Growing up I couldn’t have been more embarrassed by my parents. It sounds silly but I know we can all relate to this feeling. It wasn’t my dad’s spandex bike shorts that really got to me or my mom’s cheesiness. It was the small talk. My parents are small-talkers. It didn’t matter where we were they would strike up a conversation with the nearest stranger. In line for the grocery store my mom couldn’t resist commenting on a cute baby or an usual food in their cart. My dad would always ask the server where they were from or talk to store owners about their business. Every time I would duck my head down low trying to hide from the strangers they were talking as well as possible onlookers. I did not want to be associated with these crazy, over-friendly people.
Don’t be fooled- they’re very friendly.
As luck would have it now I’m a dang small-talker myself. I should have known it would happen eventually, but I spent so much time being afraid of strangers that I hadn’t even noticed the change. Before I studied abroad my junior year of college my mother secretly got her passport because she was convinced I wouldn’t make it a whole semester away. In her defense, it did seem pretty unlikely. Raising my hand in class made my heart race. Walking a different path around the school filled me with anxiety. I went out of my way to never have to initiate conversations with people I didn’t know. Honestly I preferred not to initiate conversations altogether.
My semester abroad ended up being a wonderful experience but I was surrounded by people in the same situation, looking for friends. It wasn’t until I backpacked alone for a year that I truly put my fear of strangers to the test. This was hard. This was lonely. Some days I had to admit I didn’t have the energy to introduce myself to someone new. I didn’t want to ask them the standard backpacking questions (where are you from, where are you going, how long are you here, are you alone, are you working here, blah), but most days I got over it. If you want conversation over dinner or someone to explore a beach with you have to introduce yourself when you travel alone.
These are total strangers I traveled New Zealand with.
It’s important to have these people to travel with otherwise you have to ask random people to take ridiculous photos of you.
Still it’s not backpacking that I have to credit my small-talking abilities to. It’s the traveling that gave me the practice but my parents showed me how it’s done. As the saying goes, they’ve never met a stranger. At my last Toastmasters meeting I was asked to give a short, “impromptu” speech on whether or not I was the type to talk on an elevator ride. The answer was pretty obvious and the club did not hesitate to tell me so after I spoke. That’s a wonderful feeling to know that I’ve come far from my social anxiety but also that others see it too.
Small-talking is sometimes painful and I just can’t handle it. Sometimes I still struggle when I have do a networking event or introduce myself to others. But I can’t deny that being a small-talker has gotten me travel tips, free drinks, friends and even the occasional job. For all those opposed, I highly recommend you give it a try.
Toastmasters allows me to get a little glimpse into the lives of my fellow club members. Sometimes it is a superficial glance, which tells me they’re private and don’t desire to open themselves up in work conference rooms among their peers (legit). Sometimes though I get to know them a little better. I hear about how their child has changed their perspective or how their curiosity drives them. Today an intern spoke and I found myself taking notes- thinking this is how I should be living.
We live in a world surrounded by advice on how to better oneself. Articles on empowerment flood my Facebook feed. I see numerous inspiration quotes every time I open Instagram. My coworkers hang signs on their cubicle walls reminding them be thankful or be strong. But this intern shared advice from her grandmother who learned her guidance the old-fashioned way, by living it.
Don’t follow anyone else’s path… unless you’re lost in the woods and you’re alone and you see a path. Then you should take it.
There’s some simple, country advice if I’ve ever heard it. And it couldn’t be farther from my reality. I’m not a trailblazer. Every leap I’ve ever taken I’ve checked to make sure someone else has tried it first. I want to see you safely jump into the water before I peek over the edge.
- Study Abroad- friend loved the city, went for it
- Backpacking in Australia- went through a program that a friend recommended, even though a program is wildly unnecessary
- Moved to Austin- moved on recommendation only
My biggest example of risky behavior: sky diving.
But of course it always comes back to writing. I look to my friends and their experiences as a safety net. If they can do it, I can do it. I can follow their path. I’ll do what they do.
This isn’t how it works. If I am to find my own voice and my own success I cannot remain stationary at the starting point, watching and waiting as others clear the brush and debris, stepping out only when the path is paved. The path for me will be paved at parts, rocky and uphill at times but I will always be the only one who can get me there. If I try to follow someone else’s path, I won’t end up where I’m supposed to be.
This week was one of those moments when you hear something you’ve heard a thousand times before but for the first time I felt like I was listening.
I have to write a speech for my work’s unofficial Toastmaster’s club on a person who influenced me. After going through a list of people, I decided on the person I knew I was going to write about all along, my dad.
My dad has been going through some tough times lately. He retired and closed his psychology practice late last year and has been working to sell his house. It was a pretty difficult thing for him to do. He’s working to move to Thailand, where I believe he thinks his best years of his youth were spent. I’m happy for him but it’s hard to wrap my mind around whether or not it’ll actually all happen and for a while I was very against it. I thought he was taking the easy way out but I hope that he’s just trying to get back to his true self, as corny as that sounds.
I’m definitely a daddy’s girl. I don’t think he realizes that anymore because over the years, I’ve become best friends with my mother. That’s difficult for him but I know that it’s his choices and presence in my life that has influenced so much of my path. His amazing ability to invent funny, fantastical stories mesmerized my sister and I as kids and I think this, in combination with his own need for stories, has lead me to my absolute obsession with books.
The stories of his travels certainly did nothing but drive my need to see the world. I grew up hearing about Eastern Asia, singing Thai songs, pretending I was a Thai dancer with the long gold fingers, and eating Thai food. And while I do want to go to Thailand someday (hopefully to visit my dad), all this didn’t give me a strong desire to visit. What it really did, was give me the notion that I could go anywhere, without anyone else. It also made me realize that I needed to be a part of something more than my town. I wanted to be a part of the whole world.
So, Daddy, I’m sorry I haven’t always supported you in your decisions. I’m sorry this has been such a struggle for you, but I hope you know that I love you no matter what country you live in. I owe you so much. You opened my eyes to the world.