For someone who believes she has social skills but often proves otherwise, awkward interactions are common place. Misunderstandings, silences, oddly placed giggles, and the utilization of self-deprecating humor to make friends or meet new people are my specialty.
A few days ago, while piled in the back of a truck turned open-air mini bus on my way to an Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand, I was confronted with a new challenge of social interaction: adult introductions. Next to me was a nurse, who was next to her husband who works in technology, who was across from my boyfriend–a teacher–who was next to me…who is a…well, “What do you do?”
“Oh, nothing.” I said, laughing, looking to my boyfriend for a sympathy chuckle. He gave me one, but I realized I hadn’t yet fulfilled the talking requirement of the exchange when I saw the expectant faces of the couple next to me.
“I mean, I well, I’m here visiting him, but I mean I do nothing.”
At this point I was concentrating more on not vomiting due to car sickness and not shitting my pants due to the fried chicken I had for breakfast than leaving a good impression.
“I don’t know what I’m doing. I have to, you know, figure that out–ha ha–you know what I mean.” I let my voice wander and met their uncomfortable glares.
And the interrogation was over, moving on to other small talk topics like how the couple was on their honeymoon and just came from Bangkok but didn’t love it and were hoping to find a snazzy restaurant tonight. Grasping the side of the truck, I felt like I hadn’t done a good enough job, so I picked up again without being asked, “I mean, I studied sociology in college, like I have interests. Ha ha. I just haven’t done anything yet.”
The next night, while lounging on a rooftop bar with my boyfriend, I let him be my life coach for a moment.
“Let’s try it again, Lily. What do you do?”
“Well,” I say, gathering my posture and gesturing with my gin and tonic. “I’m studying music.” I pause with punctuated confidence. “I enjoy singing and am actually, well, writing an album.”
“Lily stop” he said, cracking up. “You’re not being interviewed on Ellen, like chill out.” He pauses, “that’s also a straight up lie.”
It was. While I impulsively bought a cheap guitar the other day, and would love to write an album, I’ve been a beginner guitar player for years. I get discouraged and put the instrument down a lot.
“I’m very passionate about yoga,” I continue. “I’ve really been, uh, taking advantage of, how do you say, the abundant and bountiful yoga opportunities—”
“Hello there, I am a writer and have taken the time I have to myself here to really, well, progress as a writer so one day I reach my writing goals.”
“Just tell them what you’re doing. You’re visiting me. You just graduated. That’s enough as it is.”
Although it’s hard to take advice when you are an incredibly stubborn person and love being the person giving the advice, his words soothed me for a moment. “That’s enough as it is. It made me think… why was the response, “I’m a nurse” enough but “I just graduated” not? Why was the fact that I wasn’t yet an <insert profession here> so embarrassing for me?
I tried again, “I just graduated from college and am visiting my boyfriend,” I said.
“And if they’re curious, they’ll ask you more questions and you can tell them what you’ve been up to then.”
What I am coming to realize is that this pressure to be something is stressful as fuck. But taking some time to travel and roam around is actually pretty healthy. I’m not unemployed, I saved up money and am traveling. I sit in dusty cafes and write down silly stories. I’m reading a book about Cambodia. I swear to Jesus I will wake up early and sometimes actually do. I’m a little lost but a little found. That’s totally okay.
But for the sake of social interactions, I’m a recent graduate, checking out the world. I should be able to say that with confidence. While I’m great at not taking my life too seriously, it’s important to know when I am putting myself down unnecessarily. To all the other confused ex-students out there, don’t sell yourself short! You are more than what you “are”. You are more than your job. Don’t sweat it, get it girl.