Hi, I’m Jeremy, also known as
On participation and “sitting this one out”
This story originally appeared on Medium. View on Medium »
I saw a tweet the other day that inspired me to write about the pressure we all feel to participate. The basic gist of what it said was as much as events are hyped up to be "can't miss," they are in most cases very missable. I don't remember who posted it, or what the exact wording was, but it stuck with me.
Throughout my life I've always felt tremendous pressure to participate, to be a joiner. It's been a source of anxiety. But as I've matured I've learned to handle the pressure better.
I was maybe 7 or 8. A family friend who is around my age, was having a birthday party. The plan was to go see a movie first, and then return to her house for a sleepover. We weren't in the same school, and so a number of her friends that I didn't know were coming as well.
As I sat at home, waiting to be picked up for the movie, I remember the anxiety of the situation hitting me. My stomach was in knots and I felt physically ill. It was confusing.
Now, in retrospect, it's not all that surprising. As a self-proclaimed introvert, I've come to terms with the anxiety that comes with socializing in groups, especially with people I don't know already.
As I grew older and more autonomous, I became more careful with the activities in which I chose to participate. By the time I got into middle and high school, I was very much a "floater" — never tethered to one specific friend group. I didn't participate in a lot of activities with school friends, and I didn't mind that. I was content with spending time alone, or with my few friends from church.
Then came college. The first semester of freshman year is always a time for rapid formation of a social group. Being thrown into a new school and living situation at the same time forces one to meet people and cling to a group of friends whether you wanted to or not.
Having a close group of friends was new to me. For the most part I liked it. But, as I think is pretty common, over time I started to realize that the friends I had hastily chosen, mostly via proximity, in my first weeks of college weren't necessarily the people I wanted to spend all of my time with. Sure, they were great, but it was an always on situation. We spent every waking (and some non-waking) moment together. The pressure to continue hanging out all the time was strong.
Eventually I cracked. By the spring of that year, I started to pull away a little. In part this was simply because I didn't feel like hanging out playing pool until 4 in the morning, but also it was about the same time as I was really coming to terms with my sexuality. I had started talking to other gays and was making friends, and my interests were changing.
As all this was going on, my friend group started to get worried. At one point they staged an intervention, saying they were concerned that I was pulling away and didn't want to participate in their activities as much. It was a turning point for me.
Since that time, I've learned a few things about participating.
Listen to your gut
I think it's human nature to pressure others to do what you're doing. It feels good to be validated — to have others want to do the same things as us. So often when we invite others to join us in doing something, there's a certain level of persuasion attached.
I've learned to tune that pressure out. Though I'm grateful for the invitation, I listen to my gut about whether or not to accept. If it doesn't sound like an event I'm interested in, then I politely decline. There's nothing wrong with "sitting this one out."
Of course it was scary at first. There's always a fear that if I say no, they won't invite me to anything in the future, or they won't like me anymore. But it hasn't proven true.
Plans are [almost] always tentative
Sometimes when it comes time for an event, I'm no longer interested or feeling it. Sometimes I get that same anxious feeling about an event, as my childhood self did before that birthday party.
I've learned that it's ok to change my mind in most circumstances. Obviously there are situations when you can't, but for the most part, for most social events, it's totally fine. Just as with declining in the first place, there's fear attached again — fear that I'll disappoint the person who invited me, or that they'll be upset with me. But again, thus far it hasn't proven to be true.
Know when it's time to leave
Just as important as knowing whether you should go or not is knowing when you should leave. As with participating in general, there's pressure to stay once you get to an event. But again I've learned that I need to listen to how I feel. Sometimes I get to the point where I know I just need to leave. I'm not having fun anymore, and I know I'm going to fall into a bad mood if I try to push myself further. And so I leave.
In the fast-paced world we live in, there is a lot of talk about FOMO (fear of missing out) that comes with our always-on lives, and constant broadcast to where we are and what we're doing via social networks. But for me, the bigger fear has always been the fear of declining an invitation, of saying no and disappointing a friend.
But as I've struggled through these important lessons and grown stronger in my ability to follow my instinct, it's very rare that I feel like I've missed out. More often than not, my gut is right, and I more often regret caving to the pressure to participate than missing out on something I declined.
Get in Touch With Jeremy
The majority of my time is spent working for Happy Cog, however I do take on occasional consulting and speaking gigs.
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