There was a time when I would walk into a room and be so concerned about how people perceived me that, I would shut down, go silent and sit off to the side.
Never really interacting but watching. Looking for a kink in the social armor of those around me.
How could they all so freely move and speak without the burden of self-consciousness? How do they know the right thing to say or do? Why don’t I know these things? Why can’t i get passed my own perceptions and the flaws I see within myself?
The reality was I could. I was just too caught up in my own head to understand that I had all those capabilities and more. I was so involved in not letting people see the flaws. That I imprisoned myself, subjecting myself to my own mental torture.
It wasn’t always that way though. When I was young I didn’t have a care in the world. No one could make me feel bad about myself or self-conscious in any way. Then again, back then I had a purpose that gave me the fuel to fire up that confidence. I was unwavering in my belief in myself.
So when, where and how did all of that change?
I know exactly when. I was 20 years old. I had played sports heavily as a kid. My goal then was the NBA. I was convinced I’d get there. My parents gave me all the opportunity they could to help me a long. My mother was and still is my biggest cheerleader. But I failed to realize the uphill battle that I had, being a 245 lbs, 5ft, 11inch white guy with the vertical of a toddler. It wasn’t that bad, but you get my point.
So after I wasn’t playing ball any more. My identity was a ghost. I did ok in school but I never really tried. So there was a massive void in me. Physically I had no doubt about my capabilities. Mentally that was a different story. I didn’t think I had anything to offer beyond the mundane and obvious. I truly felt like I had no business being a part of any conversation that had to do with anything other than sports or doing silly impressions to get people to laugh.
Which in turn actually created an impression of me to others that was highly inaccurate. It was also an inaccurate and piss poor self assessment of my own capabilities.
I hadn’t spent time learning anything other than sports really. So when I first started to find a path intellectually. It took a little while to find my groove. I considered myself immature in comparison to the people I was trying to associate with.
I started to regress a bit and get in my own head. Analyzing every aspect, every interaction. Trying to figure out why or if these people liked me. I spent so much time being tense and on edge. It was exhausting.
Eventually I started to fill in the gaps and learn. My immaturity held me back because I wasn’t making the changes needed to move forward and improve myself. I would rely on hope, to at some point change things. Praying that one day I would be comfortable again in any situation.
You can’t sit on hope forever though. I finally came to the understanding that two things had taken place. The first being my sense of identity had been a basketball player for so long that without that my confidence was shot, completely non existent. I had to rebuild it and it took a loooong time.
The second was, lack of preparation. I loved basketball so much, that was all i did for years. The confidence in that came from the amount of preparation I had put in, all the time in the driveway shooting until the street lights came on, all the practices, games and tournaments. The same couldn’t be said about my intellectual endeavors. I had put in zero effort, so how surprising could it be that, beyond the occasional wise crack and silly impression. I didn’t feel I had much to offer.
Inevitably I found ways to motivate myself in that direction by applying the discipline I built playing sports. I took those concepts and applied it to wanting to feel like I had something to offer intellectually.
Over time I grew to be confident in my knowledge and my ability to fluidly interact. The funny thing is, I don’t think anyone could tell I felt that way. It was all in my head, my own perception of what other people might be thinking of me. It’s ridiculous really, the people you want around you are the people that want to be around you.
Whether you have differing opinions, styles, motivations or ideologies. It doesn’t matter as long as there is good at the root of the individual. Those are the bonds and relationships you want to build. They are fearless, loyal and definite.
I realize that social anxiety or any anxiety or discomfort can be triggered by a multitude of influences. I do believe that you can curb it’s attack on you. You just have to cut out the noise, that little voice in your head that tells you, for whatever reason, that you’re not good enough. You definitely are and you deserve to feel comfortable and accepted, but you have to put in the work and improve your own self image, build your confidence and give the spark that motivates you to accept you for who you are. You have a lot to offer, holding back is not the answer, unleashing your inner awesome is what attracts the people you need and want in your life.
Be you to your fullest extent and stop fearing the opinions of others that you’ve concocted about yourself.
Give them a chance to see you for you, let them decide for themselves. I think you’d be surprised at your capabilities, once you remove that self imposed vale of fear.
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