I blame middle school. Before middle school, I remember being fairly confident. Then between 5th and 6th grade we moved from San Diego, California, to Fairborn, Ohio, and with that move, I lost any confidence I might once have had in my understanding of how social interactions work. I worried about looking silly, but the things that were deemed cool — “Smurf trap” bangs, pinch-rolled trousers, spiral perms, those weird pants that were shaped like big triangles of fabric, the points of which fastened at the front of the pants — all looked completely silly (and I couldn’t do my bangs or roll my pants properly, anyway). I just couldn’t figure out how to not look silly because none of the rules were logical. I was also skinny and short, which didn’t help matters, either. The punishment for looking silly was severe and swift. As a result, I acquired a deep sense of self-conscious worry of which I still retain a shadow after all of these years.
Having kids has helped me to shed much of this worry. It is impossible to have an interaction with a toddler without looking silly (or even to bear a child without looking silly, at least if you’re me). For the most part, I find it helpful to just assume that I look like a fool and not worry too much about what people think about it. I’d be lying if I said I’m successful in this endeavor all of the time. I sometimes catch myself talking in a silly voice to the kids or wondering out loud with them what would happen if cats wore pants and I suddenly realize that other adults are around and that I may, in fact, look like an imbecile, and then I feel compelled to pull myself together and act more dignified.
I worry sometimes that being afraid of looking silly holds me back from interacting freely with my children and with other adults, and I’m certain it keeps me from trying new things. I mentioned a few days ago that I don’t ski. It’s not just avalanches that scare me about skiing. I’m fairly certain I’ll look like a total dweeb doing it, and I just can’t risk that level of ineptitude without a lot of forward-planning and deep breathing. I like to be good at things. I like to appear knowledgeable and capable at all times. Trying new things doesn’t fit well with these desires. I think a fear of looking silly is also what keeps me from speaking foreign languages. I pick them up quickly, but I lose them quickly, too, because I’m so worried about looking silly trying to speak them, especially with native speakers, even though I know this is the best way to learn short of traveling overseas. Which is something else a fear of looking silly keeps me from doing (that and a fear of physical discomfort, illness, and foreign bugs and other wildlife).
So, I’ve made Risk Looking Silly one of my personal commandments to help give myself permission to look foolish and to let myself try new things. I’d considered just making it “Look Silly,” but I don’t think I need to go out of my way to look silly, just accept that it’s going to happen and try not to worry about it. I think having a public blog is evidence that I’ve already made some progress in this area. I wonder how many more years of practice it will take for me to finally get a passport…