It’s odd to hear compliments on something you’ve historically been insecure about. I don’t think I’ve told many people, but I’ve honestly always feared I was socially awkward. I was afraid that people were only listening to me to humor me, too polite to say to my face they didn’t want to spend time with me. I’d feel ashamed every time I missed an inside joke, attempted banter that fell flat, or initiated a hang out only to be ignored. I used to find crowded places terrifying, and would run to the bathroom to cry.
I don’t anymore. Some of my best friends have told me for years that I’m not socially awkward, that I’m perfectly fine the way I am, and that fear is groundless. But it’s not until I’ve heard that message from multiple sources – an aunt, an uncle, a new acquaintance, fellow peers who tell me they envy my socializing ability, and finally the catalyst, a longtime manager attending a networking event who complimented me on my ability to network, saying every event has that one person who stands out as going above and beyond to engage attendees, and I was that person. I still had to ask another friend to affirm that I’m not socially awkward before I really believed the genuineness of his compliment.
With that said, I’m not some superhuman socializing networking machine that instantly charms every person I meet into handing me a job offer/marriage/party invitation. I’m not usually the center of attention nor do I feel the need to put myself there. But I am comfortable striking up conversations with strangers, have no qualms about public speaking, and find meeting new people a rewarding experience. It’s why I’m in DC right now, on a spontaneous week-long trip that I know I will not ever get the chance to do once classes and responsibilities pick up.
I share this not to brag about how awesome I am, but to tell a story I feel is not told often enough. Most people who have the abilities one aspires to have are not typically born with it. The person “good at x,” from painting to basketball to long-distance running to socializing, didn’t start out that way. That person usually worked hard at it, improving little by little, until unexpectedly, they crossed that threshold into “good at x.” I share this because maybe someone reading this will gain a bit of courage to break away from their self-labeled social awkwardness. Maybe it’ll be enough to start chatting with strangers, initiating conversations, making jokes. Sure, there’ll be plenty of shut-downs, cold shoulders, faked laughter, but it’s not your fault. You tried, they didn’t respond, but it’s not usually because there’s something innately wrong with your socializing ability. Stuff happens, often without any explanation. Such is life. I went through it too. We all do. Yeah, I was scared too. But now I’m not.