Character & Soul, Self-Improvement

Confessions of a Secretly Socially Awkward Person – Denise Li

This is how I feel in an unfamiliar group social setting.

This is how I feel in an unfamiliar group social setting.

So yesterday, I decided to check out a new martial arts gym on my own. I’m currently training somewhere else but, as my membership is about to expire, I thought it would be a good chance to check out other gyms to see what they have to offer in terms of quality of training.

I was the second person to arrive at the training area. There was already one other guy there, reading a book to kill time until training started. Any normal person who had arrived after someone else would have, perhaps, done the obvious thing, which was to acknowledge the other person’s presence with a quick “hello”. I knew it was the polite thing to do, but as I was about to do so, I felt a familiar wave of shyness and self-consciousness wash over me, and the greeting caught in my throat. The guy barely looked up at me, but I could feel the heat rushing to my cheeks and I knew I was blushing – my usual psychosomatic (and to my frequent chagrin, uncontrollable) response to being a completely new social setting in which I don’t know anyone.

I quickly picked a spot to sit and settle down and berated myself for my reaction to the situation because I knew just how it came across – unfriendly and aloof. Which is actually really funny and a completely inaccurate portrayal of real personality. My brain kept on telling me that I should perhaps say “hello”, but, by then, five to 10 minutes had passed and it would have just been weird to blurt out “hey” when the moment had already passed.

Welcome to my world.

You would think that six years of being a “media person” and going for press conferences and events would have taught me how to conduct myself better, and yet, that feeling of wanting to sink into the background and become invisible has never really faded away. Sure, I behave less awkwardly during work-related events, but I think part of why I am able to make it through those kinds of events is because I’m in some kind of “survival” mode. My job as a writer is to find out as much as I can about the product or event I’m writing about and get some good stories. And I’m only able to do that if I proactively go out and obtain the information that I seek. I want to be one of the people that my contacts think of when they have a new launch, or when they know of someone with a story worth sharing; and that can only happen when people actually remember me, to start with.

That doesn’t mean that when I’m being friendly, I’m “faking it” though. If there’s one trait I hate in people, it’s the absence of authenticity, and I can smell it from a mile away so, obviously, I never want to come across as “fake”. It’s more like putting my game face on; I have enough EQ to know what the most appropriate way to react to social situations is – so it’s about taking a deep breath, putting aside my knee-jerk response to the discomfort and just, you know … working it (as they say). I like to think I do it well enough so no one knows how awkward I really feel underneath it all.

But because I’m not a naturally effervescent and effusive person, these work-related events tend to take a lot out of me, so when it comes to new social situations in my personal life, I revert to my socially awkward self. While there isn’t anything really wrong with being an introvert, I kind of fall somewhere in the middle of the extrovert-introvert scale and have all the issues that come along with it. My inherent shyness is probably just a symptom for some deep-seated fear of being judged (irrational as I know this fear is), and it often comes into conflict with my very real need for human interaction.

It’s a strange dilemma, isn’t it? I enjoy observing and talking to people and having them tell me about their stories. In fact, my deep-rooted interest in people was the biggest motivating factor in my previous role as a Features Editor of a women’s magazine. Yet, I can’t seem to get over my dread of the initial contact.

I’ve partly dealt with this problem by taking the initiative to talk to people when they are alone. When you get them one-on-one, it’s a lot easier to get them to open up and to open up to them in return. I haven’t really been motivated to deal with that other problem of how to handle myself in a new group situation. Mostly, I hope and pray that there’s beer involved somewhere in the equation as it makes me feel slightly less inhibited. I’m sure there must be some other healthier way of dealing with the problem though.

What do you think? Is there any mantra or philosophy you live by where such situations are concerned? Any tips and tricks you can offer? Leave a comment below to let me know!

About the Author: Denise Li is a founder of Material World and a freelance writer-editor. Before that, she spent a few years in the Features section of CLEO and Cosmopolitan Singapore. She considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and makes it a point to head there for a yearly pilgrimage. She’s also a fitness buff and enjoys boxing, running and the occasional yoga session. She’s 100% comfortable eating alone … just don’t ask her to approach a random stranger in a bar. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLiTweets.

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