As someone who has some level of social anxiety when it comes to happy hours and public speaking, the last two days have been a test for me.
Yesterday I spent my Valentine’s Day evening as the featured guest at a Viticulture-themed game night at a local game store. It started with a happy hour and then merged into me teaching three games at once (which, fortunately, soon turned into me just teaching one game, as two of the tables had people who knew how to play).
Tonight I was the featured speaker on the topic of crowdfunding at the Regional Arts Commission in St. Louis. I spoke for a little over an hour in an interview format in front of about 75 people.
For both events, I was totally fine–well, nervous and stressed, but otherwise fine–while I was doing what I was there to do (teach Viticulture, give a talk). But it’s the time before the events and during breaks when my social anxiety kicks into high gear.
It’s hard to explain, as there’s no rational reason for it, so I’ll just tell you what it looks like: There was a time at the Valentine’s Day event when I was finished setting up and people were starting to arrive (but the event hadn’t officially begun), and I literally just stood there. I was paralyzed. It doesn’t make any sense–the rational thing would be for me to introduce myself to someone and generally just be a good, welcoming person, but I didn’t.
I wasn’t the host of the event, which would have helped–if I’m the host, I consider it my job to make people feel welcome. There’s something about being in charge that makes me comfortable embodying that role, and I should have tricked myself into that role last night. Honestly, I think part of it was that the people setting up the event were way behind schedule, and I knew I was facing about 30 minutes of small talk. For an introvert, that’s worse than pooping your pants.
I was faced with a similar situation tonight. I finished my talk, and the moderator said there would be a 10-minute break. I probably would have spent that 10 minutes standing awkwardly off to the side, or even leaving. I’ve done that before.
But at both events, something incredible happened. It was a small gesture, but both times it snapped me out of my social anxiety and made me a normal person again.
At both events, someone walked up to me and introduced themselves.
I’m so incredibly grateful to those people for doing that. Like, I can’t even put into words the level of my gratitude. It’s such a huge weight removed from my shoulders. It really does feel like that. An introduction gives me permission to engage in conversation.
I know I need to get better at this, but for now, just for now, after back-to-back days of this, I just want to be grateful for people out there who introduce themselves at events. You never know how big of a favor you may be providing the person you meet.
Also, thanks to Walter (my cat) who sat on me for a while when I got home. That was nice too.