Recently I found myself in an unusual social setting given my station in life. Young college co-eds surrounded me. The sometimes forced and sometimes real profundity of their conversations filled my ears. There was a girl with elliptical green eyes and the face of a doll. She looked like a doll. Not all of them were quite as handsome, but they all looked very young. My constant immersion in youth is something I’m having to get used to since recently moving to a vibrant college town. My husband and I joke about how we’ll just keep getting older while much of the populace will remain suspended in the idyll of youth. Everywhere I go – even at the grocery store where there are young people filling their carts with beer and munchies – there’s the reminder that I’ve somehow become a dowdy adult who mans a minivan and has a mortgage.
Most of the kids in the room – and I have to call them kids because that’s what they looked like to me even though I had less than 10 years on some of them – carried themselves with a lofty air of confidence. They were sipping punch from the big glass bowl at the refreshment table and snacking on plate-sized cookies that I noticed the older people in the room were avoiding probably because they knew that a cookie of that proportion would settle directly on their hips or merge into the pooch that was already overflowing from their high-wasted trousers instead of being immediately burned off by the fuel of young metabolism.
Despite the kids’ freedom to enjoy junk without worrying about where it would end up, that air was just what it sounds like – transparent, not substantial at all, something you fall right through given the chance. I could see right through it, not only because I’d been in their shoes not all that long ago but because in that room, in that social setting, I had a similar air about me but for different reasons. I didn’t feel the inexperience of youth weighing down on me. I didn’t even feel like I had to prove myself, but I did feel like I had to prove that myself (a stay-at-home mom who sometimes writes) was someone worthy of being there in that company and that I, too, was once upon a time very much like them – cerebral, unafraid of risks or mammoth cookies (well, given my hangup with food and body image, I was probably more afraid of a cookie than the average person even at their age).
In that room, I wasn’t much different than the eager students. I was effusive with my words and expressions and I fear, embarrassingly fulsome in my enthusiasm for being at this event. To be fair, part of my enthusiasm was rooted in the fact that my husband had been MIA nearly all week and I’d been craving some adult interaction (and quasi-adults count when you’re desperate).
Likewise, I do just have an effusive nature. I have a lot of emotions brimming beneath the surface, and sometimes they just spill out at unexpected places and situations – on blogs, at parties or other social gatherings.
But sometimes my Cheshire cat smile and my constant chit-chat as well as my annoying habit of marbling in some of my past achievements into conversations are just a cover up for insecurity.
I remember a friend once telling me about a job interview and how one of the candidates mentioned he went to Duke in every third sentence. This annoyed the interviewer who had the candidate’s resume right in front of her and was fully aware that he went to Duke. “It was a sign of insecurity that he kept mentioning the fact that he went there,” she said.
Though I’d never met the candidate, this guy and his Duke name-dropping were annoying me. I saw his arrogant grin and his gray suit that was just a little too big for his lanky frame. (I have no idea how he actually looked, but this is how he appeared to me in my mind’s eye.) This pompous suit guy was really getting on my nerves.
Yet, I wonder how many people have found me annoying for doing somewhat of the same thing. Aren’t we all guilty of making ourselves look bigger than we really are? How many of us bolster ourselves up with our words, pricey or flashy clothes, or our behavior? How many of us mention our accomplishments instead of letting others discover them on their own? Why do we fear our smallness instead of accepting it?
I long for a humble heart, but I have such a long way to go.
I’ve been struggling recently with feeling socially awkward and more unsure of myself in social settings. Maybe it’s the move, being in a new community. Maybe it’s the fact that the few social shindigs I attend are full of doctors or people in academia. Maybe it’s just that my bout of depression has slipped into anxiety. I’m not sure. Maybe it’s just motherhood, which I love but which also leaves me feeling physically and at times intellectually drained.
I often don’t feel very interesting (except to other moms, my kids, and my husband) anymore. I don’t feel like much of a thinker either. I used to be the kind of person who would cloister herself in some trendy coffeehouse with a book of poetry or essays just to whittle away the hours reading and ruminating. (Once I even scribbled in my journal at Cafe Hawelka in Vienna.) I now don’t have time or the life that’s conducive to idle pondering. However, I do still spend inordinate time pondering (obviously), but it’s so often about the wrong things – like: Why did I say that? Or: Why did I suffer another terrible case of diarrhea of the mouth? Why can’t I curb my effusiveness for once? Why can’t I be secure enough in my life, in my vocation, that I don’t have to mention my days as an honors student or other academic pursuits and achievements that were once mine?
When I’m thrust into a social setting that’s high on professionals and low on other domestic divas such as myself, the affirmation junkie (I believe it was Ann Voskamp who coined that phrase) within me starts to get the shakes, and no matter how hard I pray Psalm 141:3, “Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips,” the door swings open wide, and I end up saying at least one stupid, inane, or I-clearly-struggle-with-humility-thing.
The answer for my social awkwardness (and very few people would describe me as socially awkward given my outward ease with mingling in a crowd, but they don’t see the post-traumatic stress I suffer following a social encounter where I begin to over-analyze every freakin’ thing I said or didn’t say) is that I feel inadequate. I want to be affirmed that I-Katie-the-stay-at-home-mom-who-looks-at-more-poop-than-poetry belong there. I want to be affirmed that I am someone who has an interesting life and someone who has interesting things to say.
God, I have issues. (I’m not using the Lord’s name in vain here. This is a prayer to Him to help me overcome my myriad issues.)
But so does everyone as my husband recently reminded me when I was telling him how annoying I’d been. He also suggested that I’m perhaps not as prideful as I assume since I spend a ridiculous amount of time lamenting my issues and wishing I could have a Groundhog Day of my own because truly prideful people don’t recognize their issues and certainly don’t regret being themselves; they want everyone to be like themselves. Right? Yet, mentioning this leads me to believe I am still prideful.
Whatever the case, social settings with professionals happen to heighten my own social awkwardness, especially now that I’m an at-home mom who doesn’t get out all that much. Now I sometimes feel insecure because I’m afraid I won’t have anything important to say to a bunch of college students, journalists, or doctors when we’re out with people from my husband’s work (and even, oddly enough, fellow at-home moms), or I’m convinced that others are going see the blond hair and hear my job title (“Mom”) and make a quick exit to find someone more interesting to talk to.
Yet, I have as much worth now as I ever did. My worth has never changed. We don’t have to put on a show for others. We certainly don’t have to put on a show for God.
God doesn’t want a running list of our accomplishments. He just wants us.
As I scanned the room of college students, I remembered being in their shoes, feeling the pressure to “find myself.”
If I studied abroad and roamed the Uffizi, then I’d find myself.
If I fell in love with the right man, I’d find myself.
If I read the right books, I’d find myself.
If I searched myself long enough, I’d find myself.
I spent so much time contemplating myself and whom I was supposed to be, whom I ought to be, convinced that becoming the person I am supposed to be is a corollary to myself and my thinking rather than a product of God and how I revealed God in my encounter with others.
At 31, I’m no longer trying so hard to find myself. I’ve found my way, I’ve found the best version of myself, ironically, by giving pieces of myself away. I am who I am not because I’ve been stuck looking in the mirror but because I’ve been looking out toward others: My husband, my children, my friends, mostly God. I know who I am: A wife, a mother, a sinner but a person of virtue sometimes, too. The next step is to work on accepting that person – flaws, issues, social idiosyncrasies and all.