What Makes You Self Conscious

I drove up to a roadside biker bar, just off a main road in Hermitage, Tennessee. It was a Tuesday night writer's night, and I'd been invited to perform. I was a singer-songwriter in Nashville and had played out dozens of times in my new city. From the hundreds of country music musicians and songwriters I'd encountered, there were three black ones on the scene including me.

As I walked in the door, I received what felt like a death stare-down by three guys dressed in all black as if to say what are you doing here black girl? Too late to turn back, I took off my jacket, placed it on the back of my chair and stared straight ahead pretending to be fully immersed in the music coming from the stage. Truthfully, I was quite nervous. I got up to go to the bathroom (being nervous gives me that feeling!) and a waitress (I'd use the more modern word server, but in a place stuck in time like that, the word waitress seems more appropriate) walked in behind me. She smiled a wide smile and said, "We don't see folks like you 'round here. You just come back anytime." I smiled back and shyly said "thanks." Back at the table, as I awaited my turn, a fellow songwriter waived me over to her. I wonder if she sensed I needed protection. In fact I did, but not for the reason one might think.

One of the biker guys came over to me (I'll have to fill you in on the awkwardly funny details of the conversation in another post) and stooped down by my chair about two feet from my face. He just talked and talked about how he wanted to take me on a date. He just wouldn't leave me alone and grew increasingly loud and agitated. One of the female bartenders came over and kicked him out of the bar. I was causing quite a scene. And then my name was called. I had a pretty good idea of what people would think of me, but I hoped they'd like my music. I'm about 100% certain that I was the first black singer-songwriter to ever step foot on that stage.

So, I started to sing. Everyone stared. I sang anyway. Not much reaction. And then I was finished. Everyone started clapping. Loudly. I even received several high-fives walking off the stage. As I self-consciously glided back to my table, I noticed a guy with a confederate flag bandana was sitting in the chair next to mine. "Oh boy," I thought. I considered grabbing my jacket and briskly heading for the door, but it's considered bad form to leave right after you perform instead of watching the next writer. Instead, I took a deep breath and walked up to the table. To my surprise, the man said, "Great job! Pull up a chair." We shared a few words and then I left.

I wrote my songs and had performed them many times, so I never lacked confidence in that bar. Still, I felt like I didn't belong, and that made me incredibly self conscious. But I did belong. Because I always belong. And you always belong. And I couldn't know what people were thinking, although I was convinced that I did.

Although I've normally confident, there are times when I'm self conscious. Even as a lawyer walking into a room, I'm often the only woman and nearly always the only Black American professional at the table. Unfortunately, the higher I go, the more that's the case.

Being Self Conscious

You're self conscious if you deplete precious energy worrying about things and circumstances you cannot easily, if ever, change: gender, race, beauty, weight, hair, accent, shape, diversity. Belief in self, and a little more grace, is the only cure.

Like many of you, my mind is burdened by the weight of the inaccurate and damaging stereotypes, and I too, wonder what people think when they see me. Why am I the only black female in the room? I've been plagued with the thought that I have to prove myself again and again and somehow continue to do so with the awareness that I'm still likely to still be passed over without consequence or get paid less for the level of my contributions. No way, no how, can I afford to make a mistake like others. I can't give anyone a reason because they're looking for reasons. We think this way.

So, what do I do? I choose to believe in myself and give myself grace from the psychological burden of negative stereotypes and discouraging thoughts. I make a conscious choice every single day not to care about anyone who dares to think untrue things about me, who dares not to recognize what I contribute. It's often said that we are not our thoughts but the consciousness behind our thoughts. If you know who you are, you find a way to let those negative thoughts trickle down like drops of water off a duck's back. if you don't believe in yourself, you must pretend that you do - until you actually do. One day, I promise, if you don't believe yet, you finally will. Self conscious thoughts, discrimination, racism - though all terrible realities - are mental games that we can win.

How to Be More Confident

We defeat self conscious emotions by knowing and loving who we are and deciding where we want to be and what we want to do. It's the definiteness of purpose that we look for, as the early steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie made famous. It critical for our journey.

You're going to believe in yourself and be the expert in the room. No one else will know what you know. No one else will deliver like you do. These two things will make you unstoppable.


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© 2021 by Shai Littlejohn