Others First. Fear Last.

I hate going to new things:

A new dance class, a first rehearsal, a party; anything with a group of people who haven’t met. My stomach feels my nerves before my consciousness does- it announces a step out of my comfort zone (a seemingly colossal step!) with twisting and churning. Next, my palms break out in a cold sweat, which is perfect for shaking strangers’ hands!

And as if cued by my palms, the broken recording of well-rehearsed insecurities screeches relentlessly:

“You won’t have anything to say.”

“You’ll be the odd one out.”

“Everyone else will already know each other.”

“You’re going to be the least accomplished one there.”

And my mental broken record’s favorite:

“They’ll discover you're not worthy enough to be there.”

That tune takes every fiber of strength to ignore. It sandpapers and scars my confidence until I’m a tummy-aching, palm-sweating mess.

Until I discovered a secret:

Everyone just wants to be loved. Everyone. Kids, adults, teachers, actors (ESPECIALLY ACTORS), baristas, officers, authors, servers... everyone. Just like I do. 

And that's one thing we have in common.

So now, when insecurity raises its ugly voice, I try to make that my focus: to make each new person I meet feel like a million bucks. Sincerely. To make them smile, to make them feel like they can be themselves with me. To let them know I’m not waving my resume above my head, or name dropping (as f I had any names to drop…), or trying to use them for their connections or abilities, but that I want to be on their team.

At a leadership retreat I attended in college, the students were asked to pair up with a stranger, and stare them in the face for one minute. If it sounds simple, I dare you to try it! The entire room fidgeted, giggled, blinked, and squirmed. The minute felt more like an hour. It was torture.

Then, we were instructed to repeat the exercise with one change: To memorize our partner’s face.

This time, the minute flew by and disguised itself as if it were seconds.

What was the difference? The first time through, I was focused on myself. Was I embarrassing myself? Did my breath smell like my lunch? Were any boogers making unwelcome entrances from my nose?

The second time, I was consumed with the task of discovering my partner’s features. I still remember he had this fascinating trio of freckles just beneath his eye, and his hair defied all attempts at grooming, causing him to resemble Ash from “Pokemon.”

The magic of the exercise can save us ALL in uncomfortable, new situations!

The key is to focus on others. To encourage, to learn, to empower, to see someone as they are, and as they hope to be.

The beauty is, I feel most myself when I’m looking to uplift others.

This way, fear loses. The people I meet win. I win. And fear is the odd one out.