My entire week has been consumed with hair-twirling, nail-picking, and aimless wandering around the house (also known as pacing)—three of my main nervous ticks. On Monday, my boss said on Thursday night she wants me to “attend a cocktail party as the face of the company!” Me. The 24-year-old who avoids phone calls because they require not only speaking to someone but speaking to someone AND not being able to read their face or body language…AND running the risk of the phone cutting out and having to ask them to repeat themselves…AND having to come up with answers on the spot…AND…you get the point.
This was my nightmare. Attend a cocktail party where I know no one? Where they have no idea who I am? Where people are expecting my boss and will no doubt be disappointed when they get me instead? Can’t I just stay home and watch Netflix shows about OTHER people attending cocktail parties and “killing it?”
My boss is a textbook extrovert and is convinced that my anxiety about being around strangers, attending parties, making unannounced sales calls, etc. is just because of my young age and lack of confidence. “If you just keep doing these things, they’ll get easier!” “You have to be more confident!” “Be aggressive!!” “LEAN IN!!!” Sure, maybe. But I also know I will still have to spend hours psyching myself up to make one phone call or sales visit, rehearsing everything I say and making contingency plans for every single scenario I can imagine.
What’s wrong with me? I’m 24! Aren’t I supposed to be the bubbly, confident, outgoing chick that everyone wants to get drinks with? That’s what all other twenty-something girls I meet are like. Was I this shy in college? No way, this is a new thing. I had so much fun in college! Oh, wait. That’s right, I had the most extreme extrovert as a best friend. We had fun because she was the ultimate ice-breaker and feared nothing. I could just stand quietly, laugh at her jokes, and, once I settled in, contribute my own sarcastic humor. No wonder this discomfort in social situations seems so new. It was never this pronounced because I always had a buffer. Once on my own, I let my anxiety and introversion keep me from doing what I wanted because I thought something was wrong with me. I knew I was confident when I felt comfortable and in my element, but strangers don’t know that. My boss constantly thrusting me into uncomfortable situations, trying to “fix” me, doesn’t help. My outgoing boyfriend teasing me about “how ridiculous I’m being!” is cute but still doesn’t help.
But recently, I’ve finally started realizing that there’s nothing wrong with me. I’m an introvert, and I’m starting to accept it. I’m not bad at being an early twenty-something girl. I’m just a different kind. Just admitting that and understanding what it means suddenly allowed me to be much more comfortable with myself. Just like that. There’s nothing wrong with me. I don’t have to be outgoing and bubbly—Lord knows there are enough of those people out there. I can start embracing my keen intuition and quiet observation skills, not hide them beneath a fake happy-go-lucky mask.
Accepting who we are as introverts is half the battle. Much of my social anxiety comes from the feeling that I’ll disappoint people or bore them with my personality. What an exhausting way to go through life! When we stop trying to be something we’re not, a lot of the anxiety melts away (or at least lessens). We stop blaming ourselves for not meeting other people’s expectations, and a giant weight is lifted off our shoulders. And who knows, presenting your authentic self to people could intrigue and attract them even more than that phony facade.
So, about that cocktail party. I’ll go; I’ll be sweating the whole time; I won’t know what to do with my hands; but I will make sure to constantly remind myself it’s okay to be quiet. I don’t have to have a 20-minute super interesting conversation with every person in the room. I can be kind and polite and observe quietly. I can be me, and even though I may not ooze bubbly confidence, being comfortable and embracing who you are oozes confidence of a whole different kind.
Now, what the hell do I wear?!
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