I’m a pretty public guy. I’ve given many public presentations about this blog and the security industry I work in. Blogging by itself means I’m putting myself out there every day. So, you would think I’d be comfortable in public by now.
But sometimes I’m not.
I was reminded of this over the weekend, when I attended the ShmooCon hacker conference in Washington, DC. I got to see many friends and had a great time. But there were several conversations in which I was ridiculously uncomfortable. That’s no fault of the people I was talking to. In this case, it really was me.
Some of this is because of social media. Many of the people I enjoy conversing with on Twitter and Facebook use avatars that are usually not the standard mug shot. Some use symbols, others use cartoons or pictures of animals. So when I see these people in public, seeing the actual face behind the online presence can be jarring.
I also get a little weird in big crowds. I’ll usually insert myself into a group of people and listen to conversations, and when the attention turns to me, I get tongue-tied and sweaty. I’m sure that for every person who notices, there are five more who don’t.
My defense mechanism is usually to go wandering around the hotel aimlessly for several minutes. Then I come back and rejoin the conversations.
I think it goes back to childhood, when I had trouble talking to other kids and making friends. It was often easier to be alone with my Star Wars toys and dark thoughts.
I know I’m not alone when it comes to social awkwardness. Friends have described a similar feeling and reaction in their own travels. These are not introverts or hermits. They give talks, take principled stands on many a controversial issue and mix with people at these events until the wee hours of the morning. They look perfectly at ease, but they’re not always.
The good news is that I’ve learned to stick it out; to keep talking to people in the crowd rather than retreating to my hotel room. The awkwardness usually goes away after a few hours, and it’s all good from there.
If I’m really feeling the social anxiety, I will go to my room, but only for about a half hour so I can breathe and collect my thoughts. Then it’s back downstairs I go.
I used to let the awkwardness get me down. Sometimes I outright hated myself for it. But I’ve come to learn that it’s just part of being human. I used to think it made me a freak. Today I see it as a normal sensation we all experience.
I had a very good weekend. I was productive and made new contacts because I didn’t let the awkward moments get me down.