Growing up vulnerable: I didn’t have many friends growing up. I was the shy, quiet kid that kept to himself during recess and tried to find contentment in the hopes of one day growing out of this adolescent phase. And sure I made a few good friends and I got along with the other kids but that still didn’t feel like enough. I would watch the extroverts, the leaders of the jungle-gym, the people who were picked first and wonder “why is it so hard for me, why can’t I be like that.” My introversion was my vulnerability.
Fake It: Everyone always says be true to yourself and things will turn out fine. Well I hated myself. I hated being vulnerable. I hated being the last picked and the slowest person. I hated that I was introverted and afraid of speaking to people. I hated shoving down the feeling of shame and humiliation of being me, of being a loser. I hated all that and more to the point where I decided, “Enough! I’ll be someone else!”
I accepted my vulnerabilities, my weakness and my introverted personality, and set about changing them. I was the slowest, least coordinated person so I joined the cross-country team. I was still the slowest my first season but I trained harder than anyone else and in a year I was winning every race. I wasn’t weak anymore which felt good but I still wasn’t satisfied. I still wasn’t very social and I didn’t feel part of the team; being the fastest runner meant running and training alone.
I knew the next thing to fake was my personality and the way I carried myself. But you can’t just pull a 180 and start acting differently in front of the people who know you best like friends or family because they’ll know something is off. I needed an opportunity to be different around strangers.
The Leap: I found my opportunity freshman year of high school. There was a local high school rowing team that was recruiting. I didn’t know anything about the sport except that no one I knew was doing it. To an introvert, being thrown into a group of people you’ve never met, who all know each other well already, with the expectation of introducing yourself to them, is the stuff of nightmares!
At the first meeting, I wanted to steal my mom’s car keys and make a break for it when one of the senior members, the team captain, walked up and introduced himself. He was so casual about it, so confident. I wanted to be able to do that. We talked for a while (he talked, I mostly listened). He told me about what it was like to row, the team aspect, and the lasting friendships. I knew this was the chance I’d been looking for, a fresh start.
From day one I mimicked what the leaders did. It felt awkward at first but I joined in on the embarrassing hijinks, acted outrageous, and hid my discomfort. Rather than stand on the edge of the circle of ringleaders as I had done for years, I made sure I sat in the middle and joined in the banter.
When the next recruitment meeting came around, I joined the captain in introducing myself to the new recruits. No one knew I was shy, that I was scared to speak to them; I even volunteered to model the team uniform (which was skimpy and flashy) in front of over 70 parents and kids, most of which I didn’t know.
I faked it. I faked it so hard those first two years that it became second nature. I noticed that I had become the person I had wanted to be. People looked up to me and respected me; I even became the captain of the team.
Living Strong: Looking at me today, you wouldn’t guess how vulnerable I was. I’m a leader in the community with more reliable friends to count. I am still a vulnerable person, everyone is vulnerable about something. However, because I took a chance on changing myself I am a stronger, better, and unrecognizable person from who I was.