This is the fourth in a series of posts about my experiences with social anxiety and finding my voice. Find the first post here, the second post here, and the third post here.
In the first part of this series, I talked about how social anxiety has impacted my life, and the things I did that made it worse. The second post was about all the ways that I've been working on changing my mindset from fear to openness, and the last post was about the things I've done to push my boundaries and leave my comfort zone. Today is the final post in the series and I'm going to share where I'm at with the process right now and where I see myself going.
How I'm using my voice more than before:
- Giving my opinion - I have a clear understanding of what I believe and am often able to articulate it instead of feeling fuzzy and unsure.
- Speaking up in large groups - I used to always feel overwhelmed and like I was fighting for attention. I still do sometimes, depending on the group, but I'm more ready to put my hand up or just jump in when I see an opening. I feel like what I have to say is just as important as anyone else and I try to make myself heard.
- Blogging and being vulnerable on the internet - While my personal Facebook doesn't see much from me, here on this blog and over on Instagram I am frequently opening up about personal things. If I think it will help someone, I'm less afraid to share it.
- Idle chit-chat - I used to always marvel at why it took people so long to leave meetings or classrooms. I would pack my stuff up and be the first one out, usually because I wasn't stopping to talk to anyone on the way out. I also used to always dread breaks during meetings. Now I'm reasonably comfortable initiating small talk and filling time. And I'm rarely the first person to leave a room.
- I trust that I always have something to say, even when I'm anxious - usually it's just a matter of taking a breath and seeing what comes up. I don't filter myself like I used to, judging every thought as too stupid or uninteresting to say out loud. Now I'll say whatever I think of to keep the conversation going, and I don't blame myself if it stalls.
How I feel now (on a good day!):
- Confident in what I have to offer
- Aware of weaknesses and working on them but not defined by them
- Excited to meet new people (when I got home from South America I was completely addicted to meeting new people. I started going to all kinds of clubs and meetups to continue the high I got from newness. It wore off after a few months, but every now and then I feel a need for the rush again.)
- I see myself as warm, kind, and funny rather than cold and standoffish
What I'm still working on:
Mingling with strangers
I set a goal to go to 50 social events related to my business this year. Many of these will be art events but I'm also including volunteering, seminars, networking events, and potlucks.
I went to my first art opening with the simple goal of walking in the door and staying for 30 minutes. I didn't need to talk to anyone or make new contacts. When I arrived that night the room was bustling and my first reaction was to feel terrified and overwhelmed. But I took a deep breath and started moving throughout the space, looking at the art, observing the people, and paying close attention to the thoughts that ran through my mind:
"I really don't belong here."
"There are serious artists, they would think that what I do is silly."
"Wow everyone looks so pretentious, I don't think I want to be a part of this community."
"I will never be able to start a conversation in here."
Because my goal was only to be in the space, there was no pressure and with the absence of pressure came the ability to just be aware of what was going on inside me and in the room. I didn't get attached to any of the thoughts and I didn't start feeling bad about myself, or disconnected from other people. Instead, I started to feel a warm feeling of love and openness and when I finally did leave, I felt good about myself.
At the second art opening I went to, I decided I should try to talk to one person. If I didn't, that was okay, but I should try. I found myself easily starting a conversation with someone about the art and what we each thought about it. At the third opening I conversed easily with a few different people and had a lot of fun.
Every time I go to an event now, I work on channelling those feelings of love and openness that I felt the first time, with no pressure and no self-criticism. I'll keep you posted on how this works out for me over the course of the year!
Balancing not talking enough with talking too much
I never want to be the person who monopolizes the conversation because those people were a huge obstacle for me and my social anxiety. I want to be open but also generous, making sure that everyone feels heard. Because sometimes you have to go too far in one direction to know where the line is, I'm practising speaking up and noticing whether it feels like too much or just enough.
I still catch myself thinking about what I want to say when other people are speaking, or evaluating what they're saying based on my own beliefs. I'm working on being completely present and focused on the other person while they are speaking, so that they really feel heard and so that I can stay open to a deeper connection.
Speaking up about justice and causes
This is still much harder for me than I would like. I am very conflict averse and hate expressing unpopular opinions. But I'm learning more and more how important it is to stand up for what I believe in for my own sake - because it helps me feel more whole, truthful and full of integrity - and because it can benefit the world in even tiny ways.
I am fully expecting that things will get hard again really fast as I continue to push my limits and reach higher and higher. I think of this as levelling up: things get progressively easier until you reach the next level and then they feel monstrously hard again. Despite how it may feel, this is a good thing, and I look forward to reaching new heights.