At 16, I could have won a contest for the most self-conscious

Before school I used to stand in front of our mirror. Does peachy-pink go with aqua? Do my boots look dorky? Is my coat cute? One day to my horror, I realized I’d worn two “busy” clothes in public: a multi-colored shirt and a flowery blouse. My shame was deep;)  

Suffice it to say, if I’d studied chemistry with the fervor that I studied my outfits and appearance, I’d be Marie Curie.

Many people struggle with self-consciousness. I know I’m not alone. 

But guess what? Despite the level of self-consciousness I had in the United States….

It’s a bazillion times worse in Panama

Yesterday I was walking through a small town (in Panama) when I heard a young boy’s voice squeal, “Gringo!” (I’m not sure why he said “gringo” considering I’m a girl. Shouldn’t it be gringa?)

All I did was hurry on, hoping the sidewalk would swallow me up. Grrrrr!

As you can tell from that story, in Panama…

White skin and light hair aren’t common

In Panama City, we were eating rice in a large mall when my sister gasped and grabbed my arm. “An American!” she whispered, excited to see someone who was “like us.” It’s rare. 

*Note: my sister wasn’t completely correct- everyone here is American. She meant an American from the U.S.

A few days ago, a Panamanian pointed to my hair and said, “blonde.” Everyone who knows me knows I’m a brunette, not a blonde. But Panamanians have jet black hair, so compared to them, I am blonde. (I joke with my sister that I need to dye my hair black so I don’t stick out so much.)

Besides being clearly different, there’s the language barrier as well (we only speak a little Spanish), and a cultural one (yes, Panama differs from the U.S. in some areas.) 

The cure for self-consciousness

I’m not nearly as self-conscious as I was at 16, but it still crops up occasionally.

Certain situations that make self-consciousness worse: strangers, public speaking, feeling unfashionable, being the odd one out, talking about yourself, etc 

Practical steps for the self-conscious

You probably aren’t in a foreign country right now. Standing on a sidewalk in the U.S., you don’t stand out.

But you might still feel self-conscious. What do you do about it?

1. Realize you’re not “all that.”

People are a heck of a lot more interested in themselves than in you. While you stand awkwardly while meeting someone for the first time and think, Oh my goodness, did they notice my white shirt has a ketchup stain? When in fact, the other person is just mentally debating between coffee or tea, or planning their weekend.  

2. Ask others-directed questions

Nothing makes me more self-conscious than talking about myself. (Also, I know myself pretty darn well, and I’m a boring person. Why would I want to talk about myself?)

So when feeling self-conscious, ask people questions: Where do you work? How long have you worked there? 

3. Fake confidence physically

You cannot be self-conscious and confident at the same time. So pretend you are confident, and self-consciousness vanishes. How do you pretend you are confident?

  • speak slowly
  • speak deeply (no high-pitched tones)
  • don’t touch your face/fiddle with clothes. That betrays you are nervous, and makes you more nervous.  
  • take deep breaths
  • focus on other people
  • forget about yourself
  • make eye contact

Do you ever feel self-conscious? What do you do about it?


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