I was out to breakfast with my good friend and his son the other day and his son ordered waffles. The waitress brought the waffles and syrup but didn’t bring butter. He stared at the plate. He stared at her. He didn’t say a word. When the waitress left he told his dad she forgot the butter. “Why didn’t you ask?” his father said. The boy just shrugged. He was shy. I know this feeling. I remember this feeling from when I was nine, but I also know it from my present life. It has become an interesting challenge as I begin work at a new institution.
I have always hated and dreaded networking. I don’t know why but the idea of approaching new people and building new connections that don’t occur naturally (what does that even mean) has been daunting. In the past I have actually found a sort of glamour to my mysterious unapproachable persona. “If they want to know me, they’ll come talk to me. I don’t need to instigate.” Where does that instinct come from? Although I have never known this behavior to produce any direct problems, I do think I have lost opportunities. Aloof doesn’t necessarily help you get what you want. From the moment I came to this new town I have been making a concerted effort to be more proactive in meeting people, pushing past discomfort and instigating conversations I would have shrunken away from in the past. This new adventure has proven very fruitful. I have been meeting amazing people and feel I’m making great connections both personally and professionally. I am sure at one point someone may be rude about my seeming boldness (or I might make a mistake with a name or a department), but the benefits I have already reaped seem as though they will outstrip any small social mishap that may occur. Whenever I feel myself shrinking back into my old shy persona I have a little mantra I say to myself: “Don’t be nine. Don’t be nine.” It works like a charm.
Meanwhile my three year old son is having no problems making friends at daycare. Today when I picked him up his child care teacher related that he would only take a nap if it was next to a particular little girl in class. Apparently they were playing together all day and he was even playing with her hair. “He’s got a girlfriend” said his teacher. He has been in class for two days. I wonder what he will be like at nine.
In the end my friend made his poor nine year old ask for the butter himself. Although mortified, and then having to wait ten minutes for the waitress to reappear, he did finally ask for his butter. The result was a tasty feeling of achievement for all of us.