I will typically refer to myself as “socially awkward” or “socially mal-adjusted,” and in response to this assertion one reader of this blog asked me, “May I ask why you consider yourself socially mal-adjusted?” I’ve been pondering the question ever since.
At it’s core my self-proclaimed declarations of social mal-adjustment refer to my quirky introversion. I’m the type of introvert who actually needs to be reminded other people exist 1. I live inside my head. I ponder questions, play out imaginary conversations to work out problems, or come up with stories. In my head is where I am happiest.
Because I spend so much time looking inward, however, I’ve only developed the ability to pick up social cues and controls through hard knocks 2. I know just about everyone can claim this, but adolescence was absolute torture for me. I didn’t understand the concept of “popular,” and never learned how to read the social mores which would have connected me to my peers. Even worse, I didn’t have the mental constitution to suffer through grammar school busy-work, so I never ended up in accelerated classes with other oddballs who lived inside their heads. Mostly I was just labeled an “under-achiever,” but I was really utterly lost and confused.
Things greatly improved for me when I transferred to Lancaster Mennonite High School to finish my high school career. And when I got to college I’d thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I found people who thought sitting around and pondering what we were learning was fun. And when I wasn’t pondering with them I was expected to spend hours on my own reading and writing!
But even though I’ve learned social survival skills, I’m never going to be “normal 3.” To this day the idea of small talk terrifies me, and going into a new social situation fills me with extreme anxiety 4. I’m just not wired for those things, and when I do find myself having to navigate these situations I typically bounce around from conversation to conversation trying not to look like a complete freak, and typically failing. Things are generally better when I have a task to perform at an event, as that gives me both focus and a reason to have my mind off somewhere else.
Sometimes I wonder if I give the wrong impression to people who read this blog. Except in small doses I’m really not all that engaging a person, and even then I’m only engaging in short bursts for topics I find interesting. I’m actually really rather boring, and after 10 minutes of being around someone my brain checks out and goes wandering my internal mental pathways 5. Growing up, my family called this “Wes world.” My sisters tell stories of actually having to shout at me to bring me back to reality.
So this is what I mean when I say I am either “social awkward” or “socially mal-adjusted.” The good news is, I pastor a church filled with socially awkward and mal-adjusted people who have quirks all their own. Maybe that’s why we get along so splendidly. It’s truly the Church of Misfit Christians.
- And I don’t often appreciate the reminders. Me being a pastor is a Divine joke no one has figured out just yet. ↩
- And, really, I’m still a beginner. ↩
- And “normal” people are terribly dull, anyway, so I’m really not missing out on much. ↩
- Don’t get me started on what meetings do to my psyche. ↩
- My wife, for whom I thank God every day, is a saint. ↩