I am a person who does not easily fit with others. On the surface, it might seem like I am congenial. But, in truth, I struggle with small talk and chit-chat. I have always been reserved – in high school that was interpreted as being stuck up. In my undergraduate college days, I was still quiet. One of my mentors called me quietly assertive after observing me during a week-long training that included role plays about how best to be a peer tutor – which I was paid to do for three years. I have always embraced that comment.
I am an introvert. That said, I have continually pushed myself out of my box my entire adult life. Starting with becoming a nurse, and nurse practitioner, when I had to take histories on private, sensitive health issues, I learned to talk to people in an honest, straightforward, but kind fashion.
Over the last twenty years, I started student groups, parent groups, sat on numerous committees, and joined several community groups. I even became a public speaker on topics that I am passionate about talking. Some might even call me a leader. My exuberance for teaching, children, and our environment pushed me forward and out of my protective shell.
Today, however, I had to stick my hand out and introduce myself to strangers at a work related function. I know, you’ve all been there, done that! Right?! I have had experiences like this before, too. But, it does not make it any easier when one is an introvert. Small talk can be difficult. There comes a point in a conversation with a new person where one does not have much more to say. Fortunately, I know this dissipates with time. Everyone was kind and welcoming – it truly is a great group of like-minded people with whom I spent the morning. But, it was tiring; I will admit that.
My afternoon was spent sleeping. I had things to do but I felt drained. It was a good feeling to know the morning went well and the event was a success. I even made connections with a few in the crowd who will be an asset to me in my new role sometime in the future.
But, I felt I needed to recharge. And, that is what the nap was all about. I’m awkward. I know it. I feel it at soccer games, committee meetings, volunteering at a school function, and even just running into an acquaintance in the grocery store. I’m not sure anyone picks up on it. Maybe some do, if they pay close attention. Most, probably, do not.
Luckily, I also know that I have some very good friends, with whom I can talk for hours. The three-hour coffee clutch. The two-mile walk that takes an hour. The conversation that gets continued, or picked up easily, right where we left off the last time we met. All these things tell me that I prefer deeper relationships rather than surface ones. I know I actually need these longer conversations about the meaning of life, the need for educational reform, and the actions we can take to save our earth. It makes the brief, get to know you, surface conversations more tolerable.
Both types of conversations are necessary. For if you don’t have the first, you never get to the second. I am awkward during that first type of conversation with most people. I know I have become better at hiding the awkwardness. Smile, be polite, stick your hand out, and give a firm handshake – that is the mantra for a situation full of new people. I know I can do it! Find something you can connect with the person to whom you are speaking is another strategy that I try to use, too. Often, the awkwardness fades. Sometimes, it fades to the extent to I don’t even realize it was there in the first place. I am only reminded the next time it surfaces. Then, I know I am awkward, once again.