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Deb Neuman Deb Neuman
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Lessons learned in a fancy dress

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I remember the first time I felt uncomfortable and out of place at a social event. I was 10 years old and my family had moved to England to live for a year. For the first time in my life, I was the outsider. My first days at school were scary, awkward and challenging. I had no friends, had to wear a school uniform for the first time and barely understood what the kids and teachers were saying to me with their thick British accents. They were very slow to accept and embrace me, a 'Yankee.' So it was very exciting when a classmate invited me to her birthday party. The invitation read 'Fancy Dress,' so my mom took me out to buy the prettiest and fanciest dress we could find.

I arrived at the party in my fancy dress and as we pulled our car up to the girl's home - I saw the other kids and got a pit in my stomach. They were in costumes Halloween-like costumes. In England 'fancy dress' means 'dress up in costume!'   

I didn't want to go in I was afraid I would be out of place and embarrassed. But Mom insisted, and she walked me to the door where we met the little girl who had invited me to her party and her mom. My mom explained our confusion. I felt so awkward, out of place and embarrassed. At that moment, my little friend took my hand and said, 'It's OK you did dress up in costume. You are dressed up like a fairy princess.' Then she smiled and led me into her home to meet the other kids. Although I was still self-conscious, no one else noticed what I was so insecure about. I ended up having a wonderful time and began making friends. For the first time, I knew I was going to be OK in this foreign land.

I never forgot that little girl who made me feel so welcome and comfortable. I remember her every time I walk into a situation when I feel nervous or insecure and realize that others likely feel exactly the same way. Take a networking event. How many times have you walked into a room full of people and felt uncomfortable, shy or out of place? That little girl taught me to not focus on me, but rather to focus on others, to realize that other people are likely feeling even more out of place. By engaging in conversation with someone who looks like they don't want to be there, not only will they become more relaxed and comfortable, so will you. So the next time you walk into a room of people, find the person in the room who looks shy and nervous, and strike up a conversation. I guarantee your new friend will appreciate you and you will both enjoy the event a whole lot more! That little girl's gesture so many years ago meant more to this fairy princess than she will ever know!

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