I was approached recently by a very shy, humble woman who was just starting out on her career as a counselor. Though her words were quiet and her eye contact all but nonexistent, I sensed a real kindred spirit, kind heart and friendly soul. As we talked she told me that she had read some of the text books that I contributed to and followed my blogs. It is always humbling to know that there are even a few folks who take the time to read even one item that I have crafted.
She proceeded to tell me about her lifelong social anxiety which contributes to her introversion. She expressed a desire to be more like me. She told me that extroverts like me are fun to be around, tend to be popular and a host of other items. In short I was a model for how she wanted to be professionally. I was touched by her words but also shocked that some folks see me that way. The “confessions” below are being shared in hopes that they may help others overcome some of their social phobias and social fears. It is my sincere hope that you can go so much farther than I ever have.
Though I have been labeled an extrovert by some based on local, state and national presentations, tv, radio or print interviews etc. that I have been part of. The truth is that I too cope with a great deal of social fear. I am most comfortable when I am alone, preferably on my tractor working in a field or perhaps on a farm trail/ fire access road. I tend to shy away from groups whenever possible, rarely get invited to social events but when I do, I tend to decline, citing work commitments (which is true to be sure but also a relief). If I do go it is likely because I have an official duty or role at the function. If I am not required to be there I will do almost anything to avoid it. It is not that I hate people; it is that I have no idea what to say to them, how to act or why they would even want me to be there. Eric Berne’s “What do you say after you say hello?” is in my office and is well read. I have assisted so many folks with it but lack the self confidence or whatever you want to call it to be comfortable in social settings that are not related to mental health or the farm.
When I am at an event I hope for assigned seating if there are meals. Baring that I hope to get flagged down by someone otherwise I look for an empty table to sit. Once I have my seat I am quick to invite others who appear to be doing the same table search that I just did; I hope it helps alleviate any anxiety they may be having. Sometimes this aversion of mine gets misinterpreted as being smug, snobbish or whatever but in truth, I think part of me is still that little kid who got made fun of a lot. I tend to try to blend in at the event whenever I am not “on” so that I am not under the pressure to speak to anyone, though I am pleasant when someone says anything to me.
A few days before an event I feel the anxiety creeping in; it sometimes affects my sleep, my eating and my digestion. Like my old tractor though, once I am started up I get into the zone quickly and get the job done. I forget who I am as a person and instead “act as if” I am the character that was hired or invited to speak that day. It’s funny as most folks tend to know me only as my professional name “Doc Warren;” rarely do they know that Warren is my first name, or that my last name is Corson and that I am the third of four Warren Corson’s. There is a big difference in the way “Doc Warren” and “Warren” interact with others in public. Warren tends to wear a hat, and kind of sneaks in and out of the store, mall or whatever with nary a word. Perhaps due to insecurity, definitely due to discomfort. “Doc Warren” tends to have a kind word for everyone, good eye contact and a ton of energy: at least while he is “on” for an event.
So here I am preparing to do my thing. The music or introduction comes and “Warren” goes to sleep so that “Doc Warren” can do his work. I tend to make small talk, share anecdotes, tell jokes and act as if I am at home on the stage and do my best to impart the information that I am charged to deliver. I have spoken to crowds of many sizes, posed for pictures and even signed an autograph or two (I have no idea why they wanted them, perhaps as a joke?). I love when I am doing my work and look forward to doing it for many years to come. At the end of the presentation I say my goodbyes and move off the stage. My work is done and with it goes my ability to work or be in the crowd. I have had a few people see me after an event and look shocked because I tend to have my head down and fade away. A few have taken this as me not wanting to be part of the group when the reality is that I have no idea what to do when I am not working.
If you have fear or anxiety in general please do what you can to challenge yourself to continually get out there. Do what you can to “act as if” when needed, to borrow from our brothers and sisters in the rooms, sometimes we need to “fake it until you can make it.” Whatever you do and whoever you are, please do what you can to see your worth, value to others and most importantly, value yourself.
To the young counselor who approached me; I hope these confessions help. It is my sincere desire that you continue to push yourself to get out there. Your courage to share those words with me inspired me to find the courage to share these confessions to the few but very important (to me) folks who take the time to read this blog. You are making a difference just by being in the field; your success may just inspire others, even if you are just “faking it until you can make it.” From what you told me, it already has.
Dr. Warren Corson III (Doc Warren) is a counselor, writer and the clinical & executive director of Community Counseling of Central CT and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.docwarren.org).