A couple of weeks back, I had a bit of an epiphany in regards to how I come across socially. I've always labeled myself as an introvert since I prefer smaller groups and have a tendency to get overwhelmed in larger crowds. But recently, one instance in particular illustrated how that may not actually be the entire story. Flashback to a few weeks ago: I'd just arrived at an event with a group of girls when we spotted a mutual friend. I know her pretty well, though she's especially close with some of the other girls I arrived with. So when it was time to say our hellos, I hung back, not wanting to come across as overly eager and gave her a weird little wave in lieu of a hug. It felt slightly awkward at the time, sure, but it's also just par for the course for me. It wasn't until my best friend, Cristina, who was also there, actually brought it to my attention that I realized I had made a mistake. She had witnessed the whole thing and mentioned that the girl had actually looked a little hurt when I hadn't approached her. I've always written off awkward social encounters as somewhat unavoidable, but this experience made me question if my hesitation has been the root of my issues.
During my conversation with Cristina, I went through a range of emotions. Initially, I was shocked that someone could be disappointed by my less-than-gregarious greeting (especially since I thought my actions had come from a thoughtful place in letting her closer friends have more time with her). What I hadn't considered, though, was how my shyness could be misinterpreted as cold and dismissive. But then it clicked—even if I'm feeling less than comfortable in a situation, it's always better to be the kind of person who's forthcoming with hugs and expresses legitimate excitement when greeting others.
I've always used my insecurities as a rationalization, of sorts, for not being more outgoing. And it's no surprise, looking back, that people weren't as receptive as I'd wanted them to be (while waiting for them to approach me in a dark corner alone, no less). It reminded me of an admittedly quirky article I'd read last year that suggests channeling the friendliest of dogs, a golden retriever. The concept is simple: don't overthink things and be nice to everyone. This line particularly resonated with me: "They don’t think, 'Oh man, this person seems too hip for me, gotta act casual with my chew toy over here.”' It's a funny comparison, but one that struck a chord: Everyone is unsure of themselves at times, but if you approach others with a genuine sense of enthusiasm, instead of self doubt, you're halfway there.
About a week ago, I ran into the same acquaintance and was excited to have the opportunity to show her how happy I was to see her. I gave her a bear hug, and though I'd anticipated feeling weird being so outgoing, it was surprisingly seamless. When you give anything 100%, it's the lack of hesitation and willingness to be vulnerable that others find so appealing. My old fears of being rejected immediately dissipated, and it's completely transformed my approach towards social situations. I may always prefer smaller groups, but that's no longer an excuse to not be as warm as possible, regardless of my own hesitations.