Reader Request Week 2012 #7: My Complete Lack of Shame

Jeremy G. asks:

You seem to be a person that is comfortable with himself and doesn’t really give a rat’s ass about what someone else thinks of him. I picture you being that guy that goes on the dance floor/karaoke stage etc. without a second thought as to what someone will think. I find that awesome and something I’m not able to do without copious amounts of alcohol. I’m curious as to how you got to be that comfortable. Was it your upbringing? Was it something you had to work on? Or have you just always been that way?

Anyone who knows me knows that not only are you correct about the dancing and karaoke, but it’s the fact that I’m willing to go out on the dance floor without worrying about how I look to anyone else that initially attracted my wife to me. It’s no joke: She saw me on the dance floor, said to her self “he looks like he’s having fun, I’m going to have to dance with him later,” and now it’s nineteen years later and we’re still together. So there you have it.

How did I get that way? Not just with dancing and karaoke (although I will use them as stand-ins for everything else in this entry), but in a general sense?

1. I don’t generally get nervous in front of strangers and/or large groups of people in a general sense, and I suspect that may be an inborn thing rather than a learned thing.

2. Coupled with that is a correlative “hey, look at me” impulse, which means I enjoy being a focus of attention, at least for a while (I’m also an introvert, meaning being in front of people is ultimately draining, but it’s a sloooow leak, if you know what I mean).

3. I don’t drink, so I never had access to liquid courage and thus had to find ways to give myself permission to, as I like to put it, “get stupid on my own.” It’s worked, and has the side effect, positive or negative depending on one’s point of view, of getting me used to taking responsibility for my own idiocy. I can’t say “sorry, I was so drunk at the time,” which always stuck me as a crappy excuse anyway. On the other things, I also get to do cool things and be totally there for them, which is its own reward.

4. Somewhere along the line, I learned there were in fact only a few people whose opinions I need to worry about or take into consideration regarding how I live my life (Right now: Wife, daughter, a very small number of friends and, in a work sense, the editors I work with). That being the case, honestly, who care what some random other people think of me? As long as I’m not doing anything harmful to anyone else, screw ‘em. If someone wants to point and laugh because I’m flopping about on the dance floor, let them point and laugh. Their scorn doesn’t do anything except point out they’re overly concerned about judging someone else doing something fundamentally harmless. Which makes them the asshole, not me.

This also has the flip side benefit of making me a lot more tolerant of other people doing their own silly thing. Again: You want to do it? You’re not harming anyone else by doing it? Doing it makes your life a little easier to get through? Then go, my friend. Do that thing you do. I applaud you, even if it’s a thing I don’t do myself, or would never do myself, or really wouldn’t recommend to others. My thing doesn’t have to be your thing; your thing doesn’t have to be mine.

5. There’s also the matter, to put it somewhat bluntly, that in our status-conscious primate society, at this point I’m a sufficiently high-status member that I don’t have to fear potential social disapprobation from other members of my monkey tribe for what I do. The fraternity pledge at a party who is intensely aware that the evaluation of other males will have a significant impact on his social standing for the next four years? He’s not in a rush to make an ass of himself (in ways the other monkeys in his tribe will disapprove of). I don’t exactly have the same problems.

This is not to say I’m immune from social comment and criticism. When I show my ass, people tell me (boy, do they tell me). I am, however, fairly well-innoculated against worrying that something on the level of getting up to sing karaoke will have an adverse affect on my social standing.

6. Also, hey, you know what? I both dance and sing passibly well, and indeed have taken classes in both. I did them before I took classes, mind you, and probably would still do them if I hadn’t. But in those specific cases, it doesn’t hurt.

So in short, it’s part who I am and part what I’ve learned that makes me able to get out there and not have a large load of social anxiety over things.

If I were going to give people one piece of advice on how not to have social anxiety over this sort of stuff, it is this: Almost all of the time, it doesn’t really matter. Just as it’s highly unlikely an music business A&R person is going to walk in and say “You! Singing Ke$ha on the karaoke! You’re our next big star!” so too is it highly unlikely that things are going to go the other way and you will be forever shunned for bleating out “Tik Tok” slightly off-key. Hell, Ke$ha sings it off-key too, she’s just got auto-tune. Lots of auto-tune. So relax. Enjoy yourself.

If I were going to give people two pieces of advice on how not to have social anxiety over this sort of stuff, the second piece would be: You get credit for trying. I’ll say this specifically to all you straight men out there: The fact you’re willing to go onto the dance floor at all is a good thing; if you’re willing to do more than the One Square Foot Shuffle (With Optional Overbite), even better (also, for God’s sake, put down your friggin beer). Yes, other men may look at you like you’re an alien, but you’re not trying to make time with them. Focus on the woman in front of you, you idiot. If everything goes well, she’ll have plenty of opportunities to teach you how to dance better. Let her. Trust me, it’s worth it.

33 thoughts on “Reader Request Week 2012 #7: My Complete Lack of Shame

  1. My karaoke technique is to start with a Sex Pistols song. It gives you over your inhibitions, and you can’t possibly sing it any worse than they did.

  2. Great advice, and something I’m working on myself. Liquid courage isn’t a great replacement for real courage and I want to be an author (I’m already a writer since I do write) so I’m going to have to get used to reading in front of people, which is something I hate and fills me with a slight dread. Still, it’s something I know I can overcome and will without any liquid assistance.

  3. I think you nailed it with #4. Not giving a shit what random strangers you’ll never see again think about you makes the anxiety load much easier, and for those few people who do know you, they’re truly unlikely to hold off key singing or bad dancing against you in their judgement of your character.

    and you can always apologize to them later.

  4. It seems to me that part of your comfort with being ‘shameless’ is a lack of hypocrisy, John:

    1) You poke fun at people and things, and appear ready and willing to take a ribbing in return.

    2) Doing silly things in appropriate situations isn’t shameful, and sometimes doing the silly thing in an inappropriate situation is all that can save one’s sanity (trust me, I’ve been there).

    3) Saying what you think isn’t usually something to be ashamed of (unless you are a rabid racist/idiot/fool), in which case be prepared to weather the storm your comments my bring.

    As you apply the same behavioral yardstick to everything you do in your public persona, there is little to be anxious over. Would that everyone was so self-aware.

  5. I once watched a young woman mesmerize a group of men with her charm and her lovely, loud, laugh. By all the social norms of the time she was not “attractive” – plain, plump, un-polished – but they were, indeed, charmed by her. The best part? All this took place in a goth club.

    Sometimes magic happens and if it doesn’t, at least you had a good time.

  6. My favorite quote of late is “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind”. In other words, if people are going to point and laugh and make mean-spirited fun of you because you sing off key and/or you’re a lousy dancer, so what? They’re not real friends if they’re putting you down. Real friends can jokingly point and laugh in a good-natured way, and you know their opinion of you isn’t lessened in any way because you “made a fool of yourself”.

    Real friends also don’t think any less of you if you choose not to drink, smoke, or partake of illegal substances. If your “friends” are trying to convince you that the “only way” to have a good time is to get high or drunk, or to pollute your lungs with tobacco, you should consider expanding your circle of friends, or reducing it to exclude the people who can “only” have fun in an altered state. Which is not to say that having friends who drink or smoke is bad in itself. But real “friends” don’t try to *force* you to engage in those behaviors. If you can’t have a good time *unless* you’re in an altered state, maybe you should get out more.

  7. My mom’s dad often told her that other people don’t think of you nearly as much as you think they do. Whether I came to that realization on my own or through her (grandpa was gone when I was a baby, so it couldn’t have been him), I can’t say. But it’s something I think about when I start worrying about what others think of me.

  8. Nicely put, John.
    I do all I can to avoid karaoke. In Gone in Sixty Seconds, Chi McBride’s character is a driving instructor, and he has an amazingly terrible student. He tells her, “Hell, you can’t drive, honey. Shit, I can’t swim, I know I can’t. So you know what I do? I stay my black ass out the pool!” That is my attitude about karaoke, so rather than go and run the risk of becoming judgmental, I just don’t go.
    I did spend three months teaching myself to play guitar and sing when my wife was pregnant so I could sing “Haven’t Met You Yet” at the baby shower though. Lesson: if it means something to you, do it, but avoid judging others for trying.
    Dancing’s another matter, though. I’ll dance when there’s dancing to be done. My wife and I took east coast swing lessons, and I would recommend them to anyone. Big group lessons at your local ballroom are awesome. We went to the Century Ballroom in Seattle. Everyone starts off looking clumsy, but once you get the basic steps down, you can really let loose and have fun. The basics are enough to dazzle 90% of the people who see you dance, and that top 10% who are really good won’t look down on you. They’ll want to dance with you.
    I’ve found that one really great way to get used to doing things in front of people is to join Toastmasters. I’ve been a member for about two and a half years, and you quickly learn that nobody at the meetings expects you to be perfect and they understand if you’re nervous at first. They all know that you’re overcoming the jitters and they’ve all gone through it themselves. If you go to toastmasters.org, you can find a club near you. They’re everywhere, and you can visit a meeting that’s at a good time in a good location for you. As a visitor, you get to see how Toastmasters works, and you don’t have to worry about having to get up and speak yourself.

  9. To me, one can’t accept the possibility of being laughed at by others until that person has learned to laugh at himself.

  10. It’s inborn. My sister is the same way: introvert with absolutely no fear of social disapproval or judgment. She’s been drunk once that I know of, on her twenty-first birthday. SHE GOT KICKED OUT OF THE BAR. Kicked. Out. I think she maybe only drinks lightly or not at all nowadays. (And oh you would not believe the stories I have of her early childhood. John, did you by any chance have an aversion to clothes as a young child?) She appeared out of nowhere in a family of very reserved, quiet people. Don’t know what happened.

    As a person born with a healthy dose of shyness, I would say there’s merit in working on overcoming those fears, but not so that you can be like John Scalzi or my sister. I enjoy hanging out with those people, but an entire room full of them would be INSUFFERABLE. Sorry! ;-) Rather, I would say that learning to manage social anxiety has rewards for being able to connect with others and to be a more comfortable version of your own self wall-clinging and all. Karaoke is optional. Maybe you like knitting better. Knitting is an awesome skill to have. I envy really good knitters.

  11. … That is, in truth, a lot of auto-tune. Good God. And they released it that way, meaning that was the best she could do. Indeed, I don’t think anyone else need ever feel bad for singing that particular song off-key.

    I will have to remember this post, because I’m the girl with the horrible stage fright and anxiety if I’m not performing as part of a group. I sing decently, and have performed in choir/orchestra/plays, but only if I’m singing against someone else or over some other background noise; hand me a solo or a quiet audience and I freeze. True story: I passed out from sheer nervousness during the required affirmation of my divorce complaint during the final hearing. Tiny courtroom, just about 6 other couples, the judge, the bailiff, and a few lawyers, reading words I had written down myself, but I could barely get the words out … and then drew all sorts of attention (which I’m sure I had not really had before that point!) by falling over. To crown it all, I had to do it all over again ten minutes later, because we still had to have it on the record. Not one of my shining moments, let us say.

  12. Inborn for some. Learned for others. While a bit of a free spirit, like all my siblings (family influence there), I was painfully shy throughout adolescence and in my early twenties. How did I overcome this to become an extrovert? Work. I had worked as a cook in restaurants and needed a new job. Got a job bussing tables in a busy Italian restaurant. Saw the money the waiters were making and learned how to do that. Learned how to tend bar by starting as a bar back. All this work to make a living in the service industry (have to deal with people) made me unafraid of what people thought of me, and unafraid to be myself and talk to groups of people. Maybe it was inborn and it just took something to make it come out – I don’t know. Eric’s granddad had it right – people really aren’t looking at you and judging you all the time. They are busy with their own issues.
    Ditto what Jennifer said about friends. Real friends like you even if you are, or maybe because you are, goofy.

  13. Wonderful comments on a great post! (and much thanks to the person who posed this question!)

    “Be yourself” – and enjoy your eccentricity – is another of those life lessons I learned from Captain Jack Sparrow. Once you’re comfortable with your own weirdness, you’ll better enjoy other people’s quirks too: win-win.

    BTW, “You get credit for tryin’” is a quote from POTC2. :-)

  14. My motto has always been ‘no guts, no glory’ in the sense that you won’t have any fun at all if you don’t at least try. And I totally agree on the “what strangers think” approach too.

  15. I wish more people would realize that #4 on your list is true. It reminds me of what Theodore Geissel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) said: “Be who you are and say what you feel. Those who matter, don’t mind; those who mind, don’t matter.”

  16. It always boggles me how many guys don’t get the simple fact that chicks dig guys who dance. Seriously, guys. Get over yourselves.

  17. I think the Offspring put it succinctly in their song “Smash”:

    “I’m not a trendy asshole and I don’t give a fuck if it’s good enough for you”

    Summed up my belief rather nicely. Words to live by.

  18. People often mistake introversion for shyness, but they are not at all related. I think introverts, by spending so much time with ourselves and living in our heads, might have an extra layer of insulation from other people’s opinions. I have a reputation for being slightly eccentric, for example, simply because it doesn’t occur to me to not do or say something because someone else might think it’s whacky. If it seems like fun in my head, why not give it a go? And when I’m done, and return to my books, well, the books never seem to mind that they belong to a weirdo.

  19. @kuangning

    That may or may not be the best she can do. Auto-tune is fashionable as an effect:

    Cher’s “Believe” was kinda neat, and it was fun when they Auto-tuned Carl Sagan, but I’ve about had my fill of Auto-tune as special effect.

  20. 1. Work like you don’t need the money.*
    2. Love like you’ve never been hurt.†
    3. Dance like nobody’s watching.‡

    * This means “as if you’re doing it for the sheer joy of it,” not “as if you don’t care if you get fired.”
    † This means “take risks and be just a little more trusting than you want to be.”
    ‡ This means “let your dancing come from what feels good to your body in response to the music.” It does NOT mean “don’t show off”! If you dance well, showing off is GOOD. Oh, and “like nobody’s watching” also means “be as careful not to break your ankle as if you’d have to drag yourself miles through the snow if you did.”

  21. “It always boggles me how many guys don’t get the simple fact that chicks dig guys who dance. Seriously, guys. Get over yourselves.”
    The reverse could also be said:
    It is amazing how many women care whether a man likes to dance. Seriously ladies, get over yourselves and go dancing with your girl friends.

    On another note: I would be curious to see if there was a correlation between women who put dancing on the top of the list and women who complain about the men that they are dating. A lot of men know that women are totally into dancing and go hook up women with that method.

  22. Had not realized that you had taken voice lessons as well as dance, though ought to have guessed after watching you and wilw’s rendition of Don’t Stop at w00tstock. Thank you!

    Peter: I particularly enjoy that quote for its origin – Arlene Feynman, not little Richard.

  23. This is actually advice to live by. I’m not saying that everyone should try to be a public goof or attempt to garner as much attention as possible. Some people just love to hide in the background and that is obviously just fine. But rather the advice about not letting every single person’s opinion matter but rather stick to the few people who are a crucial part of your life. Even then, it should depend on the circumstance — such as an editor’s opinion matters when you’re trying to sell a piece, but their thoughts on how to raise a family doesn’t mean shit to you. I think, this is the type of advice that can bring forth a lot of success towards people who allow public perceptionto hamper their true self. Or maybe I’m just reading too much into this post.

  24. So, as a crippled kid in the 50′s, I grew up knowing that people were staring at me, and they all had opinions, and some were very forthcoming about that. (I would not wish my Junior High years on anybody.) But really, it’s amazing what you can get used to. And of course, in college I tried hard to be as outrageous as possible. I finally found my niche — I live in Berkeley, where there are so many and diverse weirdos nobody even notices!

  25. You know, I don’t care much about what people think about me, I care about being *attacked*

    I once got almost knifed for laughing with a friend in a public place, such things stick with you. I haven’t gone out since then, actually.

  26. Unlike John, my Introvert Leak is a FAST one. So I rarely dance, despite having been a member of the dance troupe in high school (I never did figure out “club” dancing), and though I can sing passably well, I rarely do that either. And I DO get nervous in front of groups.

    But I’m also a high school teacher, so I’m basically “on-stage” eight hours a day (six classes, plus meetings, etc.), and I can handle that–my students are always shocked that I’m introverted in real life.

    Despite this, I don’t really care if people I don’t know see me acting like a goober in public (which I do when I’m with friends). If they have a problem with me, it’s theirs, not mine.

  27. “Doing it makes your life a little easier to get through? Then go, my friend. Do that thing you do.”

    Reminds me of a quote at the end of the Jim Croce compilation I have: “If you dig it, do it. And if you really dig it, do it twice.”

  28. i didn’t know you liked good music. Perhaps your not completely out of touch with the younger generation after all. OINK, HAHA.

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