Why I Panicked When a Professor Told Us All to Get Out Of Our Seats
“Everyone get up from your seats and find a partner.”
“Oh no. Oh no,” I thought. “Keep calm.”
It was barely an hour into the third day of my business school orientation at Boston College. Sitting in the warm auditorium on the fifth floor of Fulton Hall, I was listening anxiously to our guest speaker talk to us about how to have a successful internship interview. Then, out of nowhere, he instructed us to find partners and practice the techniques he had been teaching.
All of a sudden I had to confront two of my biggest fears — forced interaction with strangers (in this case classmates I didn’t know yet), and getting up out of a chair.
Auditorium seats are especially difficult for me because the floor is usually slanted and the chairs are cramped. When I sit down, I sink into the cushion, which adds resistance when I try to get up. With a neuromuscular condition like mine, dysferlinopathy, getting out of any chair is a cumbersome, deliberate task for me at this stage of my disease progression. It takes all of my strength and all of my focus.
At this moment I was faced with a dilemma – do I get up and try to walk over to someone, sit down in a new chair and repeat the process over and over again until I am physically exhausted? Or, do I stay in my seat and hope people come to me if they notice I don’t have a partner? If I do stay, will anyone come over to me, or will I remain alone in the corner, forced to mock interview myself?
The thought of being alone brought back memories of childhood, back to gym class when people picked teams and I dreaded being the last one chosen. Suddenly my irrational childhood insecurities came flooding back.
I’m going to be sitting alone in the corner of this room, the only person in a class of 100 without a partner. I have no friends. I will never make any friends.
The rational voice inside of me kept trying to remind myself I am a 28-year old adult, surrounded by other, professional, responsible young adults, and this isn’t a popularity contest. It is just a session on how to crack a case method interview.
Nonetheless, I couldn’t have felt any more isolated from my classmates at this moment. The first two days I got to meet many of them, but they were still acquaintances more than friends at this stage. Some faces were familiar, but most were not.
I started to sweat. I began squirming in my seat, watching as others flocked to their new friends or turned to the person next to them. I eventually made the fateful decision to stay put as the rational side of me took hold.
No one will make you get up, they see you’re on crutches.
I waited and waited. I turned around frantically, watching people pair up at an alarming rate. I began to panic. I shifted in my seat as if I were a toddler who had lost his mother in a crowd, about ready to give up hope on ever finding a partner. I nearly knocked over my crutch in the process.
“Excuse me, do you have a partner?”
I turned around, and just like that I was saved. A blond-haired kid with dark-rimmed glasses sat down in the chair behind me. I’m pretty sure he knew the answer to his question.
We shook hands. We tried the exercise and both failed miserably, however we talked for a few minutes and found we had a lot in common. Our parents lived one town away from each other in Connecticut.
Soon we were instructed to switch partners, and another partner sat down, this time much quicker than before. As the course of the day went on, several people came over, and I found myself finally at ease.
By the end of the day I got up out of that chair with all my might and headed back to the hotel where I was staying for the week. The crowd of strangers in the room that day had slowly turned into friendly faces, one by one. With each successive day, those faces became more and more familiar, and soon those familiar faces became great friends.
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