Don’t look at me. Don’t notice me. I just want to listen and watch. It’s too hard for me to join the discussion. I hate my voice and might say something wrong. People may laugh. I hate my picture taken. I’d rather be the photographer. Writing how I feel is easier than saying it.
These were some of my personal thoughts when I was a kid, and I don’t have to tell you that childhood and especially high school, were a special kind of hell for me. Back then, I didn’t know I was an INFJ. Nobody knew or cared about my natural personality traits or theirs either. I knew I wasn’t “normal.” I knew I didn’t fit in with the other kids. I was happy with a small circle of friends in school and more than happy writing poetry, reading and doing crafts in my room at home.
So why am I telling you this? Why should it matter now?
I’m sad to say that in many ways, I’m still that awkward kid with those same thoughts. But how can that be? I’m forty-five years old. Doesn’t confidence and wisdom and feeling good in your own skin come with age? Maybe I need to grow older to find out because this age isn’t quite cutting it.
Of course, I’m more confident than that painfully shy child who would’ve chosen complete isolation for an entire weekend over making an oral presentation in front of the class. I’ve grown a lot over the years, and I’ve challenged myself when the opportunity arose. For example, I took a drama class my first year of college because I always loved the idea of acting–becoming someone else at least for a short time. Plus, I’ve always been good at memorization, so lines would be easy to learn.
Hands shaking, heartbeat racing, I read for a part in the Christmas play, and was pretty damn proud that I managed to pull it off without embarrassment. And, to my surprise, I got a small part. When I say small, I mean small. Two or three short lines in the second act. I could do that, right? It guaranteed me an A for the class too. But there was that one big issue–saying those few lines in front of a couple of hundred people.
But because I had so much fun hanging out with the cast and crew, I didn’t think much about my fear. This community of people was so much better than high school. These kids were outgoing, funny, kind and made me feel like I belonged in their group. I rarely thought about being invisible. I laughed, told stories, made friends and didn’t mind too much when the photographer wanted to take some scene shots.
Then it came–show time. I had attended every rehearsal, and I knew that play line for line. I knew all the players, knew everything that would happen and when. At the beginning of the second act, I went on and said my lines as convincingly as I could. But I didn’t look out in the audience. I shook inside, said a prayer, and when it was over, I breathed a happy breath. A star, I wasn’t. A shy, introverted girl who just mastered her fear, I was.
And I still am. There were other opportunities, some that were forced on me, like when I had to recite a poem on video for my poetry class in my last year of college. The memorization wasn’t hard but reciting it in front of a video camera when I knew another class was watching? Yeah, that was a bit of a nightmare. But I did it and, again, felt joy, relief and pride. (In case you’re wondering, I recited the poem Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll).
School assignments you can’t escape from (though I did skip speech class the day I had to give my first speech), but there are others you can choose. A few years after college, I entered a local poetry contest and won second place. I only entered at the encouragement of a dear writer friend. Pat loved one of my most recent poems and insisted I enter it in the contest. That win definitely boosted my confidence as a poet, but there was a catch. There was an awards ceremony and they wanted me to read my poem in front of the attendees.
Yikes! My first thought was no way! But how could I not? I wanted to attend the ceremony and receive my award, but how bad would it look if I refused to read my poem?
Pat couldn’t come to support me, but she reminded me that they chose my poem, and I should be proud to read it. Okay, I got that, but that meant all eyes were on me, every ear would be listening to my voice. Would I mess up? Would I choke? Would I trip walking up to the stage? I don’t know how I did it and can barely remember it now, but with my mom in the audience, I recited my winning poem, and to this day, that is my favorite personal poem. (I titled it Fearless and you can find it here in my collection.)
So where am I today?
I’ve been through a variety of jobs, friendships, relationships. I’ve traveled and met many people, and through the years, I’ve naturally grown into a much more confident person. I’ve embraced my personality and learned to feel okay with my flaws (at least on most days).
Yet, I still feel like that awkward kid who just wants to write, take pictures and stay as invisible as possible. But in the world we live in now, that’s tough, especially when I love connecting with people both in person and online.
I love the writing part, of course. I love email, texting, social media and writing comments on blogs. Connecting that way is a dream for me. But now there’s more. It was hard enough to select a profile picture of myself (one I didn’t hate since I hate most pictures of me) but now there are videos, zoom meetings and podcasts. And I love all of that. But that shy kid in me would rather watch and listen. Invisible. But I’m tired of wanting to be invisible. I want to like how I look on camera. I want to like the sound of my voice. I want to feel confident enough about who I am and what I have to offer others. I desperately want to conquer this old and crusty fear. It would be a dream come true for me.
So how do I do it?
Is life all about drama, poetry readings and taking chances? Hell, yes. And it’s about so much more. It’s about anything and everything that makes us who we are–good and bad. It’s about embracing our past and learning from it, enjoying and making the most of our present and hoping and maybe doing a little planning for a future that’s better than that awkward, shy little kid ever imagined.