The Social Anxiety of answering: Who are you and What do you do?

I have felt some social anxiety at describing myself to others. You know how it is, you meet a stranger, online or face to face. The first questions that will get asked are always the same. Who are you/ What do you do?

You know it’s going to happen and our next struggle is to how to answer.

Am I an artist, am I not an artist? It’s a difficult one for me. Am I just a dilettante messing about or do I have a serious intent to be an artist.

Writer? Not a writer? Socially anxious or not? Just recently I had someone contact me about my Social Anxiety Meetup group. He was not sure if he was socially anxious and had doubts about joining.

This highlights our modern age. Things have become so complex that the old labels we use no longer seem to fit. Yet we still try and squeeze ourselves into the definitions we are given or choose for ourselves

Sometimes I get caught up in trying to define myself, so I can use the definition in conversation and still feel I’m being authentic and honest.

Or it’s not trying to define myself then it’s trying to escape a definition I don’t like or has held me back like social anxiety.

We don’t like to admit to definitions that are negative or have a stigma attached.

Our anxiety is about getting our definitions right: We want to know who we are because we want clarity and authenticity. Yet we don’t want these labels to diminish us.

We get caught up in such questions because we have to use definitions, labels when we communicate. Dating profiles, social media, in conversation. Such places are where social anxiety takes place, and one reason is because we’re required to explain who we are.

Another good example are the jobs we have.

If it’s a clearly defined job and we get paid that’s okay. But if it’s a hobby, a side job or self-employed role things can start to get a little messy.

Our work and who we are has become a lot more complex because there are so many ways we can define ourselves and in so many combinations.

It’s a case of language being ruptured by reality. Words are like containers but they have burst because the reality has expanded. One word to describe yourself is no longer enough. Our lives our aspirations can no longer be held by simple definitions.

The map doesn’t equal the terrain. That’s to say reality is far too complex to be fully described by our language.

Yet words are what we use to understand each other and describe reality. We try to pigeon-hole people into definitions, so we use simple labels. Banker, web developer etc.

They aid communication, understanding. But language also fosters miscommunication and confusion. It ignores any complexity or nuance because it’s too difficult or time-consuming to address.

Our definitions will have to expand, or we’ll have to come up with new words to describe ourselves

The old ways of categorising ourselves, and others into roles, professions and identities has now become a problem in the modern age.

Our labels are longer seem enough. It shows that we need to let go of the idea that simple characterisations can define us.

What’s the answer?

One solution is the idea of Slash Careers, an idea by Marci Alboher in her book One Person/Multiple Careers: The Original Guide to the Slash Careers.

Here we define ourselves with more than one job, such as Banker/Artist/Volunteer or Sales coordinator/app developer/writer. (Here’s a Forbes article on the subject as a primer)

Another solution is paradoxically to refocus ourselves on the art of conversation. With such complexity, it means there’s lots to talk about. It invites even demands lengthier, deeper connections to others.

The answer is to spend more time in meaningful dialogue or casual chit-chat. So we can really get to know each other. Social anxiety about our job, our identity can be best addressed by explaining how complex we are.

Conversation is one of the best antidotes to a world far too complex for simple labels, and people far too willing to accept them.

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