Okay, here’s the thing. I need a haircut. Big time. I mean, it’s not down to my ankles or anything, and I only resemble Garth from Wayne’s World for like the first twenty minutes after I roll out of bed (…okay, okay, the first hour… at least…), but I’ve got more splits going on than a gymnastics tournament and they definitely need seeing to.
So, what’s the problem? Well, once the initial, “What are we doing today?” “How many inches?” “When was the last time you got it cut?” “Jesus, what the hell have you been doing to it?!” back and forth is over and done with, I find what comes next AGONISING.
For the next forty minutes it’s just me, the hairdresser, the mirror and sporadic awkward small-talk in my ear like drips from a leaky tap. I’m useless at it. I hate it. Nothing ever progresses into a proper conversation, so I end up just sitting there in silence, staring into the mirror with a polite smile as if I’m posing for an oil-painting.
When my phone buzzes, I ignore it. I don’t look at my watch because, come on, that’ll make it look like I’m bored or like I think they’re taking way too long. I don’t say a word.
Gradually, the hairdresser gets creeped-out by my glaring. Understandable. “D’you want some magazines to read or something?” she asks.
“No, no, I’m fine thanks…”
I’m not, but isn’t passing up very awkward small-talk in favour of reading the latest Marie Claire a bit… well, rude? I’d rather come across as weird than rude… I think. Besides, I don’t like the idea of her peering over my shoulder when I accidentally pause to read that article on… err… “gynecological stuff”.
And so I sit there awkwardly staring into the mirror until that weird hairdresser mudflap around my shoulders is removed and I’m finally free to mumble an awkward few words of thanks and then leave. Thank GOD.
Phew! You see, for as long as I can remember I’ve suffered with anxiety when it comes to social situations, particularly when it comes to meeting new people. It can take me a very long time to feel comfortable, and as a result I can sometimes come across as a little frosty. I don’t mean to be, believe me, the truth is that my mind is probably working overtime trying to work out exactly what to say or what not to say. Going to a party where I know only one or two people out of a whole crowd is a total nightmare for me. I’m not the sort of girl who can stride purposefully into a room and engage with the first person she sees, friend or stranger. I’m more likely to stumble into the room and then slink around the outskirts until I see someone I know and can attach myself to like a limpet until it’s socially acceptable to medicate the situation with a heavy dose of Malibu. When I do talk, I often interrupt; so excited to finally have something to say that I want to make sure I get in there as soon as the other person has finished talking. I also muddle words quite a lot (I’ve always been far more eloquent on paper than in person!). And, I’ve been known to say some pretty inappropriate things and then agonise over the raised eyebrows and awkward silences for MONTHS.
At my last job I frequently turned down invites to work nights out because I couldn’t bear the thought of going along and humiliating myself and then having to suffer the reverberating echoes of shame and embarrassment at work every day! Stupid really, because when I did force myself out the door to one, I had an amazing time and was instantly filled with regret that I hadn’t gone to more.
These days I’m much better than I used to be, and it’s partly down to observing these 4 principles:
1. What’s the worst that could happen?
When I’m staring down a situation that makes me feel anxious or uncomfortable, I take a deep breath and ask myself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” and “Will I be okay if it does?” More importantly, “What’s the best thing that could happen?” Weigh up the situation and then dive right in. What have you got to lose?
2. Hello, I suffer from Social Anxiety.
In my last job I passed up for promotion because my boss thought I wasn’t bothered enough about going for it. The bloke who got it wasn’t nearly as committed or as hardworking as as I was – he was a total idiot – but while I was quietly putting in the hours and not making a song and dance about my achievements, he was shouting it loud and proud whenever he managed to tie his shoelaces. I was overlooked. When I had my yearly appraisal I took the huge step of being honest and telling my boss that I suffered from social anxiety. It completely changed our working relationship – in a good way! She learned that I found it much easier to communicate difficult subjects through email, and she gently pushed me to break out of my comfort zone from time to time. Six months later when Billy Big Bollocks left because he just wasn’t cut out for the job (surprise, surprise…), I got it. The moral is: tell people you trust. They can help you.
3. You’re not always going to be everyone’s cup of tea.
The simple fact of life is that there’s just no pleasing some people. When you meet someone new there’ll always be the risk that you won’t click. They’ll judge your choice in lipstick, your music taste (Hello all American Pop-Punk circa 2003!), your friends, and they’ll find your interests boring (I’m talking to you every book ever written on 18th century France *winky-face*) …or weird. But who the hell cares? It’s okay. Confidence isn’t all about everyone liking you, it’s about being alright if they don’t. If they’re not interested, then it’s time to politely shrug and move on. The likelihood is that at some point you’re bound to stumble into someone who has interests that are just as strange as yours. 🙂
4. Do something scary. Say yes.
The sad fact is that if you don’t push yourself to step outside of your comfort zone, then nothing’s going to change. So if you force yourself to face up to the things that scare you, bit by bit you’ll find them less scary, or at the very least you’ll come up with ways to approach/deal with them in the future. So go to that party full of future-friends, say hi to the guy who you see on the train every day… Get in there first and ask the hairdresser what their holiday plans are 😉 Force yourself to say yes to plans that you would have otherwise refused.
Help a gal out here; got any topics of conversation to hit the hairdresser with when I go get my hair cut next week?