The last few months have changed me in more ways than I even know.
One thing in particular that I’m quite aware of is how this used-to-be-extrovert now craves time to be solo. I used to get jazzed at the prospect of meeting new people, being in large groups of people — all the more potential to meet new friends — and sharing adventures and life. I enjoyed maintaining friendships with long emails, coffee dates and phone calls. I loved to hear how others were doing. On August 18, The Social Train came to a screeching halt. After a few weeks, she slowly began to roll again but sure isn’t the same old girl she used to be.
Early on, I joked (but really wasn’t joking at all) saying I was neither accepting nor seeking new friends. “No new friends,” I chanted. Questions like “What’s new? How have you been lately? What do you do?” begged for responses like this:
What’s new? Just went to my Mom’s funeral.
How have you been lately? Real talk? Pretty shitty.
What do you do? Cry a lot.
A SURE way to make #friendships for life. It’s okay to laugh.
I couldn’t bring myself to even try. Rather than the includer I once was, I dodged new people and avoided eye contact. I didn’t want to talk to anyone who didn’t know what the last few months of my life had been like. So I took a break and gave myself permission to keep to myself and nurse my wounds without having to explain.
But as time goes on, it gets harder to dodge new people. My old self is showing herself a little more. There’s a new teller at the bank I haven’t met yet and I’m working up the courage to go to her window. That’s progress. I’m getting curious again. I want to hear other people’s stories again. I want to be able to see past my own story and see where mine and yours intersect.
This time has also allowed me time to live as I imagine someone drawn to more introverted tendencies might. I reflect, process and think on my own much more. As a verbal processor this is a new and quieter way to take in and assess life. I would have said earlier that as an extrovert, it would be hard for me to identify with the habits of the more introverted. Maybe, but did I even try? I think it’s a-okay to do the things we are naturally drawn to. But I am learning that even though I prefer doing things in ways that naturally come to me, I cannot avoid or dismiss things I don’t immediately ace or understand.
Of course, this comes with a large caveat. I’ve needed quiet time. I’ve craved smaller groups over large. If we are responding to the sure and definite needs of our situation in ways that feel right, then we’re doing what we need. That’s more than fair.
What is not fair is to dismiss something because I don’t identify, immediately succeed or feel comfortable stepping out. Challenge and struggle are where we grow. It’s where we see what we are made of. Sure, I can be quiet in my room for as long as I need but as soon as my heart leaps at the prospect of a larger gathering — even followed by a little fear or uncertainty — that’s exactly when it’s time to re-engage.
I’ve learned this lesson over and over during all kinds of seasons of life.
When I first moved away to college, I was so homesick. My parents left on a Friday after a mid-morning drop-off. By Saturday afternoon, my mom told me I wasn’t allowed to call her again until I met five (FIVE. F I V E.) new people. I crumbled.
But I did it because:
- I really wanted to call my mom.
- I knew that when I called my mom next, she would ask who my new friends are, where they are from, when I’ll see them next and if they are my best friends yet.
- Making friends wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
Well, wouldn’t you know it? Two of those five are girls that I am still great friends with.
Mom = 1 // Emily = 0 // Lesson learned.
The lesson was reinforced when I moved to Washington, DC from my beloved college town, Boone, North Carolina. Oh yes, the very town I was desperately homesick in quickly became my heart’s sole desire. I was working in a school in Northwest, DC and had my hands full. Among many bright spots, I was tested with attitudes from teachers and students alike on a regular basis. I felt lonely and unprepared. I had no teaching experience but I was attempting to command the attention of and engage with PreK to Eighth grade students. The beginning felt much more like a belly flop from the high-dive than a clean, splashless dive. I remember one day in particular, feeling like I had nowhere to go. I climbed into my car, tucked away in the school parking lot and just sobbed.
But eventually I began to find my footing. I started connecting with the students, learned bad attitudes are rarely meant as personally as they feel and began to thrive on the unpredictability. I learned to adapt and even now, I think that experience is impacting my response to loosing my mom. I’ve made it once and even though this new life season is unrelenting at times, I know I’ll make it again.
This goes for all of us. I am no different. We can all rely on our core foundation as rooting our trunk to keep us stable as we begin to branch out. This foundation is bound by our unchanging traits, personality, natural interests and qualities unique to us that maintain a solid footing. But when we slowly begin to branch out, still rooted in that solid foundation, the fruits and flowers — proof of the beautiful life that grows from stepping out — develop. We only develop and enhance the strong footing that we already have. We grow here by expanding the reach and depth of what we already were made of.
It’s as if we emerge as a deeper, richer, more saturated version of ourselves. There’s a lot of grit and work that is sown before the flowers and fruits are harvested but just because we can’t see them on the surface does it mean they aren’t already stirring inside us.
Whistling: Borrowing this song