look 'em in the eye

Look ‘Em In the Eye

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The Better Me Project—Day 6

In the vein of “caring too much about what others think”, I decided that I needed to actively do something to move toward the goal of Not Giving a Crap.

One of my biggest flaws is being afraid to talk to people unless I have to (and even then, I’m a huge mess). This also stems way back to my hearing loss, so many times, I completely avoid others, rather than chancing to engage with them.

For example, the store—I seem to run into everyone and their brother when I go to the store. I usually tuck my chin to my chest and plow ahead. If I see someone I know, I usually take great pains to avoid them. I’ve reasoned with myself that I do this because I am in a hurry and I don’t want my ice cream to melt. Logical, right?

Deep down, I know the real reason is “what if they don’t want to talk to me?” or “what if I don’t hear what they’re saying?” or “what if they’re judging me for the ratty sweat pants and gym hair that I’m rocking right now?”.

Or there are some people I specifically avoid because I’m not sure where our relationship stands—an old friend I haven’t talked to in ten years or someone I had a falling out with and I can’t even remember the reason why. That could get super awkward.

Plus, I’m lousy at small talk with people—I always feel like I have to carry the conversation (and I’m sure the other person is thinking the same exact thing). And while I shouldn’t care what they’re thinking of me, the image I’m actually projecting by avoiding them is that of a stuck up snob who thinks I’m better than everyone else.

Ironic, huh, considering the real reason I’m not talking to people is the exact opposite of that reason? The reason I’m ducking my head down is because I feel inferior.

I decided as part of my Better Me Project, I was going to stop avoiding people. I was going to look them in the eyes and say hi. Ask them how they’ve been. Ask what they’ve been up to and how their kids are. Chances are, they would want to move on as quickly as I did (after all their ice cream was melting, too) and it’d be a quick, but satisfying conversation. As long as I was friendly and thoughtful enough, there was no reason to second guess myself over a thirty second conversation.

And if they cast their eyes downward and refused to meet my gaze? Well, that was on them, not me. I made an effort—they were the ones with an issue then.

I tried this out one Saturday at the grocery store. I was there at 9 am, prime time to see everyone I knew. And I did. Instead of running the other way or bypassing aisles altogether, I smiled and said hi to people. They smiled and said hi back. Some stopped to talk briefly, others dashed off quickly, claiming to be in a rush  (it was Saturday after all).

Either way, it actually made the trip to the store more pleasant instead of a dreaded chore that it usually is. I found myself even smiling at strangers and chatting it up at the register with the nice old lady on line in front of me. Little annoyances—like that same old lady questioning every single coupon—didn’t bother me like they usually would. I left the store much less frazzled and without any frustration.

I think the attitude that I was going to go about this chore without making it something to check off a list and more about an experience of interacting with people, made it less painful. I know that seems ridiculous—how could my attitude make something that is usually completely unpleasant, a bearable experience?

I really don’t know. Believe me, I am the type of person who is constantly muttering under my breath about how I hate people and want to move to an island. But yet, once I tried to change my approach to “people”, I realized that this really isn’t true at all.

Maybe because I was facing the situation with the previous day’s precept fresh in my mind…smile, even if you don’t want to. It really seems to work—instead of projecting the image of “cranky person that you shouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole”, I was projecting the image of a confidant, pleasant person who is totally approachable. Which helps me in my personal and professional life as well.

So if you see me in the store, say hi. I’ll say hi back. And maybe even stop to see what’s up in your life…unless of course, my ice cream really is melting.

2 thoughts on “Look ‘Em In the Eye

  1. What an insightful post! It doesn’t sound ridiculous at all – in fact, there’s research that backs up your experience. You’re way out in front of the pack!

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