Confession: for years I have pretended to be something I’m not – and it’s changed my life for the better. I am a naturally shy introvert who loves to be alone, yet I often act as if the opposite is true. In a situation in which my social anxiety could be paralyzing, I put on my “game face” and act like I’m someone who loves what is going on around me.
I’ve been practicing this for so long that I have grown out of the original label I imposed upon myself. And that is great because labels are limiting at best, destructive at worst.
After a while, it became immensely satisfying for me to shed my “shy” label. While I still think of myself this way; sometimes the opposite can be true.
Now, I’m open to the possibility that an event, or people, or a situation might not fit my preconceived expectations and I’m so much happier for it. This may not be news to most people, but somehow it took me almost 40 years to realize.
When I was in high school, I was so closed off. I had this friend – we’ll call her Maria – who was the opposite. She was excited about and open to new opportunities, and often tried to drag me along with her. Even now I see photos of her on social media feeding tigers, lounging on tropical islands, deep sea fishing – basically still being open to new opportunities. She has been good at saying yes to things whereas I often let negative thoughts (what if I don’t like it/it’s not fun/I can’t do it) stop me.
One of the regrets of my life is not going to a U2 concert in 1993 with Maria. I didn’t want to take off work and spend the money on a ticket so I missed a bucket list band. What a bummer, right? Similarly, I didn’t go on a college trip to Malaysia because I needed to use the trip money to buy a car – which ended up being the worst lemon ever (thanks, karma!)
In an ironic twist, the top two goals on my list of “things to do to have a better life” are to go to more concerts and to travel places I’ve never been. I wasted so much valuable time saying no.
The real reason I didn’t go to the concert or on the trip was because I was afraid. The money thing was just an excuse to hide behind. Maria always saw through that. Man, I must have been frustrating for her.
Just yesterday, I thought of her again when Pandora led me down a country music rabbit hole that started with Margo Price, who I’d heard on NPR the night before. I spent the afternoon listening to the Pistol Annies, Buffalo Clover, Sturgill Simpson, Kacey Musgraves. And I loved it. I was incredulous that I hadn’t opened my mind to this sooner, as I’d always labeled myself as someone that doesn’t like country music – but why? I don’t know any more. Label thrown away. Maria gave me a Green Day CD in high school and I was all “thanks, but I don’t really listen to this type of music.” She told me to shut up and listen to it anyway, and of course Dookie became a heavily-played favorite for years.
Opening myself up to new things – specifically saying “yes” to things that I would not normally has altered me in the best way. If I have to pretend to be brave to get myself there, that’s fine by me. In recent years I’ve done things I never would have thought – like writing this blog post, getting involved in a flash mob, submitting my writing to contests and agents, and taking a yoga class at the very intimidating Cross Fit gym in which I am the only jellyfish*, and I treasure these experiences.
I am not suggesting that anyone reading this should try to “think” their way out of anxiety or depression, or pretend to be someone they are not. I’m just letting you know what worked for me to expand my horizons. I went from being a shy person with a relatively mild form of social anxiety to being a shy person with a relatively mild form of social anxiety that participates anyway and finds immense happiness in doing so.
If you are feeling depressed or experiencing anxiety symptoms that are getting in the way of your life, please reach out to someone you trust or call a depression hotline for help and resources. I like the National Hopeline Network: 800-784-2433.
*jellyfish = person with no muscles