Live Through This

Team Awkward

I found something that made me feel less socially anxious: empathy.

Collage by Ruby A.

Collage by Ruby A.

There was a time when, if asked to describe myself, I just said “awkward.” At the checkout line at the drugstore, I’d get anxious about having to make small talk with the cashier—if I failed, would she think I was rude? If I spotted an acquaintance out and about, I would immediately look the other way and studiously avoid eye contact. Elevators made me nervous, because what if some stranger expected me to talk to them?

Growing up, I spent a lot of time telling myself that I was way too awkward to do a lot of things. I could never pull off that sequined tube top! I’m too awkward! I can’t talk to that boy who sits behind me in math class! I’m too awkward! I can never try out for American Idol! I’m just sooo awkward. (Also, I can’t sing). This insecurity came partly from facts, like how I’ve always been shy around people I don’t know, but there was also a good amount of untrue self-talk going on—I told myself I wasn’t attractive, that all of my peers were cooler than me, that I didn’t have much to add to any given social situation, and that everything I said was unnecessary or stupid. I was scared of trying too hard and being annoying. I was scared of takign up too much space. I was constantly self-conscious and never comfortable around people.

Early in high school, I had a lot of free time, a chunk of which I spent googling “Why am I so awkward?” (The results, for the most part, were unhelpful.) I felt like some people were born with this innate gift to make other people comfortable, while I just spoke in convoluted sentences that conveyed maybe a quarter of what I was really thinking.

This may all seem surprising given that nowadays I have a reputation for having the ability to not only remember people’s names, but also to bestow upon them flattering yet hilarious nicknames such as Honey Punches of Throats (for my tough friends) or RiRi (for the pop sensation Rihanna—OK, I can’t actually take credit for that one). I’m the glitter glue that holds people together! And if that’s not entirely true, I’m getting there. What knocked me out of my insecure bubble was realizing that I wasn’t alone in there.

High school is weird because there’s pressure to feel like you’re finally grown up, but no one really knows what they’re doing. Have you ever searched “I’m awkward” on Twitter? There are like 14 new tweets with that phrase every minute. Practically every person is a nervous wreck cosplaying as a teen. It’s just that some are able to make it seem like they always know how to act or what to say.

The moment I realized that everyone is awkward, I became more confident, even friendlier. A perk of feeling uncomfortable in your own skin is understanding that you can actually bond over this with people who also feel like aliens. I made one of my best friends when we were paired up to work on a group project together in Spanish class, and I broke the proverbial ice by outright saying “Ugh, group projects are awkward!” When she agreed with a sigh of relief, the barrier of discomfort was broken.

Self-consciousness is letting your social weaknesses control you; self-awareness is learning how to control your weaknesses. Once I figured out the difference between being self-conscious and being self-aware, my awkwardness gave me a superpower, also referred to as empathy. After you know what it’s like on the other side, you can become a hero, or at least a better friend.

Notice that someone is left out of a group conversation because it’s mostly inside jokes they know nothing about? Ask them how their day is going (something I adapted from Krista’s excellent advice on making small talk with anyone). Did a person you recognize from school walk into a party looking totally confused and scared? Smile and say hello! Is a stranger nervously hovering on the outskirts of your circle of people? MAKE ROOM FOR THEM. When someone makes me feel good when I’m feeling anxious, I think, Man, how can I help other people feel the way that person made me feel? How can *I* be a beacon of light to my fellow socially anxious sisters around the world?

I didn’t develop those abilities overnight, and there are days when I feel like I’m still in my not-so-suave phase. I try to remind myself to freak out a little less about how people perceive me and focus, at least somewhat, on how I can help put them at ease. It makes talking to people more fun, and a lot less awkward. ♦

14 Comments

  • spudzine April 11th, 2014 8:51 PM

    THANK GOD FOR THIS ARTICLE!!! :D

    I have a lot of anxiety (particularly that of the social kind), and this lifts a whole weight off my shoulders, because I know it’s hard to remember that everyone’s going through the same stuff you go through, even though it may appear otherwise, but it’s refreshing to say that WE’RE ALL AWKWARD! like why should I feel like I’m gonna mess up something just for the fear that it may sound stupid? The person I’m talking to is probably as awkward as me! And even if they’re not, just thinking that they are brings me peace, man.

    http://spudzine.tumblr.com/
    http://emotwins.tumblr.com/
    http://rockogirl.tumblr.com/

  • notnobody April 11th, 2014 9:17 PM

    I too thought of myself as an awkward person until I discovered empathy. I wish I could send this a few years back in time so that I could have learned it sooner.

    One advantage to this stage of awkwardness is exactly what Gabby said- by knowing what it’s like to be on the outside, you can help invite people in.

  • Turrtle April 11th, 2014 11:28 PM

    This is soooo beautiful. This may sound really lame, but I totally thought that I was the only person who felt this way…now it’s time to apply the advice!

  • WizerdGandalf April 12th, 2014 1:12 AM

    I feel like this article precisely does what it is preaching hahaha! It’s so relatable and nice to read and comforting to know, like right now, like COLLECTIVELY. Nice nice nice nice. Beautiful. Sweet human empathy. And I think that maybe if you do ponder in your mind about it, and you like me have been a shy, quiet, awkard person… WHO IS ALWAYS MAKING US HAPPY AND WHO IS ”DAT RADDO PERSON” THAT WE ADMIRE SO MUCH AND WHO IS THE BEES KNEES BASICALLY?, I review all the faces and personalities and moments in my head and realize that almost all of my favourite times/human gestures/encounters/adventures/etc.. have to do with people whose attitudes were eggsactly as embracing and happy and juicy and nice as this article here exemplifies. It’s like that type of people that teach you and subconsciously give you the impulse to try and be like that to others, to make such a noble gift to others: your empathy, your kindness, your humble but vigorous friendliness. That’s beautiful. I am hugely HUGELY grateful for the people who are like that with me, and in return for their charming ways I too want to pass it on, and like Gabby says keep working on it and polishing my approach to others.
    Picture a bunch of redheaded Weasleys, welcoming a forlorn and tired Harry Potter into their house, and instantly making his summer vacations super worthy. That’s kinda the humanity I want to offer to people whom I appreciate a lot, and people whom I might just have met but that I want to be able to offer my friendship and golden camaraderie. That would be ideal. Hella we can do it rookies.

  • sissiLOL April 12th, 2014 7:37 AM

    I love this article so much!!! Thank you for this! For make me feel absolute NO awkward!
    anevaysblog.wordpress.com

  • Ciara Gavin April 12th, 2014 11:41 AM

    I’ve sort of come to terms with the fact that EVERYONE feels awkward sometimes, but it’s not really helping- I have so little to say sometimes, even and especially with some of my best friends, and it drives me insane. Still! This article helps a little, and the one on how to create small talk should help even more…

    xx, C
    http://www.teacupsandtrilogies.blogspot.com

    • queenofnothing April 12th, 2014 3:03 PM

      Ugh, I know what you mean! When you feel like you have nothing to say it’s the worst thing ever. Especially when it happens with best friends. Recently I noticed that I feel uncomfortable even when I’m with people whom I considered the closest ones. And I have no idea how to deal with that.

    • Erin. April 13th, 2014 1:07 PM

      Same here. It’s like, when people talk to me, my ability to form sentences evaporates. Partly, for me anyways, I think this comes from the fact that I so believe I have nothing to contribute to conversations. I feel that for most of my life, I’ve either been told that what I have to say isn’t important, or at the very least it’s been assumed that because I’m generally quiet and (extremely) introverted, I never want to say anything. So everyone talks around me, and at some point I “accepted” the “fact” that I never have anything to say. It’s like a bad habit.

      At the same time, I take a sort of sick pride in my awkwardness. I’m just trying to be all right with myself, you know?

  • FionaPear April 12th, 2014 4:27 PM

    This is SO me :D Love Rookie for ensuring me every day that I’m not the only person in the world with my quirky thoughts and feels.

  • aprilj April 12th, 2014 10:19 PM

    I LOOOVED this article. I’ve always considered myself an extremely awkward person. You know, the one that can’t hold a conversation, manages to trip on thin air, has that weird running style but after reading your article I had a proper look at all my peers at school and realised that there’s something awkward about all of us. This has made me a little more comfortable, I still freeze up in big group conversations but I don’t feel that I’m the only awkward person awround anymore.

  • woah_itsHunter April 12th, 2014 11:47 PM

    Awesome article! I’ve been struggling with this ever since I started high school this year, my old friends went to other schools and even though I found a new group of friends, I’m really self conscious about what I say to them (which is typically nothing because I’m too scared to say anything). Anyways, this article was a huge eye opener! :)

  • Filia-Zissy April 13th, 2014 8:56 AM

    I really love that you presented a “solution”. I mean anxiety isn’t going to solve itself but by showing empathy to others you can lift their weight and you feel good and that’s just super awesome advice. Whenever I came to terms with my own awkwardness I wondered how to override it. This is definitely worth trying. Plus you make the world a better place.
    Thank you, Gabby!

  • painting_the_roses_pink April 14th, 2014 11:51 PM

    This article!! is everything!! In middle school I was so “socially awkward” (then again who isn’t) and around 10th grade I realized I would rather be more confident socially, so I pushed myself to speak up in class and talk to people and now I try to be the person who makes sure everyone in the group is talking and not leaving anyone out.

    http://aroseofadifferentcolor.tumblr.com/

  • Pizza Princess April 15th, 2014 11:01 AM

    I constantly find my self comparing myself to my friends and becoming more and more self conscious which in turn makes me feel more and more socially awkward. This helped so much and seeing all the comments and people who feel the same way as me. Socially awkward togetherness seems like the way forward!