I’ve heard that line plenty of times this summer. Most Sundays at church every conversation with anyone over 40 plays out like this. And then comes the inevitable, “so what are you going to do after that?”
It’s not a new question, but the percentage of times it gets asked has gone up a lot (probably to almost 100%) now that I’m going into my last year of university.
My answer is always vague, because I still have anxieties about how to answer the question, and anxieties about the subject itself (that’s probably not good): “something with publishing and editing”.
It’s just an area of life I want to sort out on my own, in my own time, with no questions asked. I’ve had anxieties around it for years and I nearly always betray some of it when people ask me about it.
But on the other hand, I can see that it’s just a natural path for small talk to follow. When people ask me what kind of work I want to do, there’s a social anxiety-induced voice in my head asking what do they think I’m capable of, and what if I sound too ambitious and then they look at me sceptically… and what if I don’t end up fulfilling my ambitions and then Jill Bloggs who asked me what I want to do when I grow up multiple times from 2008-2016 will see that I didn’t achieve that.
It’s not like I overthink things or anything.
Yesterday at church I had to laugh when Mrs H did the “Wow third year already” line and then followed it up with the bluntest form of this question that I’ve heard so far: “When are you going to start looking for jobs then?”
Context: Mrs H was my teacher when I was 12-15 years old at a small independent school run by this church (so a lot of the people there are my old teachers!) and was obsessed with using our “daily devotions” time to go around in a circle and ask each of us what career we aspired to on a near-weekly basis. She’s always been known for her blunt honesty which, at school, could be either entertaining or terrifying, depending on the situation!
I’m currently going through an application process which involves Skype interviews, something that is new to me. I did one a month ago, then had a more informal call two weeks after, and in a few days I have another one. I read on one online website which was giving advice that skype interviews are less nerve racking than normal interviews because “you’re in the comfort of your own home”. Well I don’t know about that! The few moments where that screen appears saying “X is calling you” and you hear the little beeping noise is solid adrenaline, for me at least.
But it doesn’t have to be so bad! The first time I had one I think the best thing I did was pace myself, reminding myself that the interviewer shouldn’t mind if you need a few seconds to formulate a thought and that it’s best to just talk steadily and let things come out as natural as possible. I did this because I’m aware that when I’m anxious I tend to gabble things out and not give myself time to think, assuming the other person will be expecting absolute speed and perfection. But it’s been pointed out to me recently that I often reply much sooner than I need to, and this results in choppy, broken sentences.
I think, as cheesy as it sounds, it also helps to smile regularly as well, because that builds rapport and almost tricks you into feeling more laid back.
I say all this now but I’m still probably going to lose sleep over it the night before. Nevermind, hopefully my own advice will carry me through like it did last time! And if it doesn’t, I’ll just keep trying.
Recently I’m turning over in my mind the question of being open about my social anxiety with other people. Telling anecdotes about “that awkward moment when” seems to be a new craze and naturally I’ve got plenty of them up my sleeve. But admitting to people that what you’ve got isn’t just shyness but an actual condition is a whole other ball game. I keep imagining possible situations and what people might say if I was open about it. The idea of it is strangely appealing, yet not quite appealing enough just yet. I imagine many would be very understanding about it, others might get kind of preachy, some sceptical, and others might think I’m attention-seeking.
Is it worth it? Does opening up bring relief or is it best not to tell the whole world? Should you just save it for trusted friends? Or would it be good to raise more awareness for issues like this that not everyone knows exist? I saw some stats somewhere that S.A.D is the third most common mental health problem after depression and alcoholism. If so, we could have all met someone that has this and never known.
If somebody could give me a witty or insightful reply to the question, “So are you usually quite a shy person then?” that’d be great. Saying, “Oh I have social anxiety and I always get tongue-tied when I meet new people,” seems rather a severe bomb to drop on someone you’ve only just met. What do you say?? I usually end up apologetically saying “Kind of, sorry” or “Not always,” but this is a conversation killer and makes me sound like an uninteresting and/or dumb person, which is hardly the first impression I want to give.
Then again, I’m not sure why these people think “Are you always this shy?” is a socially acceptable thing to say. What kind of answer do they expect? Pointing out a stranger or acquaintance’s apparent personality defect simply isn’t kind, even if said with good intentions, and it’s certainly not going to break the ice.
I know that this blog is so new that nobody’s really reading yet, but if by some small chance anyone is, I’d love it if anyone has any suggestions or answers to leave a comment.