When I tell people that I have the worst case of anxiety when I have to socialize or network, I’m usually met with responses like, “Really? I can’t tell.” But it’s true. I have always been extremely quiet and shy. In preschool, I was sent to a speech therapist because my teachers were convinced I couldn’t speak. My parents knew that wasn’t the case because when I’d get home, all I did was talk!
To this day, sometimes I prefer to stay quiet (of course, not when it’s something serious or in my defense) because I can be really awkward. You know those times when you’re mid-sentence and then you realize your point is not getting across the way you intended so you’re trying to explain yourself while still trying to get your original thought across, but lose everyone's interest in the process? Do you find it easier to have conversations or make phone calls when you’ve rehearsed it in your head a few times? If your answer is yes, I totally get it. I’m the exact same way.
When you see me going to blogger events, or conferences, know that I am a ball of anxiety. But how do I manage to stay cool, calm, and collected? It takes time and experience outside of your comfort zone, but here are a few tricks that have helped me cope with my social anxiety, and sometimes, have even worked to my advantage. As an example, I’ll use my recent experience at the Latinx Collective International Women’s Day Brunch.
1. Decide on the Option You Won’t Be Regretting Later
If you’re second guessing going to an event or gathering, stop and think, “will I be disappointed, or regret not going?” If your answer is yes, then take the leap and go! If your answer is no, then maybe this event isn’t exactly in line with your interests in the first place.
For me, it was important that I go to this event because I had never really celebrated International Women’s Day. Also, it’s been important for me to try and delve deeper into my Latin roots. Yes, I speak Spanish and eat Mexican food almost every day, but my experience is not the same as everyone else’s. I feel that learning from other Latinx people is just another way to feel more empowered in my own chingona skin. In hindsight, I would have regretted not having had the chance to chat with these powerful chicas's about their lives and points of view.
2. Weigh the Pros and Cons
Gather a list of pros for the specific event and have them on repeat in your brain. The pros for me for this particular event included: 1) I would be getting to try a new Mexican Restaurant in the Oakland area, Nido; 2) I may have a chance to meet new people and create connections! (Which I did!); 3) I’d get a chance to celebrate women alongside other strong women I could relate to; 4) There would be a photo opp at some point!
And of course, I also weighed the cons, which included: 1) I would have to be up at 8am on a Saturday so that I could get on the road by 9am, and hopefully be in Oakland by 11am; 2) I didn’t know what to expect; 3) I get awkward and quiet when I’m nervous.
If we wanted to, we could probably come up with more cons than pros. Most of the time, all of those things are just exaggerations of our fears. Instead of focusing on the fact that I will be totally anxious when having to introduce myself to new faces, I can think about how exciting it will be to possibly make new friends while munching on some yummy treats! Or instead of thinking, “ugh, I have such a long drive ahead of me!” Switch your mindset to think, “How fun! I have two hours to listen to my favorite podcast or album uninterrupted!”
3. Find a Friend
It’s always empowering to do something daring with a friend or loved one beside you. For some reason, it gives us a sense of security to know someone that cares for us is there and ready to be our back up in any scenario. Of course, there are times when bringing a friend along can backfire because you alienate yourselves and lose the chance to network with others. I am guilty of this.
But, if you feel that it will help push you forward, invite your BFF or significant other!
At this event, I knew there would be a couple of bloggers I had met previously, and so I felt comfortable being myself and open to converse more than I would have if I had absolutely no clue who anyone was. What was also great was that there weren’t too many of us. This allowed us to have a more intimate conversation and get to know each other a bit more than if there would have been 15 people in attendance.
4. Fake it til You’re No Longer Sweating Profusely
When I’m nervous, I am literally that meme of Jordan Peele secreting buckets of sweat. It’s just how my body reacts. So when I’m meeting new people, or even just talking to people I am sorta familiar with, I am sweating profusely (I apologize if this is TMI). My forehead is shiny, my back is feeling a little cold with the breeze making my shirt stick.
What I do when I find myself in this less than ideal situation is take as many bathroom breaks as needed to control my anxiety and recharge. It’s okay to take a breather and dab off some of that moisture. Many of us introverts are just not equipped for the extreme sport that is socializing. After a quick breather, I’ll go back out and socialize more until I need another break. It makes me feel less overwhelmed and more in control of the situation.
Thankfully at this brunch, I didn’t feel overwhelmed. The welcoming vibe from the hostesses, Ruby and Brianna, Catalina’s huge smile and funny pregnancy anecdotes, and the "scrumptiousness" of the pancakes de requeson were enough to keep me smiling and engaged!
5. Go For It
Sometimes I start socializing by talking to the closest person next to me. I’ll usually introduce myself and then the other person follows suit. Many times, they’ll immediately start asking you questions which helps get the flow of conversation going. If they don’t, don’t be afraid to come out with your own questions.
More often than not, I’ll end up revealing to the person how shy and awkward I am and how big of a stretch even being at an event like this particular one is for me. I can confidently say that 99% of the time, they are in the same boat! So be upfront, go for it, initiate the conversation, and don’t be embarrassed to reveal that you aren’t necessarily a social butterfly. You’ll come off as relateable and down to earth.
Thankfully, these ladies were kind as can be and super fun to be around that I didn't have an issue speaking up as much as I normally do.
Reflecting back on successful networking events or social situations that you were initially afraid of going forward with is a great way to hype yourself up when making the decision to go to another gathering. If you really truly had a horrific time at a previous event, maybe think of what you could have done differently and work on that until you can feel comfortable going full force again.
If you had a blast, made amazing personal and/or professional connections at the last social event, then what are you waiting for?! RSVP girl!
I have had amazing experiences at other blogger events that made me very hopeful for this particular brunch. I was also really excited to catch up with the Latinx Collective crew once again. The International Women's Day Brunch will totally be a great example for me of how great a social event can be.
To wrap up, I’d say go for it! We all get nervous, maybe even terrified, but that should never stop us from advancing, whether it’s for our careers or our personal well-being.
Thank you so much to the co-founding ladies of the Latinx Collective for putting together such a lovely event. The restaurant choice was perfectly delicious (definitely order the Horchata if you ever check it out)! The table décor included postcards and stickers with the faces of amazing powerful women like Michelle Obama, Maria Callas, and Malala Yousafzai. And, of course, chatting with Ruby, Brianna, and Catalina was the best part! It’s always great to be able to learn from other Latinas and their unique experiences with life.
I’d also love to connect with any of you out there who feel that they can relate to social anxiety and fears of networking. What are some strategies you use to push yourself to socialize?
Thanks for reading!
-The B of V
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