There was a time when conversations would come naturally to me. I’d chat up anyone and everyone around me. I would feel absolutely at home while navigating a group conversation.
Things were easy back then. Talking and speaking were quite straightforward. I did not feel any weirdness nor anxiety while trying to talk about different topics with friends.
I don’t know what went wrong. What happened. Maybe it was my confidence dropping after graduating from Cornell. Maybe it was my ego getting the best of me.
But for whatever reason, I began starting to have trouble communicating in groups of people. I would often stammer and choke and not know what to say.
I’d think about whether or not I looked cool during the conversation, instead of truly focusing and listening to the other side talk.
Often times, I would be super quiet and my friends would not know what was going on. Why am I simply not talking during a group outing?
Other times, I would inject myself into the conversation in an awkward way, utterly stomping out the flow of whatever was being talked about.
And then, there would be the awkward silence in the rooms. Of people not knowing what to say and what to do, so they all said nothing and there was no conversation at all.
I dreaded those moments. Was it because of me that these awkward silences grew? Were conversations always flowing like red wine whenever I’m away from the table?
These thoughts bothered me and dragged me down like an anchor. And I would just dread the need to hang out in groups.
It was a far fall from grace. I would reminisce about the times when I could hold a conversation without any fear of awkwardness or anxiety. Those days were gone upon graduating from Cornell.
I guess I was just taken aback by the wealth of talent at the Cornell Engineering School. How everyone seemed so much smarter than me when it came to analysis and mathematics and whatever else engineering students do.
Everyone was at the top of their game and I found myself scratching and clawing to simply make it to average.
There were other factors here and there that contributed to my “downfall” in group conversations. But, feeling inadequate amid the sea of talented students was one of the primary culprits.
I guess it was inevitable. Feeling too good or at the top of your game doesn’t last forever. Even Michael Jordan’s skills slowly deteriorated, giving way to younger talent in basketball.
Similarly, I went from feeling comfortable and confident about myself in social situations to feeling utterly disjointed, awkward, and unpresentable.
In my mind, I wondered why this was happening to me. But, within myself, I had some glimmer of hope that this would not last. It was simply a phase in life that I was going through.
Not everyone will be seamlessly navigating life 24/7 without any hitch or problem in the world. Everyone comes to a point where they have to face their demons and their obstacles.
And I felt that if I could just get over the hump. If I could just regain my mojo when speaking in groups, I would be “unstoppable.”
Not sure why I thought that. But the silver lining was that my struggles with socializing in group situations made me better appreciate the essence of communications.
If it were not for that awkward phase in my life, I may not have joined Toastmasters - an organization that has significantly enriched my life throughout these last 10 plus years.
There’s always a silver lining to everything. And my struggle with poor conversation was no different. It’s been an uphill battle, but at least I can say that I don’t feel that sense of awkwardness (as much) when speaking in front of groups these days.
Am I unstoppable now? Far from it. But, I can always look back at that time of struggle and truly appreciate where I am now - compared to where I was when I just graduated from Cornell.
These comparisons serve as a reminder that we will all go thru hard times in life. There will be ditches that we bumble into. There will be times when we get hit in the face with adversity, stumbling back, falling flat on our face - with the anxiety of not knowing when we will eventually get up.
These times will come for us all in life. But they also help us generate a greater appreciation for the mundane and for those moments we would usually take for granted.
My bout with awkwardness and anxiety has similarly helped me value the importance of communication and conversation - two things that I used to think would always be here forever.
I don’t know where my mind would be without having gone through such personal stressors. Maybe still feeling on cloud nine - thinking life is nothing but fluffiness and roses. Feeling invincible from everyone and everything.
Life should not be like that. Vulnerability is what makes us human. And a little bit of awkwardness never truly hurt anybody.