Hanging out in bars has never been a part of my social experience, but I can appreciate the draw of the corner pub where “everybody knows your name.” I can see how it would feel good to walk into a place on your own schedule and have the people shout your name (Norm!) as you walk through the door. I’ve had that at times in my life. I grew up going to church several times a week with my parents. I continued to attend services there as an adult while I lived in the area. Everybody knew me, and although my attendance was expected due to my commitments there, it was comfortable. I had a built in support system of people with similar beliefs and values.
When I moved from my hometown to another community over an hour away, that changed. I “shopped” several churches, but they didn’t feel the same. Although the music was beautiful and the surroundings warm and comfortable, I didn’t know people, and so I would leave when the service was over – missing the connection that I had always felt at my “home” church.
At the time, I attributed the lack of perceived warmth to the church and the people. I was too myopic to see that a large part of the issue was (gasp) me.
As a person who has anxiety, I have a difficult time reaching out to people. I feel quite safe and comfortable interacting with the world from the safety of my keyboard. I have no difficulty in talking with potential clients or other people in the legal community because we have a common goal – resolving a problem. I have built-in subject matter to talk over with them. I can fill the down time with small talk and chit chat.
I have no stage fright or anxiety speaking to a large group of people. So long as I have a topic about which I have some knowledge, I can deliver a prepared address or improvise a short presentation. It’s superficial contact. It’s “safe.”
I’ve spent my adult life worrying far too much about what people think of me. I like it when people like me. I feel bad when they don’t. I think it’s human nature for many of us. That’s where the rub lies… people I’ve never met before are probably just afraid of being judged and found unworthy of love or friendship as I am.
I’ve gone to the same gym for two years. I avoided eye contact with people until recently. As I attended more frequently while training for my recent half marathon experience, people noticed. Occasionally I’d get a wave. I started smiling as I ran my laps. Soon, people would stop and TALK with me when I took a water break. They’d introduce themselves and we’d chat until we found something outside the gym that we have in common.
The more people reached out, the more I smiled and waved. The more approachable I became, and the more connected I am. This morning as I walked to take the stairs to the second floor, I was able to greet an instructor there by name, and she said “Hi, Betty” with a smile in her voice.
I’ve found a place where people greet me by name. Sometimes they notice when I’m ‘missing. We have the same problems and at least one common interest. Today, I said “good morning” to people who I’ve never talked to before. They smiled, and said it back. One day I’ll introduce myself, and someone else will know my name.
I’ve never been good at networking, but I think that’s about to change. I found a church I really like. I’ve been there a few times. I know now, that it won’t feel like “home” until people know my name. I think I’ll buy a necklace that spells it out.