Today after church there was a committee fair where we usually hold our post-service coffee hour. Every committee had a table set up, like a science fair with boards exhibiting the committee’s many activities as well as papers stating the committee’s important functions within the church. Now, I have to say that many committees have already made furious attempts to recruit me–they are looking for new blood and I’m one of the newer members of the church. I’ve been standing around biding my time because I am looking for that one committee that calls to me and can make good use of talents I have because I learned in a leadership seminar I attended with the UUA this past summer that you should really only volunteer for things you feel passionate about and are interested in because that will push you through the difficulties of leadership as well as make volunteering something you enjoy rather than something you have to force yourself to do.
I learned this lesson well as the treasurer for my professional organization, the STC, a few years back. While I am very good at managing money, it is not something I enjoy doing; in fact, with my own finances, the necessary boring thing I must do at the end of each week is pay bills and balance my checking accounts. So, of course, when it came time, at the end of the week, to also work on my STC bills in addition to my personal bills, it was a tremendous burden on my time, patience, and overall sanity. Also, as the treasurer, you had to account for your balancing of the checkbook to the national organization or you were were subject to audit. I learned that I prefer not to be accountable for anyone’s money but my own (which, I admit, is probably suspect and subject to audit at any time by the IRS as well, for TurboTax has taught me of new and exciting items I can claim on my taxes, thus allowing me to get bigger returns…)
So, today, I walked aimlessly around all the committee tables, dodging in and out at a distance, too shy to ask questions, afraid I’d get pressured into something I didn’t want to do. I have a lot of trouble saying no. If you’re a kid selling stuff or asking for donations, you should know that knocking on my door will get you a donation or a sold candy bar, because I’ll buy something simply so that I don’t have to deal with the social pressure of saying no. You see, I’m totally empathetic to the person who is the asker–the one needing a service–and think too much about all the times I sold Girl Scout cookies and had to walk door to door because my parents refused to guilt their co-workers into buying this stuff so that I could get the “sold most stuff” patch (every year, in fact, I was the lowest earning Girl Scout, which left me to much humiliation).
In fact, they had a sheet which you were supposed to collect at the beginning of all the tables and as you went to each table, you were supposed to get a signature proving that you stood and listened to the particular table’s spiel. Then, if your sheet was completed, you would be entered into a raffle drawing for some UU prize of great importance. I didn’t play this game. I simply followed my friend L’s husband J all around and let him do all the talking and signature gathering while I gleaned the information I needed from his conversation with the committee chairs. Clever, eh? Cowardly, yes!
I curse myself often for my lack of social skills. The littlest things make me nervous. Put me in a room full of my peers–friends, friends of friends, people I trust–and I flutter wildly like a social butterfly. I’m all the things I want to be–funny, interesting, exciting. But put me in a room full of strangers I don’t even know and I tuck myself into a little ball and rock meekly in a corner. It drives me absolutely nuts! How can I glow like a lightening bug in one situation and then fade into the wall in others? Why can’t I be the confident person I want to exude in ALL situations?
The worst part of my inability to deal with social settings in which I don’t know my audience is that I look and act like a completely nervous freak. I am sure my minister thinks I’m inward and quiet. I believe some people in my church think I’m dorky because I can’t talk without stuttering or sweating or not making eye contact. In fact, one of my dear friends recently confided to me on the phone that when she first met me, she thought I was stand-offish for the very reason that I totally avoided eye contact! She said that she couldn’t believe how warm I’d become.
I hate when I can’t act comfortable, like the person I know I am in certain settings. I want to be the same person in front of a group of strangers that I am in a group of familiars. I want to be that exciting, interesting, and funny person all the time. I just can’t hack it when I’m not comfortable. Unfortunately, the geek comes out.
So here I was, shadowing J, feeling meek and mild. I realized my entire back was drenched with sweat from the few conversations I tried act comfortable having. The room was not particularly hot, yet I was dripping. At the same time, there’s an urgency nagging me that I had to chose a committee to volunteer for because I love this church and I want to help. I wanted everyone to talk to me and give me a summary of their committee and why I should be on it. Which, really, was the point of walking around to each table and collecting signatures–the very activity I timidly avoided taking part in.
One of the music committee chairs bombarded me with their rap sheet; he’s been trying to get me to join them for the last three months and I keep putting them off. I love the music in the church and would love to take part in the decision making process over what gets played during each service, but not being a music expert, I haven’t quite felt that that committee was quite my calling. I politely put him off with a discussion about hiking and climbing and cycling. He guilt-tripped me about not joining the church on their fall Walden experience (a weekend trip for celebration and worship and togetherness in the UU way) next weekend. I told him I was having my annual bash that Saturday.
The room emptied out because the second service was beginning. J and L were still there so I timidly circulated all the tables again. People manning the tables looked at me expectantly, but I lowered my eyes quickly, removing the invitation to talk. I scurried away like a–no pun intended–church mouse. Finally, J had circulated around the entire room and came back to chat with me. I told him I was looking for the Social Activities Committee–they’d placed an ad in our church bulletin, the Thread from the Web, just a few months ago and I know the chair was still looking for reliable people to help her. Social Activities seemed to be calling me then, and it was calling me again now. I had a lot of ideas for activities that would bring people together for fun on a non-church day. I like to plan stuff. It would work great.
Except for my apparent latent fear of talking to people. But I decided months ago that I was going to work on making myself overcome my social fears and just get out there. I don’t like having traits that prevent me from doing those things I really want to do. I am considering a career working as a grief therapist–I need to be more comfortable in my own skin and not so often afraid of what other people are thinking of me. I need to make myself do things that frighten me in order to get beyond this irrational and elementary school old lack of self confidence. I will never be an effective leader unless I learn to take my interactions with people for what they are–good and bad–and accept that I can’t make everyone happy, to let go of my constant need to please everyone.
I feel like I have two hands that can help in my community, but I’m too afraid and ruled by my fears to help. At each of the tables, I saw needs that perhaps I could fill. Another table I spent a lot of time loitering around, but never standing still enough to speak to anyone, was the Communications Committee, which would require me to write articles in various publications (church and the wider district) promoting Unitarian Universalism and the activities of our church positively. I wanted to do this, but I had a fear about my writing; the pressure of proving myself or having to write on a deadline always seems like a huge time commitment to me and one I’m always afraid to pursue. I had the opportunity to do really nice writing projects for the hospice, but I passed it up in fear of my incompetency and criticism. I’m too sensitive about my writing to do anything, even on a volunteer basis, with it.
J pointed out the table where he’d seen the Social Activities Committee sign-up sheet and I completed it. Mission accomplished! That should get me started, at least. I just hope I don’t wimp out when I’m actually asked to do something, as has been my bashful pattern with all my would-be volunteer activities this year so far.