Dear Carolyn: I'm a sophomore in college. I'm trying to break the pattern that I've been in since I started college, of settling into a comfort zone and never leaving to try anything or meet anyone new.
I've never been a go-getter, but years of my parents' "nothing ventured, nothing gained" advice has finally gotten through. I decided on the spur of the moment to join my school's club soccer team.
I'm active, but I've never played organized sports. While I'm waiting for practices to start, I'm falling back into my cycle of overanalyzing how the other girls on the team will react to my lack of experience and skill. I'm constantly worrying about being shunned or, worse, being the girl everyone is nice to upfront but really can't stand. The negative scenarios keep me up at night. What's a girl with a possibly irrational fear of the unknown to do?
TERRIFIED TO BE THE LAST ONE PICKED FOR THE TEAM
Carolyn says: It's not "possibly" irrational, it is irrational. You don't even know these teammates yet. Therefore, you don't know how (un)friendly or (un)skilled they are. Instead of dwelling on negative scenarios, force yourself to entertain possible scenarios. Use what you know, vs. fearing what you don't. What you know is you. Has your dread in the past proved accurate, or needless?
You also know how you regard novices. Do you resent them? Think they're idiots? Mock them behind their backs while pretending to be nice? Or do you admire them for having the nerve to show up, to risk looking silly, to try? I suspect it's the latter. And if you feel that way, then it follows that at least some future teammates will, too.
And since I doubt you take careful notes on every person you encounter, you can predict that some teammates will neither admire nor resent you because they barely notice you. Be they self-absorbed, aloof or just otherwise occupied, these people have their place; they remind you that no one, ever, is the center of everyone's attention. Liberating stuff.
Since they're a fact of life, you can expect to encounter some people who like to build their egos on the bodies of everyone else. But you just want to get some air and kick a ball around, right? So how decayed does someone's soul have to be to take advantage of vulnerable people?
By trading fears for predictions like this, you have the basis for a plan: Seek out people who appreciate the way you've rallied; be grateful for people who leave you alone; avoid, or even pity, people who need to be mean.
If you can't reason your way out of your negative cycle, then your anxiety may be a medical issue. Either way, there's still another, practical use for your self-knowledge: You know you've never played soccer, so channel your dread into preparation. Doing some drills might even knock you to sleep.E-mail Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org, or chat with her at 11 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.