I wanted the event to be a success.
I even helped promote it.
The event in question was a “Meet and Greet” for friend who is running for local office. It was an opportunity to meet some people, have a wonderful meal, show my support, and maybe do a little networking. It’s the kind of thing most people wouldn’t think twice about.
But I thought about it… more than twice. Maybe 100s of times. And my heart raced. And my palms got sweaty. And by the time the event was due to begin, I had talked myself out of attending.
I won’t know 99% of the people there. What if I’m the only one there by myself? What if someone talks to me and I freeze up and don’t know how to respond? Or I say something stupid? What if they stare at me? What if the seating is too close together? What if it’s crowded? What if I can’t get out without drawing attention to myself? What will people think of me?
It’s just so much easier to stay home, or stay at the office. And it sounds so much better to say that something came up, that I had to take care of it, that things are just crazy, and I’m really sorry that I can’t make it. I’ve been around long enough and seen it happen often enough to realize that like it or not, I live in a culture that judges the book by its cover. If you’re not comfortable enough in a social setting to smile and participate in small-talk, you’re defective. Unworthy.
And the fear you already felt (irrational as it may be) is multiplied each time you try to face it and fail again. And it’s magnified even more because you’re going through this horrible thing that you certainly can’t explain to anyone while it’s happening, but what the people around you see is that you’re awkward, not smiling at them, not talking to them, not friendly.
A few years ago I learned that what I was feeling wasn’t unique. I wasn’t alone. There were many others who shared the same silent struggle, and it was called “social anxiety” or “social phobia.” I found out about it from a college professor. Like me, he didn’t struggle with events that had a definite structure to them (like classes or conferences or church services) but he did have a hard time with informal social events like parties, or certain aspects of other gatherings… like the times before and after a formal meeting began.
It was encouraging to meet someone else who could function fine in more scripted settings, but struggle in the unscripted ones. It’s hard for someone who hasn’t experienced it to understand that it really IS possible to have the ability to get up and teach or perform in front of a group, but then freeze up during otherwise normal social interactions. But that’s where I am. Whether it’s a political “Meet and Greet” or a greeting time during a church service… I dread those situations. Actually, dread isn’t even strong enough… they terrify me.
And it’s hard to smile when you’re terrified.
But I’ve checked it in the Bible, and I’ve discovered that failure to smile in public is NOT the unpardonable sin. So I guess I’ll be OK.
I could try to be someone I’m not… but even if I could pull that off, it’s exhausting, not to mention dishonest. I’m never going to be the social butterfly, and I’m OK with that. I just wish other people could be OK with that too.
So I’ll smile when I have something to smile about. And I’ll work on finding more things to smile about, instead of worrying about the opinions of folks who really don’t care if there’s a reason why I’m smiling or not.