“When I first met you, I realized I wanted nothing to do with you.”
These were the reflections of my husband when we first met. We’ve been married for over ten years.
So, I will be the first to admit I don’t give off the best first impressions especially when I feel nervous or anxious like I was that first day of culinary school.
In situations like these, while the internal gears are working in my head, my facial expression registers as either pissed off or completely uninterested. It’s a complete lost in translation thing that doesn’t serve me well when meeting people for the first time. I have learned over the years that I need to be very deliberate in conveying a vibe of friendliness, especially in my face and in my body language.
This “thing” about me was on my mind recently when the cosmic forces were serving up some life lessons I was overdue for. I was getting a message from the universe: you need to practice what you preach.
A couple times a week I go to the gym for a rigorous full body workout. I go often enough that I recognize the regulars. Even though I see them every week, I somehow don’t muster up the courage to start up a conversation with any of them. And this is even though there are a few whose workout routines I admire and would enjoy a friendly exchange.
I think my rationale (i.e. excuse) for keeping quiet is twofold. One, I want to be efficient with my time. I want to be in and out. I’ve got things to do like write blog posts about forming relationships.
Oh God, the irony.
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And two, I think (probably erroneously) that they don’t want to be bothered.
All this came to a head and knocked me on the head like a 15-pound kettlebell during one visit last week.
On this particular day, I started my workout in typical fashion. I was focused and probably displaying my typical don’t-talk-to-me face. Well, one brave soul thought he was going to break through the stone façade. I think he worked for the gym. The clipboard he carried kind of gave it away.
guy: “Hi! How’s it going?”
me: “Fine.” (all while continuing my workout without stopping.)
guy: “Having a good workout?”
me: “Yep!” (It was a response but it came out more like a growl.)
In an instant, the poor fellow turns on his heel and scurries away in search of a friendlier human being. I felt like such a bitch.
While I continued with my workout, I was reflecting on how ridiculous this was. Here I am writing on this blog about personal connection and social confidence and I just squashed all over some poor guy’s attempt to do the right thing. The very thing I advocate doing.
I really did feel like crap.
The gods decided it was time for me to learn a lesson and gave me another chance to make things right.
A few minutes later another daring soul approached me.
Steve: “Hi, that weight lifting routine looks pretty good. Do you think it could be useful for the lower back?”
me: (fighting against my urge to keep the exchange brief — because that’s what I do!) “Yeah, I think so.”
Steve: “So how did you do that again? Sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt you.”
me: (feeling humble and repentant.) “No problem. Sure, let me show you.”
For a few minutes, I share my sequence and give him some direction. We exchange some words. He introduces himself as Steve and explains he just got cleared for exercise after back surgery. He said he was a surfer and wanted to get conditioned again to get back to surfing.
Steve was a nice guy. A guy I was so quick to cut off because I didn’t want to be bothered.
We finish up our chat and I wish him well on his recovery. I move on to another part of the gym and resume my workout. While doing my exercises the weight of guilt comes on and it gets heavier and heavier. I thought back to the poor guy with the clipboard. I scan around the gym looking for him and see he’s chatting it up with an apparent friendlier person. I thought to myself, “Well, at least someone’s being nice to him.”
I decide that I would go apologize to him before I leave.
I then think back to my new acquaintance Steve. Surely I know some other moves that could be of benefit to his recovering back. I decide to stop my workout, walk over to Steve, and resume our conversation. I show him a few other back exercises. He seemed so appreciative. He said, “People your age are so good with these versatile floor exercises.”
I was amused by his apparent incapability to judge age.
Once again he thanked me. Said he was at the gym quite regularly and would look out for me next time. I said I would do the same.
As I once again resumed my workout, I thought of the bigger lesson I just got.
One, people are braver than I and I need to visibly demonstrate more openness.
Two, people are just people. They’re not monsters and engaging with them can be rewarding and enjoyable.
Three, Connecting with others makes me feel better. Warmth-in-my-heart better. It feels nice to connect with someone.
I then reflected on if everyone else in the gym who is contained in their self-imposed bubble (like my intense focus or their jamming headphones) would benefit from more deliberate interaction. I mean we’re all there for the same interest. There would be loads of potential for natural rapport and mutual encouragement. Much like the brief exchange between me and Steve.
When I was finished my workout I went to the locker room to retrieve my belongings. A woman who was in there proactively approached me and said (much to my surprise), “Wow, you are really killing it out there! It’s impressive!”
How kind and friendly of her! She did what I wished I could do. Just break the ice and start chatting with a stranger. She had such a natural vibe of friendliness and openness. I was envious. I think the gods were trying to tell me, “Yeah...like that...be like that!”
Once again I had had a brief exchange with another warm and good-natured person which put a little pep in my step. This social interaction thing is rewarding. I immediately bee-lined it over to the area where my clipboard guy was standing.
me: “Excuse me. You tried to speak with me earlier and I apologize if I came off short. I was just kinda focused.”
Jason: “No worries! You were clearly in the zone.”
me: “Yeah! Did you need to ask me something?”
Jason: “No, I just wanted to introduce myself. My name is Jason. I’m a trainer here. If you ever need anything, just let me know.”
The gods struck three times. Three times I was offered a kind and friendly encounter that was random yet rewarding. I realized talking with people doesn’t have to be that hard and the positive outcomes can be exponential. That day, I walked out of the gym in better shape than when I walked in.
My heart got a real workout.
Have you ever felt the good vibrations of a seemingly random encounter? Share with us your story.