Changing My Goals In Social Situations

One of the linger-with-you ideas that has come from reading Brené Brown is this concept: If you are in a social situation and your goal is to be LIKED, and you are NOT liked, then you’ve failed. If your goal is to be authentic, compassionate, whole-hearted etc, then someone not liking you sucks, but you didn’t fail the entire encounter.

(Obviously her words are better than mine, but I am too lazy to look them up exactly. You get the point.)

I stumbled onto a book club some time in late 2009 I think. The first few meetings of my book club were TERRIFYING because all of these women/Moms were amazing and fun and smart and beautiful and kind and just INTIMIDATING AS HELL. I worried about what to wear and what to say with every breath. Shortly after joining, I had a Harry Potter party (for the kiddos, but parents were welcome too) and we had JUST moved into this house and I was in a PANIC. I cleaned every nook and cranny and decorated and FREAKED OUT about what people would think about my house and my party. Tons of new people were coming, blog friends, book club friends, Huntsville friends…I WAS INSANE WITH ANXIETY. The party was BEFORE the midnight movie, and I ended up getting sick during the movie and going out to my car. This was from not sleeping all week and from non-stop anxiety. I basically worried SO MUCH about these new friends coming to my house, that I missed a Harry Potter movie.


The last book club I hosted? I vacuumed. That’s it. I might not have even showered.

I’ve come a long way in the last four years. I was thinking about that this morning as I’m trying my best to do a little bit of cleaning before my Brother and his family come in this week. As I clean now, it’s more because they have a small child who shouldn’t have to be covered in filth if he plays on my floors. I am not worried about decorating or interior design, I’m mainly thinking about functionality. The last book club I hosted I mainly did cleaning to help people who might have allergies. And as I read Brown’s take on that stuff, I realize what has changed is my goal for these events.

My goal is NOT to be LIKED when people come to my house. My goal is NOT to have people LOVE MY HOME. My goal is NOT to have people be impressed with my domestic abilities. My goal is NOT to win some sort of hostess award.

My goal is to enjoy the company of my friends and family. There is some level of cleanliness that helps that happen, so people don’t worry about allergies or legos in the mouth of children. And some of the work is because I use company as my excuse to do things I never do. But none of it is like that Harry Potter party where I’m constantly playing out scenarios in my head where people are talking about me later and how lame my party was. Or I’m not imagining disappointment on my guests faces. Or I’m not trying to Win The Best Party award.

I know a lot of that change has been because of running, that has just helped me relax socially in general. A lot of it is putting myself out there and going to OTHER people’s houses and realize that we all leave thing undone. And the houses I feel the most welcome at? Are the ones where I’m not scared to mess up something. This has shifted my perspective a bit.

But I love that idea. That when I’m freaked out going to a party, I need to decide: What is my goal? If I just want to be kind and authentic and whole-hearted, then it doesn’t matter what I wear and I don’t need to freak out about every little thing I say. Because the EXPERIENCE is bigger than those small moments. Am I engaged in my friend’s lives? Am I asking them about their journeys? Am I interested in their experiences? Am I using empathy so that we can make a better connection? These are all important if I ditch the goal of just wanting to be LIKED.

Owning My Dork.

When I first started meeting new running groups I would panic a little bit about being taken seriously. Now, in my defense one of the first groups I tried to join 3 years ago left me feeling VERY self-conscious as I overheard a snarky comment directed towards me and “people like me”. (“People like me” being someone who buys trails shoes and, “runs the white loop once and thinks they’re a trail runner.”) But, I carried that negative experience with me for a long time and A) avoided running with “elite” trail runners and B) tried to be SERIOUS about the trail running when I ended up in the presence of those veteran trail runners.

2+ years later? And I’m stopping on an intense trail run to take a selfie to document the scary climb I just completed.

I’ve had dozens of more authentic encounters in the last two years that have helped erase the habits formed from that first one. That first one had me making my goal with every run: Keep People From Mocking Me. And that’s a SHITTY goal to have. Now my goal is to: Have Fun. I lead a no-runner-left-behind group with some friends on Sundays. We encourage those intimidated by trails to join us, and then we laugh a lot during the process. This week someone took a picture of our group at a trail sign and we’re all laughing in the photo and it makes me SO HAPPY. Because it’s a total 180 shift from my self as a trail runner after that first encounter.

So, Brown has helped me see what I’ve been doing right these last few years, and now I can use that to help me work on my social anxieties even more. I’ve known for years that things have been getting better, and it’s nice now to be able to put my finger on the changes that have helped along the way.

I can’t make my goal in a social situation revolve around the OTHER people and their impression of me. It has to revolve around MY impression of me. And MY impression of me when I’m cowering in the corner avoiding contact and counting down the minutes until I leave? Is not good. If that is all I can bring myself to do? I need to stay home. Instead, I need to try to put myself out there, engage, be compassionate, empathize…when I do that? I walk away with strong connections. I have fun. And if someone in that process does not like me? It doesn’t ruin the entire encounter as long as I am happy with who I was during the encounter.

9 thoughts on “Changing My Goals In Social Situations”

  1. Love this idea. I dont think i have the same amount of social anxiety as you do, as in i do go, unafraid an i talk to people, but i spend way too much time thinking about what people thought of me afterwards. So i will try this and focus on what i expect of myself instead.

    So no deleting this post, no mention of stalking or me thinking that you must think i’m stupid etc, just comment on zoots blog. Goal achieved.

  2. HA! I need to learn to apply this to my comments on blogs and Facebook posts. I am CONSTANTLY deleting 🙂

  3. Ha! Your e-mail reply thing is funny!
    And of course i’m overanalyzing the typos in my comment… Stop!

  4. So what is this book? It definitely sounds like something I may need to read. Actually it sounds like something I must read. I need something to stop the voices 🙂 it sounds like this is working well for you and I’m so happy for you! Thank you for always posting things that truly help me and others.

  5. Hey Kim? Can we run together next time I’m in H’ville? Because I am pretty and smart but a slow runner, and old, and maybe your insecurities will cancel out mine? Love ya.

  6. This actually kinda blew my mind.

    I’m generally a little nervous going into social situations (and clean too much or put on too much makeup) but get caught up once it begins. But afterwards, oh I debate every second in my mind and wonder if I did ok, or did I talk to much, etc. I fret and fret. But if I replace that with wondering: was I authentic? Was I compassionate? Helpful? etc?. I think that might change my whole perspective.

  7. This blew my mind, too. I don’t usually have a lot of social anxiety, but recently have experienced it due to essentially being “dropped” by our closest couple friends from the street. They are both very social and popular with tennis friends, church friends, etc – but for several years we were included in all their plans/parties/etc. Our families often had dinners together, either out or at home and our kids played together. In the fall we traveled to Florida and our families vacationed at the Universal parks together. We recently met many new neighbors from a new development that ties into our street and our friends have kind of replaced us with these new folks (who all live in million dollar houses). It became painfully obvious that although not ostracized, we were not at the top of the call list anymore. I kind of fretted about it until one day I decided to pretend I was Pink and immediately felt better. What would Pink do – she wouldn’t give a crap was my guess. Anyway – we still see this couple and the “new friends” sometimes and I usually feel a little left out or sub par. But the idea of making the goal be to be authentic, have fun and be interested in those around me instead of being liked or “popular.” I picture Kramer from Seinfeld – “you just blew my mind!” Thanks for this post. It’s a game changer for me.

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