There have been times when I’ve thought back on my teens and 20s, and wondered:
Did my debilitating shyness and untreated social anxiety come across as me being unfriendly or thinking I was too good to make friends?
In high school, I was an anxious overachiever.
- I always aimed for A+ and panicked if it didn’t happen (or seemed like it might not happen).
- I memorized every detail I could before a test (but was too fretful to ever pause to digest the information).
- I became editor-in-chief of the high school yearbook because I NEEDED TO MATTER.
Beneath the surface, hidden from even my own insight and self-awareness, I was riddled with anxiety, perfectionism, and rock-bottom self-esteem.
Years later, a former classmate made an offhand comment that I don’t remember verbatim, but it came down to “you were too good to hang out with us.”
My teenage self would have been mortified to hear this.
That shy, lost, neurotic 16-year-old who wanted nothing more than to stop feeling like she only mattered if she was perfect.
There is so much I would go back and tell that girl. So much pain and burden I would try to take off her shoulders.
I had no idea how I came across back then. All I wanted to know was, “Am I okay yet? Am I good enough now? Is this right?”
I’m 34 now
- I still don’t have a good sense of how I come across to others.
- I wonder if my “extra-ness” and nerdiness and perfectionism come across as stuck-up or goody-two-shoes.
- I wonder if my empathy and vulnerability and people-pleasing nature peg me as an underdog, a sort of homely but hopeless puppy.
- I wonder if my social anxiety and shyness make me seem flakey and cold and uninvested.
These worries are becoming easier to manage as I grow and heal.
Most of the time, they are background music that I can consciously tune out. The music takes over only in my hurting moments.
But I’ve come a long way. I’ve learned that imperfect is way more relatable.
And that it’s better to be the flawed, friendly person at the party than the aloof cool kid that everyone is afraid to approach. (Not that I was “cool” anyway.)
Is This a realistic goal?
I want to get to a solid place of not needing to care either way.
I want my sense of self and self-esteem to be so unshakable that I just do my thing, appearances and perceptions be damned.
But I’m prepared to accept that I still have a lot to learn about all this.