Much has changed in my social life over the past four years. Through some events and crises in my life at that part of my life, I was confronted with a side of myself I’d never really wanted to know – immaturity that showed up through self-imposed isolation, avoidance of confrontation, and even dishonesty through lack of true communication and openness. It’s hard to imagine what life would be like now if that year had not occurred, and while it was not centered around social relationships, they were impacted tremendously.
Throughout most of my life, my closest relationships have consistently been within the realm of my local church. While this is still true in many cases, the fact that I see these people on Sundays no longer defines the breadth of the relationship. Most of my close friends, be they from church, a shared ministry, or a common interest/activity, are close because they are actually my friends, and not just because I see them on a routine basis. I now find myself frequently making lunch appointments with no particular agenda, not even to “catch up.” I now have friends who just like to be with me, and I with them.
As I went through the social development evaluation, a few things did become apparent to me. I think I’m generally a decent person to be around, but there are still situations and times where I “shut down,” or “crawl into my shell.” As I looked at the times these occur, they seem to be in places where I am not 100% comfortable with my opinion or what I have to say. I seem to be completely fine as an uninformed person in the conversation where I’m learning or questioning, and also fine when I AM informed, have an informed opinion that I can support to offer, and so on. Where I’m not comfortable, however, is when ideas are bouncing around, and I simply don’t fully know where I stand, or I can’t keep up fast enough to fully have a developed and explainable thought. I don’t seem to be comfortable with my spontaneous self.
I’ve found this part of my life is already being worked on in several areas. One of the simplest is a kind of strange one, but it has worked for me. I’ve come to phrase this to myself as “not being comfortable in my own skin.” I seem to take myself to seriously, to think I have to have a conversation under control to participate in it. I’ve since taken up making funny faces, or at least smiling, to get a reaction out of certain of my friends, or just to respond to their own smile or funny face. I want to laugh more. I want to hug more. I want to simply be comfortable with who I am, where I am, right here and now.
The primary weaknesses I noted were in areas where I’m unfamiliar, yet there is an unspoken expectation (to me at least) to have something to say. Things like a networking group, or a small group discussing politics, or even teaching a subject where the subject matter to be discussed doesn’t totally match up with my own beliefs or thought process. I also see difficulty in transitioning / guiding conversations to a substantial topic that needs to be discussed or kept on topic but just won’t come up or stay focused.
I do find that through the past several years, I have developed strengths in reaching out to my friends. Whether it’s through things such as inviting them to / buying lunch, thinking and purchasing a book for them, sharing my own undeveloped thoughts before they’re fully figured out… so much has changed in this area that I haven’t taken much time to look back on it over the past several years.
I’ve come to believe in specific delegating; of empowering people by both letting them come up with ideas and then be the catalyst to turn those ideas into actions. I’ve been told I am an encouraging writer of notes, and that my teaching / discussion leading skills are both down to earth, practical, and try to focus on a key concept or two. I also believe and enjoy helping others crystallize their own thoughts, perhaps offering suggestions here and there, but not doing their thinking for them, even if they don’t “get it” right away (or ever). I enjoy positions of leadership where I can facilitate conversation and discussion, but not necessarily drive it.
As previously mentioned, my escape from social situations I don’t want to be in is to shut down, to isolate myself. I may not necessarily appear unfriendly, but at the same time, I stop seeking out conversation, and I move into short-worded answers that don’t toss the conversation back to the other person/people.
One specific instance in which I’ve seen my social skills improve as I would like them to is in my church softball league. Over the years, I’ve gone from simply playing my best and doing what I’m told to tryin to encourage my other teammates, shouting what’s going on or needs to be done, and even making a few bad base-coaching decisions resulting in outs or my own being yelled at, but I keep going now. I’ve chewed out members of my own team for discouraging remarks they’ve made, and also talked to them in a more controlled setting to try and help them not only see where they’re tearing the team down, but also ways and opportunities they have to put that influence to good work instead of bad. There is still work do be done in following up in some of these areas, but I feel I am becoming more consistent in my ability to say what I think without constantly pre-evaluating my thoughts as to how it might come back and hurt my feelings.