Learning by watching

Somewhere along the line I seem to have become quite gregarious.

I’m not exactly sure how that happened – being outgoing has never exactly been in my nature. My sister used to tell people I was mute – a description which would often seem to be confirmed when I’d go whole social engagements without speaking.

It’s not necessarily that I didn’t have anything to say – but simply that there was so much to observe. I could spend whole evenings just sitting in the corner. Watching.

Eventually, I suppose, I decided I wanted to be more outgoing. Or at least to present the appearance thereof. You can learn a lot from talking with people – an action that’s somewhat challenging when you find yourself unable to talk.

For me, I’d say, socializing is a learned activity. My impression is that’s not the case for many, if not most, people. For some, it seems, socializing comes as naturally as breathing. For others, it is work.

I started by watching how other people acted and interacted.

Women, I determined in middle school, are supposed to be perfect while complaining about how hard it is to be perfect and while denying that they are perfect. You should be skinny, but eat junk food. Worry about what you eat, but say you don’t diet. You should do well in school, but call yourself an idiot.

There were a lot of unspoken rules, it seemed.

For a time, I tried to conform to these rules. I felt that awkward social pressure to feel above awkward social pressure.

But, I found, such behavior wasn’t really me, and therefore difficult, if not impossible, to maintain. At least I didn’t care to try any more.

Similarly, I adopted and abandoned behaviors linked to the importance of drinking coffee and wearing cowl-necked sweaters in the work place. I realized I would always be the kind of professional who engaged sharpies, paper clips and duct tape in attempting to appear in professional attire. I eventually came to the conclusion that if I wear heels, I’m more likely to fall unprofessionally than to stand out professionally.

Learning by watching was great, but none of it was me.

This is not a quandary I have yet resolved – nor one, I suspect that anyone ever fully resolves. But, I have found, this – what matters the most is that I’m genuine to myself. I can learn tips and tricks from other people. I can give myself practices exercises – like requiring I make small talk in elevators. I can watch others and I can learn from others.

But at the end of the day – I socialize in whatever way I feel so moved.

Even if that’s sitting in the corner. Watching.

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