At the beginning of the semester, the primary expectation I had for myself was to try as hard as possible to step outside of my comfort zone. For most of my life, I’ve had social anxiety that manifests in different ways. Most of the time, it’s the extreme terror of speaking in front of a large group of people, all staring at me. But other times, it has occurred with things as simple as meeting someone new. In these kinds of situations in particular, I have a tendency to overthink every word I was say in an attempt to get whomever I was speaking to like me. I know this anxiety of mine probably stems from being the new kid so many times when I was growing up, and feeling again and again like people were judging me without truly knowing me. But I got to the point in my life where I was tired of being limited by my anxiety; I figured that this class was a good way in which to channel some self-growth and work on this facet of my personality.
And it was exactly that. I introduced myself to everyone possible during the different afternoons spent at Shortridge, I shared my prompt responses with the students at my table, and I tried to be friendly and outgoing with everyone around me. As the weeks went on at the after-school club, the same students started gravitating to my table. One student, L—, sat with me almost every time that she attended the club. Normally she kept to herself, and didn’t talk much. I would just say “hi,” and ask her about her week. One day she confided in me that she was failing in one of her classes, didn’t really care if she passed or not, and was actually considering dropping out. I tried to reinforce the importance of finishing school, how it would provide more opportunities for her and she would get to see all the work she put in thus far pay off. I kept trying to be positive, reminding her that she would be able to pass if she put in the work, but I felt like my words weren’t making a true difference. Every time I saw her after that day I kept trying to be as reassuring and supportive as possible, not really knowing if I was helping at all.
Then on the very last day of the club when all the mentors were cleaning up after the party we threw for the students, L— walked up to me and hugged me, and thanked me for being kind to her and said that she’d missed me next semester. I left Shortridge feeling emotional, and grateful that she shared her feelings. It helped me realize the encouraging results of what happens when I push back against my anxiety. If I hadn’t tried to work on my introverted tendencies, I might not have been able to help a student who really needed it. At the end of the day, pushing myself to be more outgoing had a positive impact on someone else, and that’s all I truly could have asked for.
Abby Charlebois is a junior English major.