I have a confession to make… I am shy.
I can think of at least half a dozen people who would laugh at that statement, but it is true. I struggle with something that could probably be called “social anxiety” but if I just say “shy” it sounds a little less, well, distressing. The fact of the matter is that I often have significant mental barriers that I have to overcome when dealing with social situations. The simple act of picking up the phone and calling someone becomes an hour long ordeal of rehearsing what I am going to say, how I’m going to say it, and what possible responses they may produce. “Do I really need to call them? Maybe I can email instead.” Running into someone at the grocer when I’m not expecting to see a familiar face can also cause havoc.
Now don’t mis-understand my meaning! I LOVE MY FRIENDS! AND my family – for the record.
It is simply that if I am suddenly introduced into a social situation and have had no time to mentally prepare… I can get a little nervous. The good news is that I’ve been doing pretty good at breaking out of this mentality. I force myself to call my mom at a whim and not think how I need to phrase things. I show up to a dinner party without worrying over who will be there and what kinds of things they might ask me. I look strangers on the sidewalk in the eye without fear of them saying “hello” (for the most part, still working on the eye contact part).
But occasionally, it still bothers me. Something catches me off guard or I have a long list of phone calls to make by the end of the day.
So why am I dragging on about my very private and somewhat trivial issues to the world at large? Because my research is helping.
Picture yourself in my shoes: A brand new graduate student. New town. New people. Your advisor is discussing the research project with you and the detail arises that you will be calling people on the phone and scheduling in-person interviews to discuss the shellfish management system in Maine. Sounds great! Except for that little detail of human interaction. With a lot of people.
I’ll be frank. I was worried. It bothered me almost more than that marine biology mid-term I had to deal with. Definitely more than figuring out how many layers I needed to survive the Maine winter.
But today something wonderful happened. It was late afternoon – normally I would have used the excuse “too late in the day. Don’t want to interrupt anyone’s evening.” and left the office. But instead I sat down with phone in hand – first number: no answer. Second number: no answer. Third number: … “Hi!”
What followed was a lovely, short conversation in which I set up an interview with a shellfish stakeholder down on the coast (I’m going to get to ride a boat out to an island to see the town! 😀 ). When the call ended I realized that I was energized. I felt great! I didn’t have any reason to worry about calling these people because every single phone call earlier this year had all been exactly the same – they were nice. Each person I talked to was willing to take precious time out of their day to talk to me and help me understand what the process of managing a marine resource is really like. Because they think it is important research.
And what is more – my excitement for talking to as many people as I can is really starting to overshadow any apprehensions I feel. I know that I’m still going to have times where I sit at my desk and stare at the screen of my phone before I actually dial the number. But maybe – just maybe – it won’t be as often as it once was.
As an end note, in many ways I think being a little “shy” of social interactions is a good thing. When I do finally relax and stop second guessing everything – I know I’m with good friends. It also gives me a bit of empathy when I notice someone else who may be struggling to be a part of the group.
The great part is that I never really expected that my research would help me develop in so many ways – both professionally and personally. Isn’t it wonderful how every life experience you have works together to make you the person that you are today. Just take a deep breathe – and live it! 🙂