When I find myself at social gatherings with strangers, at first I always feel like the person I used to be. Shy, uncomfortable, clumsy, scared that everybody will notice how weird and alone I am. And even worse, that I’ll start saying something and people will ignore me and talk over me, which – if you’ve experienced it and know what I mean – feels crushing.
And then I remember that I’m now a completely different person. I can talk to anybody, and laugh, and change the topic of the general conversation to something that interests me, and feel like part of the group.
It’s the same with initiating phone calls and emails with strangers that used to be the bane of my existence. I’m now department chair, so I have to do this kind of thing many times a day. The first feeling is the usual, “I can’t do it! I don’t know how!” And then there’s a flood of relief because yes, I can. I don’t have to be afraid of this any more.
If you haven’t experienced this anxiety and shame of being a weirdo, of being socially awkward, of always trying to conceal how strange you are, you won’t understand what it feels like to shed that burden. It’s an incredible rush. I’m almost happy to have been a social freak because the contrast with my current reality is so strong.
I’m still extremely introverted. This is my nature and, I don’t want to change it. But introversion and social awkwardness aren’t the same thing. You can keep the former and ditch the latter. Nobody is doomed to this suffering.