How Not To Be

DSC_0288I had a performance review this week at my real job. It was. Simple predicate, no nouns to follow. Was. There are things I can change, things I’m doing well, the usual. I’m not perfect, but I’m doing my job, and I know where I stand. I teach online, so it’s one of the few times a year I make verbal contact with my employers.

But, telephone or not, neutral/positive or not, it was a meeting. And meetings? Oh God, they bring out the worst of my social anxiety.

Now, I’m not talking about parties and conferences. Those get me squirmy, but at a party, at a conference, I can find a job. I’m the random parent who co-opted the cake table and started offering stranger children juice. I’m the person who snatched all the pamphlets so I could hand them out. Because bewilderment from others is so much less painful than the anguish of not knowing when to speak or what my lines are.

And I’m not talking about presentations. With a script, I can pull those off. I don’t enjoy classroom teaching. I talk too much, and mine is an interactive subject. I don’t know how to seal my lips. When I taught in person, I left every day feeling a weight lifted because I didn’t have to talk anymore. (Only by then, I was so wound up, I couldn’t stop.) Still, I can come in with notes and cover the right material. It is a manageable thing for me.

But at a meeting, I can only play guessing games. Often, I’m expected to chime in. Or maybe I’m expected not to chime in. Maybe you want me to say, “OK” at two minute intervals to show I haven’t fallen asleep. Perhaps, the whole purpose of the meeting is to impart information, and I just need to shut up and listen. Only somehow, I missed that memo.  (I always missed that memo).

I’m the person in the back of the room who just asked the most inane question and won’t let the topic go, because I’m missing all the other people’s cues that I’m off track.  I panic in meetings, and I don’t know what will fly out of my mouth. Or, online, off my fingertips. (Because I type way too fast, and “enter” is far to conveniently reached.)

My employers would like me to attend online meetings once a month. You’d think this would be easy. I don’t have to say anything, there’s nothing face to face, and nobody is looking at me. But I cannot be quiet in a meeting. Do you feel the extraordinary pressure of silence as strongly as I do? I’d rather volunteer myself for a thousand activities than endure a full minute of uncertainty. Should I say something here? I don’t know. Is she pausing for questions? Why isn’t anybody asking a question? Should I ask a question?

The very thought made me break down and cry.  I can’t do meetings because I can’t tell the important information apart from the unimportant, and silence makes my skin crawl. We figured out a workaround for the present, though I’m honestly not sure how long it will be practical and possible. And I do not know what I’m going to do if I have to attend a meeting once a month. I attend meetings as rarely as possible, because I lose days of productivity to the emotional recovery.

Of course, it didn’t help that I was going straight out of the phone-in performance review and into a face-to-face meeting with the kids’ principal for something she swore wouldn’t be a big deal. I knew it would be. I was right. And even if it hadn’t been, it was a meeting. A second meeting in one day. It was one I’d had no chance to prepare for, even though I’d had all weekend to dread it.  One where absolutely anything could have come up. And oh baby did it, for our older child. (I’ll send details privately to the interested.)

It’s Wednesday. You’d think I’d be better by now. But I’m not.

In fact, if you need me, I’ll be gibbering over here in my corner with my laptop, grading papers and trying to prioritize my notes. Send anti-anxiety medications and strong alcohol please and thank you.

About jesterqueen:
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.


How Not To Be — 5 Comments

  1. Okay. You need some regroup, purely Jessie time. This week, was challenging, heinous and mind numbing. You rose to the occasion and you went through and managed it well. If you asked a question or said something inane during a meeting big damn deal. You did it. I have been to thousands of mind numbing meetings. Your response (anxiety) is very normal. Try maintaining any amount of professionalism when a dog is on the lap of your boss, the fucking Vice President of the company… and he is taking her paw and anytime anyone talks, he starts LAUGHING, raising the paw up and down and stating to the speaker you are FIRED. A bad satire of Donald Trump. Imagine what was in my head… thankfully, I had (barely) enough composure that what came out of my mouth was not near as bad as what my mind was screaming. Of course, I was fired not to long after for refusing to walk that damn dog so it is all perspective. I figure if you didn’t have your dog on the call you are golden. I also sent you a private me to you message about how wonderful Jessie is. Because this week I think you forgot that, so I am going to remind you what I see when I look at you and read your words.

  2. Oh, Jessie, I can so commiserate. It is hell to be your own worst enemy, and believe me when I say this is most likely the case. Chin up, kiddo, you are extremely talented, it would appear to this observer that you’re a great parent, and you have way more on your plate than most of us could adequately deal with . . . ever!! Please accept a cyber hug!

  3. Jessie, your description of anxiety for any reason was so spot on I could feel it. I learned two rules about communication that diametrically oppose one another: Sales taught me to spit the deal out and shut up, NO MATTER WHAT, first person to speak loses, Broadcasting taught me that “dead air” was the death of a DJ. With both of those elements in place I approach meetings with a deep breath, a pen and paper, and a combination of shut up and talk. If I am lucky, most of the time I can keep my pen stuck to my paper and all is well. More often than not, I hear something that MUST be responded to by me, and it MUST happen now.

    I think you do well with the things you tend to. Remember that they cannot see you (unless the meetings are done on a web conference with cams in place, and you can always tack a sticky note to yours. 😉
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  4. I hope an acceptable accommodation can be made for the monthly meeting requirement. Wish I had words of wisdom or great advice, but I don’t. Good luck.
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