This past Thursday was intern volleyball at WWT, and I was feeling pretty nervous knowing how bad I’ve been at volleyball in the past. Nevertheless, I came into the office feeling pretty good about the day ahead. Unfortunately, that feeling wouldn’t last long.
I drove myself to the outing so that I could head straight home afterwards and maybe leave early if my team lost. When I finally got there, I had trouble finding parking. Which shouldn’t have been a big deal, but for some reason it just really got to me and these huge feelings of uncertainty and insecurity rose up as I struggled to find a place to park and just felt completely clueless and like everyone else knew exactly what was going on. There was this abandoned-looking parking lot that I wasn’t sure how to pay for so I parked on the curb and paid $3 to the meter for two hours only to realize it was just a dollar to park in the other lot. Since I would be there for four hours, I moved back into the lot and went to go pay with quarters only to realize that I had deposited all the coins into the slot for the wrong parking spot. I managed to sort through all the change I had left and find only one cent more than I needed to pay the parking fee. I deposited all of my coins and walked over, my internal monologue nearly shouting, “Why am I so stupid? Seriously, how am I this incompetent?”
I finally walked in, now 15 minutes past when we were all supposed to be there. For a while I wandered around, seeing basically no one I know. I knew in my head that I know a number of people at the company but in the moment I couldn’t help but feel completely lost and alone. I was surrounded by a sea of faces and yet saw no friendly ones. I walked over to the game order posting to find out who’s playing and realize that my team is out there at that moment. I really didn’t want to just jump in 20 minutes late so I start chatting with a couple people sporadically, kind of feeling better yet still sort of alone. I go to get food, drop my chips a couple of times, and eventually go wriggle my way into my friend Rachel’s conversation. She was welcoming and I felt better after joining her and her team, but soon they were up to play and I was stuck alone again. Next, I sat down with some of the friends I’ve been eating lunch with and working in the office with and I just barely speak. Honestly, I came and sat down next to someone I hadn’t met you and just didn’t say a word. I acted like I fit in, but I had really shown up like a total weirdo.
I head to the bathroom because it looks like the game on the court my team is playing on next is about to finish and I’ll be up soon. While I’m there, they announce we’re about to be up and I suddenly feel so much anxiety about going to play volleyball with them. As I recognize just how nervous I am, it occurs to me that I rarely notice it but there are actually a handful of settings that give me pretty bad social anxiety, many of them athletic ones. I brace myself and resist the slight urge to freeze and hide in the port-a-potty. Finally, I finish and rush out to join my team before the game gets going.
At the very beginning, it’s awkward. Nick, someone I’d met before but totally forgotten about, asks me if I’m on the team and tells me that I missed the first game, but I can just sub in for him on the next rotation. One other girl, Desai, is on the field too and doesn’t seem to have much experience with volleyball either, so I feel slightly better. Still, I realize that as an average-looking white guy, people expected me to be at least a little better than the awful player I was that day. But my team barely acknowledged my deficient skills and I soon warmed up to the sport. We play back-to-back rounds and win one, lose the other. During the first game, I was barely ever near the ball, which I felt a little bad about but was ultimately for the best of the team. In the second game, my serve was not quite over the net but was much closer than my first. After I managed to execute a straightforward set and get the ball over, the rest of the team really cheered me on. Part of me was frustrated knowing they weren’t have said any of that to the other teammates who played just fine, but I also really appreciated the fact that they were rooting for me.
There was a long break before the championship round, and in the mean time I opened up a bit more and talked more with the people around me and felt a little better about myself. Still, a lot of them knew each other from past summers at the company or going to the same schools so I could tell that they were largely friends with each other and I was more of an afterthought. Eventually, it’s time to go back out there, and by now I’m actually really into it. Despite having grabbed my sister’s sunglasses from my car and definitely looking like an idiot wearing them, I felt more prepared than ever and was much more confident in going for the ball, even when I still totally failed. We made it to another game and I was feeling it still. Ultimately, we lose that game but it was close — within three points.
As I headed home, I listened to a podcast on the way home about getting out of ones comfort zone and it really stuck with me. Now, I recognize that I need to get out there and try new things, I need to put myself in vulnerable situations to try and make some new friends I wouldn’t normally seek out, and frankly I should dedicate more time to working towards being more athletic. I want to be more confident and competent in all sorts of situations, and to do so I have to throw myself into uncomfortable situations. It’s going to be a long uphill battle to truly being confident in situations that have intimidated me so immensely in the past. But my day of sand volleyball was the perfect example of how investing in that pays off — I left the court today really feeling like I’d enjoyed the hell out of my day.