This is a video of Dr. Brene Brown discussing the importance of vulnerability in making connections. She makes a compelling case about the power of opening up and being present and how it can positively affect every relationship in our lives. The ironic thing is that most of us have the opposite inclination when we have to reach out. Drop me in the middle of a cocktail party full of strangers and my first impulse is to protect myself. I try to find a “safe” spot and then hold still, hoping that people will come to me. The most difficult thing for me to do in these situations is to reach across the void of unfamiliarity and introduce myself to someone. While I often define myself as an extrovert and feel very comfortable on a stage, I struggle to feel at ease as I move through the world of small talk that is expected at a party.
Since I started to do this work, I have had to become much more curious about this tendency in myself. What am I afraid of? What do I think will happen if I walk across the room and say hello?
1. You might reject me.
2. I might have to reject you.
The second is arrogance and the first is insecurity. (Neither one is very pretty.)
One thing that I have learned, however, in doing this work is that people are far more interesting than I often give them credit for being, as long as I don’t limit them to just what they do for a living and I listen closely to what they are telling me. I read somewhere that everyone has an interesting story to tell, even if they don’t know it, yet. All you need to do is listen long enough. If I give up the expectation that I need to feel “safe” or entertained and just focus instead on being curious about who these people are, I often come away not only surprised but enriched. But it is a choice that I have to make to reach out, which carries with it that risk that I might be the one rejected.
Rejection is a funny thing. When I am in social situations, I can find myself running a constant list of reasons why someone might want to reject me and they are mostly (if not all) negative. I’m not sure if anyone else has this tape running in their heads, but it is pretty awful. As I have grown more aware and more curious about what I am saying to myself I have begun to question whether any of it is true. Will people reject me because I didn’t go to a better college? Will they be mean to me because I don’t have an advanced degree? Will they think I’m boring, stupid, awkward, etc…? You get the idea.
Whew! I am exhausted just thinking about it. What a waste of mental energy. The funny thing about this is that it is entirely probable that they are running a similar tape in their heads. There is so much spinning and thinking going on that it is no wonder I might feel nervous.
So, I have begun to try something different. Rather than listen to that tape run through all the negative reasons why I am not enough, I acknowledge that I am nervous. It doesn’t matter if at 39 years of age I should no longer be nervous of social situations, wishing it weren’t so won’t make it go away. The second thing I do is tell myself that no matter how the conversation goes, I will be okay. Even if I belch in the middle of introducing myself (which I won’t) or spill a drink all over myself (which I might), I will still be okay, I am worthy of being here and making a connection.
(Maybe that sounds a little Mister Rogers, but that guy seemed pretty happy with his life, so why argue with him?)
If I can acknowledge my nervousness and override the negative loop with this more calming and positive message, I find that the reaching across is less scary. Still scary, but just a little less so. Once I reach out to someone, the only thing I need to do is ask them a question about themselves and really listen. What I find is that most people enjoy talking about themselves. Maybe this seems vain, but so what? Most importantly, if I approach people from this place where I know that I am worthy and admit to myself that I am nervous, then if the do reject me, I don’t feel as bad. In fact, I feel stronger the more that I do it.
To recap, what I do to help myself is:
1. Acknowledge (with kindness) how I am feeling in this moment (nervous!) and
2. Tell myself that, no matter what happens, I am worthy of being here, that I am okay.
I am learning how to be more present in these moments when I am feeling uncomfortable and uncertain, and I offer this to anyone who might struggle with similar things. I am in no way perfect at this and that isn’t my goal anyway. I just want to feel more comfortable in my own skin, which, after all, is what we want from everyone, isn’t it?
Thanks for your time.