There was a time in my life where I dreaded the thought of meeting new people. It’s not that I was a germaphobe or had anthropophobia (the fear of people), it was just that I preferred to spend time with people I knew, rather than do the small talk mingling thing.
This first came to light when I started pastoring. I remember, it was a weekday morning and I needed coffee (and no, I don’t have an addiction). I was at the office and could’ve easily walked a few steps into the kitchen and made my own pot, but I soon realized that it was the day that all the mom’s met in the basement of the church for fellowship. That only meant one thing: free coffee + cream puffs + ton of desserts.
Knowing that there would be a lot of mom’s and young children, I plotted my strategy as I made my way to the basement:
- Rule #1: Keep moving
- Rule #2: Smile and say hi, but focus on walking into the kitchen
- Rule #3: Never stop moving
When I opened the basement doors, there were over 50+ women and young children mingling, in what looked like, absolute chaos (at the time I was newly married without kids). In a cold sweat, I immediately made my way towards the kitchen remembering to never stop moving. As I turned the corner to walk into the kitchen, I soon discovered that there were another 40+ women and children hiding around the bend. So staying true to my rules, I never stopped moving. I just shifted directions and went straight back upstairs into the office kitchen, where I forewent the cream puffs, and made my own coffee.
As I was making my own coffee, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What’s wrong with me? Why did I act that way? Why was I in such a nervous cold sweat when I saw all those moms and kids?” As a new pastor, I knew this was a glaring weakness. I knew how important it was to be able to meet new people, remember their names, and minister to them.
Was it that I didn’t like moms and children? Well, considering the fact that I didn’t have children at that time, perhaps I just didn’t know what to do with them, and let’s face it, mothers can be intimidating at times. But I didn’t think that was quite it. So what was it?
As I continued to reflect on my behavior and this apparent weakness of mine, I began reflecting on other situations that mimicked this one – situations where I was in a sea of new and unfamiliar faces. The only other parallel that came to mind was when I was attending a conference, teaching a class, or preaching a sermon. Oddly enough, in each of those situations, I was a completely different person – I loved meeting new people and I would even remember their names, most of the time!
So what was wrong with me? Why was I acting like Jekyll and Hyde?
Through the journey of discovering my strengths (click here for a post where I explain this), the one thing that I knew about myself was that I was a Developer. I loved helping people grow and I loved helping things develop. In other words, I loved everything about development. So when I compared both situations in light of my strengths, a lightbulb came on! In conferences and when I’m teaching or preaching, my posture is towards development – so I don’t mind meeting new people – in fact, I welcome and pursue it! However, to that group of moms and kids, my purpose was not to develop any of them – it was merely to get coffee and cream puffs.
So if I wanted to overcome my glaring weakness of meeting new people, all I had to do was shift my perspective and reframe the situation. Instead of viewing others as strangers, I needed to view them through my developer lens. So that means every stranger is an individual that I can either develop, or an individual who can develop me.