Whenever I go to a party, I have a strategy. (I probably shouldn’t be telling you this).
Big crowds stress me out, so whenever I go to an event where there’s a room full of people I don’t know, I have a technique: I choose a spot against the wall that’s fairly inconspicuous, point my back toward it, and stand about a foot away from the wall itself.
I usually take something with me—a phone, a pamphlet, a plate of food—so it doesn’t look like I am just standing there.
From there, I watch the party.
The beautiful thing about this place at a party is you get to keep tabs on everybody. You get to watch the token single dude make a fool of himself with every pretty girl in the room, introducing himself and recycling his same cheesy jokes over and over again.
You get to watch the “important” people in the room try to downplay their importance, and everyone else try to prove how “important” they are.
You can make fun of people (secretly, of course, in your head) for telling a joke that tanks, or for sticking out their hand to shake, while the other person goes in for a hug — or the most tragic — mistaking a “high five” gesture for a hug request.
That’s the worst.
From my spot on the wall I can watch the whole party unfold.
I can keep track of who is friends with who, who appears to be nice, and who appears to be no fun at all.
If someone wants to talk to me, they know where to find me. After all, I don’t change positions for the entire party.
And when they do come to talk to me, I’ll be there ready, with my food prop in place and my tone of voice prepared to meet them enthusiastically (if they’re “that” type) or intellectually (because I overheard them talking about the Pleistocene era, and I Googled it so I could know what it was).
It’s really wonderfully safe this way. In fact, for a long time, I was rather proud of my party-going strategy. I thought maybe one day I could patent it or something.
But the truth is, I’m not just a spectator at parties. I’m a spectator in life.
It feels good, scooting around the perimeter of parties and people and relationships and circumstances, back to the wall, trying to make sure nothing jumps out at you in surprise. It was careful, I thought. Conscientious, I told myself. Safe.
I congratulated myself for my maturity.
But what I didn’t realize was that, when you live your life and your parties this way, you have very little control over what happens to you. It might seem like you have control. You feel like you do—more control than you would have if you got in the mess, right in there high-fiving and hugging and telling bad jokes like everyone else.
But when you live your life like this, you’re powerless. Your back is to a wall. Literally.
You’ve surrendered control to everyone else in the room.
I often hear people talk about how they have control issues and need to learn they don’t have control over everything, and I get what they mean. I’m like that too. Sometimes I try to control things I don’t have control over, and it’s a really unattractive trait. But what if I don’t need to learn to give up more control? What if that’s not the answer?
What if what I need to learn is that I do have control?
What if I need to get in the party?
What if, what I need to do is get my back off the wall and jump into the party?
Something amazing happens when I stop spectating and start enjoying my own life. I don’t have to talk myself out of being controlling, or being judgmental. All the comparing and gossiping and judgement just melts away. I snap out of it. I realize I’m just as silly and screwed up as the rest of them—telling stupid jokes, spilling my drink, laughing at myself.
I discover I’m just as loved and beautiful.
[This post is adapted from Chapter 1 of my book Packing Light. To get the complete first chapter for free, click HERE.]