Friday, December 3, 2010

25 Random Things: # 4

4. People think I talk too much, and I should shut up at times. They're right, but I don't care. People who knew me when I was young know how painfully shy I was and how hard it was for me to interact with people. I would take F's in school, so I didn't have to get up in front class and read a paper. I know how I was then, and I know how I am now. Yeah, I irritate people at times, but I will not be silent. I will never be that way again. Deal with it. I have.

Yeah, I'm kind of verbose, and tend to talk a little bit too much at times. Life goes on. When I was a kid, you couldn't have gotten me to talk. I was as shy as it's possible to be, and didn't think it would ever get better. Like most people, I had my moments, and could have a lot of fun and act up. But mostly I never did. Even at kids parties, I was the wallflower and wouldn't go talk to people I didn't know.

It was really bad in school, because it affected my grades. For some stupid reason, you have to do projects where you get up in front of the class and read it, or present it. That was a big problem for me, and I didn't like it. I would refuse to get up, or tell the teacher I hadn't done it, and take the failing grade. Failing was better than standing up in front of everyone.

There are a lot of reasons why I was like this, but I won't go into them. Mostly, it was a fear of failure or being laughed at. I don't know if that's the common reason, but it was mine. Suffice it to say, it was a problem. I would do anything I could to avoid being in front of a crowd. About the only thing where I didn't have a problem with it was in sports. But I wasn't a good athlete, so it wasn't like I played a lot.

Of course, this didn't help when it came to meeting women. It was always a big problem, because I wouldn't approach a woman to ask her out. Now don't think I was entirely lonely all that time. I wasn't. I guess some women liked the shy act, even though it wasn't. It would just take the woman approaching me and then it was fine. If she was going to come talk to me, then she must have been interested.

This finally came to a head when I was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, during the time everything in Somalia kicked off. My job was going to require me to give presentations on the services we provided, and not just to soldiers. To the high-level commanders and the spouses. If you've never had to brief a group of Army wives, you don't know what pressure is. You really don't.

I knew I had to get over it. To be clear, it wasn't fear of being up in front of a group of people. I had done that. It was being noticed by people I didn't know more than anything, and it wasn't fear, such as sweats and shaking and wanting to pass out. If I had to do it, I could. It just wasn't comfortable and I didn't like it. I always had the comfort level with people I knew, and think I was mostly okay socially in my own way. It was strangers I had a problem with. So now I was faced with a situation where I had to do it, and had no choice.

As luck would have it, I was fairly close to home, and would go back to Missouri on long weekends. I would stay with my good friend Layne, and we would hit every bar and party we could find. Layne is a performer (singer/actor/etc) and being the center of attention is his thing. Like Robin Williams, he is always performing. And I was the sidekick straight man.

So one night we went out, and Layne met up with a girl he wanted to go out with, who was out with a friend of hers. We met up at the Legion dance (oh, the joys of small town living) and then went to Country Kitchen for breakfast. Layne, as usual, dominated the conversation and I kind of sat there. I figured these two pretty women weren't interested in anything I had to say, not while Layne was around. Eventually, one of them asked me something and I responded with a joke, or a one-liner or something, and they laughed.

Hey, good times. Further on through the evening, more questions to me, more funny lines, more laughter and all of a sudden I realized I could actually involve myself with people I didn't know, be funny, and the world didn't end. By the end of the night, I was carrying the conversation, the two girls were laughing and Layne was pissed because he wasn't the center of attention. He still hasn't gotten over it. That seems like a small breakthrough, but it was amazing. It showed me I could actually talk to people I didn't know and get up in front of people if I had to. I had a comfort level that I had never known before. It really was that simple.

So when it came time for the presentations, I aced them. I was funny, I was informative, and I managed to deflect some tension from the subject and sent everyone home feeling better about what we could do for them. The Group Commander, who was in attendance, even sent me a hand-written note telling me how well I had done. Which was great, because it's not unusual to get a form letter with a signature, but this was an actual hand-written letter. I still have it.

Since then I've given countless presentations, attempted conversations in foreign languages, meet presidents and prime ministers, and have generally gotten over it. If I have to get up in front of a crowd now, it's no big deal. I'm still nervous about doing well, but not about being in front of people. I've actually helped write comedy shows for a friend, and have been asked to do stand-up routines by someone else. When it came to meetings, the people I worked for were confident enough to let me run the meetings with dignitaries. It's become easy.

However, on the flip side of things, now people think I tend to talk too much. Some people have told me that I never shut up, and I should back off a little more. They might be right. They probably are. It's hard to know where to draw the line between being involved or not involved. I don't think I have it figured out just yet. What I have figured out is that the way I am now is a lot more fun than the way I used to be. And I won't shut up, and I won't go back to the way it was. If people have a problem with that, they are more than free to tell me. They just have to realize I don't care.

It’s not fun being that shy, and it isn't good for people to be that way. It can be lonely at times, even sometimes in a crowd of people. So people are going to have to deal with it. I've found my voice and I'm going to use it.

I refuse to be quiet any longer.

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