I can remember the exact day that I uttered the question, “Want to sit together?” for the first time. My elementary school typically had assigned seats for lunch. We hated those assigned seats because the teachers would ensure that you weren’t sitting next to BFFs lest the lunchroom get too noisy. One day the assigned seat curse was lifted! You couldn’t have made a group of eight year olds more excited if you tried. And then this domino effect started where everyone started pairing off to make sure they would be sitting with the “best” group. As I saw the groups in the beginning stages of forming, I turned to my best friend and said, “Want to sit together??” It was a desperate plea to not be alone. Even at the worst table, we would still be together; I’d still have a buddy, someone to talk to.
Once that ball got rolling, it didn’t stop. Bus rides on field trips, at the movies in middle school, the first day of classes, after school meetings. Luckily I had a best friend and it was always a given that we would sit next to each other, but that didn’t stop us from verbally confirming each time an open-ended seat question was raised. We got so good at confirming each other’s company that we could easily scan the room, find each other, make eye contact, and know that we would “sit together.”
I look back at this desperate need to be by someone I knew and think about all the people that I didn’t get to know in the process. The girls at the lunch table we didn’t know. The other section of our geography class during that field trip. Another school at the competition.
I am one of those people who experience social anxiety. Even in adulthood, I’ve carried this with me. I will confirm ten times with one person to make sure they’re also going to an event. I’d prefer to meet a friend outside the event at a separate location so we can “walk in together.”
This social crutch has probably (er, definitely, if we’re being honest) held me back quite a bit.
When I think about my recent trip to Caneel Bay, I think about how I don’t think I would have gone five years ago. Not knowing anyone would have been enough for me to throw in the towel before even giving it a shot. I can’t believe that there was a chance I could have missed such an amazing trip, and moreover, missed meeting such awesome people. The whole group had so much fun! I learned about some incredible businesswomen, exchanged stories, and felt inspired by those around me the entire time. We all had different backgrounds and passions, yet brought something unique and interesting to the table.
I was reading through my emails today and thinking heavily about the “want to sit together?” issue. There are plenty events that I go to where I don’t know anyone, and while I still deep down wish I could go with a friend, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, it ends up being just fine. Forcing myself to let go of that social anxiety doesn’t mean that the anxiety isn’t there, I just have been choosing to release myself from it and embrace the situation for what it is. The word “open minded” pops into my head.
85% of the time (my unscientific guess) you can get along with anyone just by being open minded. Maybe you won’t become besties for life, but you can at the very least carry on a nice conversation for a few minutes at an event. It’s so, so worth being open minded enough to meet new people… you never know who you’ll really click with!