be open

I'm not very good at sharing. It's not things that I have trouble sharing, but thoughts. I reflected on this earlier today after an encounter with one of the pastors from our church. I don't want to call this man a "nice guy" because that's so often been derogatory in meaning, but he genuinely is, and as part of his role with the church he reaches out to get to know people. We chatted over lunch sharing little bits of our lives and past with one another. It shouldn't have been a difficult experience, but it really was.

As I sat in my office this afternoon thinking over the experience, I started to dissect my thoughts and attempt to understand what was at the core causing me to feel inhibited about sharing. I realized quickly that it wasn't one or two or even a dozen things, but a protection mechanism built up after years and years. Growing up, I was always one of the outsiders, the kids that got picked on. I was fatter, shorter, and goofy looking, and it didn't help that I was in the smarter sect of my classes helping to set me apart as the trifecta: fat, ugly, nerdy. It doesn't take long for a ten year old to understand the social strata of the playground when these things are so strongly aligned.

To help cope with this innate malalignment, I developed a practice of staying quiet, and only speaking when I knew that I was saying exactly the right thing for the context of the group that I was in even if the words themselves weren't technically correct.  Of course, this meant I spent a lot more time in thought playing out scenarios of what I'd say, how various people would react or respond, and then what I'd have to do because of that... repeated ad nauseum. Suffice to say, I was pretty quiet in groups.

The thing I've come to realize is that I never really grew out of this method of operating, although I have managed to assert myself in certain professional situations, but there are still many where I feel uncomfortable not knowing the correct protocol or in an attempt to respect the idea of chain of command.

Sitting at a restaurant with a group from church? Probably only answering direct questions. Out at lunch with coworkers? Likely contributing only joking remarks. Rinse and repeat these into almost every social situation I can think of. But what is really interesting about this is that I want to be social, to have friends, and to be part of what's going on. Don't we all?

When I was pondering the encounter today with the pastor, I really did not volunteer anything without first being prompted. Part of me was excited that someone was interested in me and what I had to say, so I'm sure I seemed enthusiastic at times, but when the conversation would lull... my eyes would be down-cast and I'd focus on the lunch at hand. I don't think I know how to lead a conversation that isn't about a project at work!

How is it that I can become more open, and leave behind this childhood idea that everyone is constantly judging everything I say, do, and am? That seems really hard in today's world of everyone posting to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and whatever else is out there, and giving near-instant and public feedback. The competition for likes, thumbs up, and such is strong. Wait, no one liked that post? That must mean they dislike it! These networks are constantly begging their users to judge one another.

Granted, I'm not on any of these networks and don't share things so this is not how I go through my day, but I am around people that are and do. Seeing these actions makes me really wonder if these digital expressions are closer to our unfiltered thoughts. Do we, civilized western adults, actually judge each other as much in our heads as we do online? If I am honest, I believe many of us are probably filtering out the "bad" when it comes to these situations for fear of the judgement.

I'm still short, fat, and nerdy... and add to that the fact that I work in IT. Oh that last one is a tough one. So few people really care what you do when you're in IT unless it means you can fix their computer or give them access to things they shouldn't have. It's fun when my wife and I are introducing ourselves and we get to the "what do you do." She usually goes first and offers essentially her title, and then I say that I work in IT for the same company. Then one of two things happens: either they say "so you fix PCs" before turning back to my wife, or they turn back to my wife and ask for more details. I'm not salty about that, really.

I don't know how I move past where I am with this. I don't know how I become the person that I want to be that isn't trying to predict seventeen steps into a conversation and just engages naturally.Perhaps the first step to getting there is this realization that I had today. Perhaps the next step is remembering it tomorrow. And then baby steps? While I was typing this I realized something new. I am so afraid of social rejection I don't let myself be exposed. That's a whole other ball of wax to melt down another day.

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