Social anxiety disorder had won the first round, but I was back to try again. This seemingly insignificant achievement made me proud. In previous years, I would have found a way to get out of there and avoid any further punishment. I would have gone into a full-blown depression for a week or so, running the events through my head hundreds of times – beating myself up for being so weak and pathetic.
However, today was not that day. I felt a surge of confidence simply because I was now able to recover from a negative encounter. I felt a little more mature and capable. Its hard to describe in words, really.
As I was taking off my coat, I noticed a few of my co-workers (not the ones I came with) in a group of three in the corner. I also noticed the same group that gave me the brush-off were still there chatting amongst themselves. I didnt give them a second thought as I headed towards my three co-workers. I was surprised at how easily I was able to forget about the incident. In previous years, I would be obsessing about it. Id imagine that they were talking about me and having a good laugh over it. Id feel as though everyone at the party thought I was the weirdest person theyd ever known. I would imagine they all hated me. I would have a scowl on my face that turned everyone off. I would feel completely alone.
Really, there was no incident; it was simply my social anxiety induced inner voice that always seems to be happiest when I am feeling bad about myself. Up until a year ago, I believed 100% of what that voice told me. Now, as each day passes, it loses some of its effect over me. There are times, however, that it seems to gain an incredible surge in strength and throws me off balance. This was one such incident. Happily, it was over and I was able to carry on.
I was a little cautious as I approached the group because I didnt really know them as well as the people I drove over with. They were: The head chef, the sous chef, and the manager from the restaurant I work at. All three are pretty outgoing and confident. With the exception of the sous chef, all were very good communicators. The head chef seemed to have a bit of an attitude, but overall, he was ok.
I smiled as I approached (this is so important) and wished each of them a Merry Christmas. We talked a little about work and I eventually found myself within their conversation circle.
The topic of work lasted a while, and then the subjects changed every few minutes as conversations do. I stumbled a few times and caught myself being overly quiet at one point, but I managed to get through it. It wasnt perfect, but that was exactly what I wanted to work on. I wasnt perfect and I did ok. I was proud of this accomplishment because they were a tough crowd. They spoke their mind.
I decided to go for a beer after about 15 minutes. I was getting comfortable and I knew I could carry on in this group for a while longer, but I wanted to see what else I could accomplish that night. I waited for an opportune moment, politely excused myself and headed for the kitchen. In previous years, I would have hung around them until they decided to go off in search of other people. This time, I was the first to leave. I had never done this before – It felt fantastic.
I headed towards the fridge in the kitchen to get another beer. As I stepped around people, I noticed that I didnt know a single person. It would be extremely difficult for me to get into any sort of conversation here. I stood around for a second, smiling at anyone that looked my way, but I started feeling uncomfortable. I wasnt ready to just introduce myself to a group of strangers and carry on from there. Even people that are not afflicted with social anxiety would have a problem doing this. I simply did not have the confidence and social skills to pull this off. But that was ok, because I needed to accept the fact that I wasnt perfect and that I had a long way to go.
As I walked across the kitchen, my boss entered and asked me how things were going. He is extremely outgoing and loud and he attracted the attention of everyone in the kitchen. I found it very uncomfortable. Before I had a chance to say anything, he was greeting other people – so much for sincerity. It was then that he introduced me to a group of people as one of his best employees. Everyone shook my hand as they introduced themselves. I was smiling as I did the same. One of the gentlemen asked me a few of the usual small-talk questions like: How long have you been working for Robert? Where do you live? Though these questions seemed to serve no purpose, they did allow me to get into this circle of about 7 people.
I stayed and talked for at least a half hour. During this time, I was introduced to just about everyone else hanging out in the kitchen. The conversation jumped around to include several different topics and I tried to get involved as much as possible.
I was far from perfect as I stumbled over my words and my voice was sometimes weak and shaky. My face went in and out of redness as I struggled to participate and give my opinion on things. No one seemed to pick up on this as I kept smiling, laughing and talking. I was far from perfect, but I was sociable – that made all the difference in the world.
The two goals Id set for myself were – to make an effort – and try to accept that Im not perfect. Well, it took every last once of effort to keep up with this group. Every time I sensed that maybe I wasnt talking enough, Id take that tiny step over and above what I would do normally. It didnt require a huge effort – just a touch more than I was used to.
Another technique I used was to simply speak before I analyzed everything to death. Should I? Shouldnt I? Forget it – I just talked. After all, I wasnt aiming for perfection, so as long as I didnt say something really bad, I was ok making less than perfect conversation – It certainly beats not saying anything.
The party was priceless in terms of the practice I was able to get. I learned at lot about myself and people in general. In fact, I was disappointed to see it end.