be called upon to read and rehearse it in my head.
Tell me, have any of you ever done this?!
One time, the teacher cut a student’s paragraph reading short and moved on to the next kid a little earlier, which threw off my count. I was unprepared for my paragraph and my turn had come unrehearsed. I was so nervous, I stumbled throughout that read like I was performing a play for the first time completely naked. It probably went better than I thought it did, but my mind took me to the worst case scenario.
Why does my mind always imagine the worst? Do yours to that, too? Tell me I’m not the only one here!
Here is something I learned throughout my years of self-exploration: The reason I didn’t like small talk was because I believed I needed to be a certain way to “do it right”. But the truth is, I just needed to be exactly myself. If I have nothing to say, I don’t have to say anything at all. If the other person starts the conversation, I can engage if I want to. But to force it for the sake of being social clearly brings upon stress that doesn’t have to be there. I don’t owe anyone anything. And that doesn’t mean I need to be rude. It simply means that I can relax knowing that I am exactly myself.
Granted, it would be beneficial to learn basic small talk skills. There are actually courses out there for this exact purpose. In case you need to be in your line of work. But to me, the bottom line is to breathe and know that there is no wrong way to connect with another human being. So long as I’m doing it honestly and authentically, it would be a beautiful interaction.
Now, I’m not going to lie to you, my lovely reader, I still struggle with this sometimes. I can engage in small talk, but I do still sometimes feel my shield come up. I sometimes feel my autopilot engage, and I sometimes don’t feel present throughout the interaction. But, I try. Every. Single. Time. I try.
A good friend of mine told me a story one about one of the first times she went to a restaurant after the COVID lockdown. She was at a table with this girl who was a friend of a friend. They had never met, but were seated next to each other. My friend cleverly sparked a conversation with “so, have you become a plant mom?” A plant mom: A woman who had adopted many plants throughout this pandemic and loved each one dearly.
The friend of the friend laughed out loud and enthusiastically expressed her appreciation for this topic, since she, too, had become a plant mom.
This story made me laugh, and also opened my eyes to just how easily it can be to talk to someone about anything. Especially if that something is near and dear to your heart.
As I write this, I’m getting some nice clarity and ideas on how to engage in some small talk in the future. All it takes is to open up about myself, share a detail that speaks to me, and see how the conversation unfolds. I find, as well, the more vulnerable you are, the easier it is for the other to open up as well, naturally.
If you, like me, experience social anxiety, the very best thing I can tell you is this: breathe.
Trust me on this, guys. If you breathe, things will immediately feel a thousand times better.
Of course, there are other things you can do, but to me, this is numero uno.
While we continue to explore ourselves and take a good look at the things we're good at and are no so good at, I invite you to stay gentle, to stay soft, and keep the compassion. This life is but a learning opportunity, afterall.
As always, with love and kindness,