The first stage of my school life was great. I hated lots of parts of school, but for the most part, I had good friends, I got along with lots of kids in my grade and girls even had crushes on me in grade 2 (that was the best). I got sent hand-me-downs from my cousins in Ontario, and would come up with cool ways to coordinate the outfits I wore (yup, even in grade 4, I loved clothing).
But around grade 6, things started to change.
I remember a moment in grade 6, having a conversation with a girl in my class. She remarked, casually, "Well, you know you're a loser right?".
I laughed, a little uncomfortably. "I'm not a loser!".
And then she laughed, and called her friend over and said "Hey, Laura, he doesn't know he's a loser".
Well I sure as shit did after that moment.
That became my truth. It's one thing to be a loser, but to be one and not even realize it? That's not just lame, that's also pathetic. It's like, if you have spinach in your teeth that you can't get out, at least you can speak to it. "Hey, don't mind the spinach waving to you as I talk. It's just a thing I like to do".
But when you don't realize that you've got that spinach there — now everyone is laughing at you behind your back.
So, I vowed to own that. Alright, fine, I'm a loser. but at least I know it now. I can do the best with what I've got. I've been given the "loser" chassis, but hey, losers can do cool things too.
I now had my frame for how I interpreted the world.
Every social cue from someone was filtered through that frame.
Were they checking their watch while I talked to them? They were probably wondering how much longer they needed to talk to me before they could politely excuse themselves.
Oh, they just broke eye contact to look over my shoulder. They must have noticed that someone more interesting just entered the room and want to go talk to them.
I started to develop social anxiety. I grew up a pretty acutely aware kid, and all of the stimuli got processed in my head. Social cues became all important, and I embarked on a mission to create a persona that would prevent anyone from realizing what a loser I really was.
When we typically think of social anxiety, we imagine people shut in their room, hiding underneath their bed, avoiding any kind of social contact (well, at least, that's what I imagine).
But that's not how my social anxiety showed up. Mine looked like me monopolizing conversations. It looked like me talking and talking and talking and talking and oh god when can I take a breath to stop all this talking to fill the space and keep any moment of silence out of the conversation. Any moment of silence would mean that there was an opportunity for the person to realize "Wow, Adam's really awkward and uncomfortable. I wonder who else I can go talk to".
My social anxiety looked like a deep fascination with the person I was talking about, and avoiding at all costs any real conversation about myself.
My social anxiety looked like someone that, to most people, was completely comfortable in social situations.
When it came on the market, the book Quiet made quite a stir for introverts. "Finally, someone is speaking up for us!", I imagine some people felt. It drew focus to some of the ways that introverts don't get seen, and shone a light on them so they could be seen.
But there's a tragedy to extroverts too and they don't always get seen either. It's similar to the tragedy many A-type personalities face. Extroversion is just a tendency. Just because I'm more sourced by being around people as opposed to by myself, doesn't mean that I don't have social anxiety. The two are actually completely unrelated.
This paradox would manifest itself in funny ways. I remember leaving a party I'd been at one night, walking through the parkade. As my girlfriend and I walked towards our car, two girls walked by. One of them said out loud "Adam's such a snob".
"I am?", I thought to myself.
But, if you know me as an extrovert, and the next time you see me I avoid eye-contact or conversation with you because I'm nervous and shy that you don't remember me, of course you might think I'm a snob. (And after all, remember that according to my story, I am a loser, so why would you remember me?)
You know what I did with that? I added it to my story.
"Okay, so I'm a loser, but I'm also a snob sometimes. From now on, I'll make extra sure that people know they matter to me and I care about them".
I became a master of hiding in plain sight. I was there, talking to you, but there was no actual ME standing in front of you. People would leave conversations with me without any idea of who I was. There was no aspect they could really relate to.
I went through life with many acquaintances, but few real friends.
This is the thing I love about the people I work with. They're so brilliant, they've mastered hiding in broad daylight, just like I had. They can stand in a room, own it and even direct and maintain conversation, while simultaneously keeping their real selves invisible.
There's many different ways to hide in plain sight, but my favourites are: success, wealth, bravado, and sense of humour.
How do you avoid being seen?