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.