This month’s scientiae is about moving forward. My own career is progressing but under embargo right now (in case you didn’t notice), so I’d like to discuss another long-term work in progress.
I was born small, and I ended up small when I eventually finished growing. I had the pleasure of being developmentally delayed, physically, so while growing up I was dwarfed by my peers. I was also sensitive. I liked people, I found them fascinating…at a distance. Everybody was so big, so loud. I was happy to hang out on the fringes, watching other kids. I was equally happy entertaining myself.
In junior high, if anybody took notice of me, I was…punished. Not physically (it didn’t take much to cow me), but I was quickly cut down. High school was better – I was left alone. In college, I never found a clique I could break into. I perfected the art of being…if not invisible, then unnoticed.
But when I started working, I quickly found out that I wasn’t invisible. I was given more responsibility relatively quickly, and I was supposed to order around subcontractors, lead meetings, and otherwise assert myself. I realized that I did have a lot to contribute, but that my ingrained wallflower habits were interfering with that.
So I set a goal for myself: to overcome all those years of being shy. A more concrete goal is to be able to navigate a big social gathering effortlessly. Whether I’m wandering around the posters at a conference, waiting for the big client meeting to start, or just attending a wedding where I don’t know many people, I’d like to be able to start and continue a conversation with anybody. I’m trying to find grace.
It’s not easy to overcome 20 years of negative reinforcement and become a confident, social person. But I’m working on it. How’s my progress so far?
I’m a lot better in formal interactions, such as when giving lectures or doing safety meetings with subcontractors. I’m still working on internalizing the habits and social skills that I should have picked up when I was younger: Using the right amount of eye contact. Interrupting when appropriate. Answering questions (“how was your weekend?”) with more than a one-word answer, and asking my own questions.
It’s funny – when I was a teenager, I was convinced that I had completely matured. It’s nice to know I’m still capable of changing what I thought was a fundamental part of me, still growing.