From the Outside Looking In

Close your eyes and try to conjure up an image of your first day of high school.

If you are my age, and a guy, you might have tried pulling off a Duran Duran (or maybe a Prince) look. Ladies, I’m feeling that a “Like a Virgin” Madonna, or “She Bop” Cyndi Lauper phase ran through you. Either way, we were all sporting some mighty funky hair that had so much Spritz the words “fire hazard” comes to mind. Just as you were feeling really good about yourself (or at least less alien), you walked into the cafeteria for the first time. Maybe you were a transfer, or maybe your high school took in kids from many other junior high schools, so you couldn’t rely on having the same lunch as the friends you desperately sought out earlier in the day. You are alone. You are standing with your tray full of fish sticks and tater tots and wondering why God had forsaken you (as well as the entirety of the 10th grade).

Do you remember the panic? Your hands are sweating. Your heart is pounding. You are simultaneously convinced that everyone is staring at you and ignoring you because you are wholly inconsequential. Everyone around you seemed to have friends already. They all knew each other. Not only was there no room at their table, there was no room in their conversation. Stay, or go? Stay, or go? Sit alone and hope that someone joins you? Grab your tater tots and pretend that you have somewhere very important to be and can’t waste time at such childish endeavors like lunch time?

This is me—every single day when I’m faced with a new group of people.

This was me, Thursday night. Only instead of lacy ankle socks, a million bracelets and a double-wrapped bondage belt, I looked like I was dressed to have tea with the Queen. Instead of high schoolers (or royalty), I was faced with a crowd of filmmakers (all seemingly more passionate, hip and accomplished than I). I was up north for a day trip to support a short film I had produced while still working in my corporate life. It was screening at a film festival there– paired with a feature with talented known folks. My task was to answer questions and promote the short. What could go wrong?

As I entered an after-screening meet-up, I could hear Madonna’s “Get Into The Groove” playing from somewhere outside the venue. Sadly, while I was responding nostalgically, the people around me were responding ironically. And the familiar panic set in. I tried to push through it—I exchanged pleasantries with a handful of other “artist” badge wearers. But as it was early on in the festival, none of us had seen much and most of them had worked together. I can’t be the person who breaks into a recounting of war stories with “that reminds me of this time at the law firm I used to work at…”—though I have friends who can easily pull it off.

Once again, I was the outsider withdrawing by measures as each second ticked. I just didn’t fit.

I excused myself shortly thereafter—not that anyone noticed my absence. I closed the door to my hotel room and felt myself crack. Nothing against the hotel (it was lovely), but if I had picked a place for emotional deterioration, it wouldn’t have been there. For reference, I would have chosen Colin Firth’s living room, so that he would be on hand to care for me (while no doubt rockin’ a sweater like no other). I know I have to get over this. I know I have to take a deep breath (or 40), and make it impossible for people to dismiss me the next time. But right now, I’m standing with my lunch tray in hand just hoping for a spot at the table.

2 comments on “From the Outside Looking In”

  1. Helen Reply

    I can totally relate to this. In fact, I've had two very similar experiences except for the fact that both times I was surrounded by people who are allegedly my "community" some of whom I had considered friends. At a holiday party and at another recent event, I found myself on the outside looking in and KNEW I did not belong. I don't have an explanation for it. I only know I ended up trapped in a bathroom trying to stop crying long enough to flee. The only thing worse than feeling alone in a group of strangers is feeling alone in a group of people you know.

  2. Dee Murray Reply

    That is so spot on it's frightening – except the cool clothing part. I dressed like a goof. But you need to read this book: "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking". I think you'll feel a whole lot better about this whole shy thing you have going on. Remember, I count ice cubes in my glass when faced with a room full of people I don't know. We're more powerful than we give ourselves credit for!!!

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