Your Fear Of Looking Stupid May Be Holding You Back

Woman covering her face in embarrassment

I’m terrible at small talk. You know why I think so? Because I wouldn’t want to have a conversation with me.

So I’ve come to accept how people’s eyes glaze over as they seek the most polite form of exit. And I know why they get unnerved too. Because I’m one shift-eyed dude.

For some reason, I can never get my facial expressions to react accordingly. Because of that, I tend to overthink, and what results is usually just me twitching at the lips when I should be smiling.

Why am I telling you all this? Because the past few months have taught me a lot about socialising. Which is a big deal because I tend to be a hermit.

Lessons in socialising

As someone who hates the idea of small talk, I’ve since learned to embrace the skill. Because it’s not just an inane act. It’s actually a prerequisite to getting to know someone better.

After all, you can’t ask someone you’ve just met about the meaning of life, right?

But perhaps the more interesting lesson I’ve learned is that my awkwardness is a feature and not a bug. Some people can walk into a room and command attention. Me? I’m more of the guy you forget right after.

But that’s good, you see. Because I can screw up my conversations with you, and you probably won’t remember it the next time we meet.

Still, that’s not the biggest takeaway I got from my social jaunts. My biggest lesson is—and if I were to condense it for you in the least amount of words possible—this: Don’t be afraid of looking stupid.

The ways you can look stupid

Want to look stupid? It’s easy. In fact, most things in life bear that risk. You could voice something out in a meeting, only to learn that the topic was just covered five minutes ago.

You could send a proposal to a client, only to learn that you totally missed the brief they gave.

You could even mistake lemongrass for spring onions at the supermarket, then botch your recipe at home (totally didn’t happen to me).

But you know what happens after you look stupid? Nothing. At least in terms of dying of embarrassment. You’ll find progress in that department to be lacking, to say the least.

You will, however, get the ball rolling. And you’ll find your ‘stupid’ actions instrumental in getting you to the next step.

So if we go back to the small talk example, sure, you may feel stupid talking about the weather, but you’re at least starting a conversation.

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from being in rooms full of strangers, it’s that people are more receptive to familiar faces, even if that face only asked them about the weather once before.

Likewise, bringing up a moot point in a meeting may seem like social suicide, but anecdotally, I’ve found those who speak up—no matter what the topic—are often seen in a better light than the quiet ones.

Whatever you put out in the world doesn’t need to be a final product

I think the biggest area we get hung up on is thinking that everything we do or say has to be the most enlightening piece of wisdom known to man. Every e-mail needs to be ironed out from all angles. All conversations need to be meaningful.

But you know what I think? The best products are moulded into fruition instead of being perfect from the get-go.

Think of all your subjective pursuits as a first draft that can be shaped as you go, instead of do-or-die situations that hinge on one opportunity.

How to get over the fear of looking stupid

So maybe you’re looking for more concrete methods that you can apply in your life. Don’t worry, because I got your back.

Through my own anxiety surrounding social events, I’ve developed a few techniques to help alleviate the stress of putting myself out there, and here are the ones I use the most to get me through the fear of looking stupid.

First, I focus on the other person. So I notice their clothes. Their accessories. How they speak louder or faster when broaching upon their topics of interest. How they must be feeling the same inside.

The more I redirect my attention to the other person, the less I focus on my own feelings and shortcomings. And the less I think about myself, the easier it is to converse without those pesky micro-pauses thanks to my second-guessing.

This goes hand in hand with the second technique, which is to think of conversation as a way of giving back to the world.

If you’re an introvert like me, you’ll already know how much effort talking requires. Which is why when you shoulder the burden and do the talking, you’re actually helping others.

So yes, even if you sound stupid, you’ll at least take the load off someone else, and they’ll be grateful to you for doing so. And once you see things that way, suddenly looking stupid becomes a small price to pay.

Lastly, if you need something more tangible as reassurance, then I’ve found that researching the people or event allows you to prep in advance.

So if I have access to the guest list, I make sure to stalk the attendees so that I’ll know what to ask them based on their social media profiles.

Or let’s say I’m attending the launch of a latest car model. Then I make sure to study the automobile industry a little so that I have conversational fodder ready whenever I speak to key persons at the event.

Don’t let this fear hold you back

Writing this article has highlighted how much of my life was governed by my fear of looking stupid.

I hate hitting the Publish button because I fear it’d be a stupid post. I don’t like making phone calls because I don’t want to look stupid. I’m afraid of asking for things for the very same reason.

Who knew that being a bumbling idiot in conversations would actually teach me how to live life better?

And it’s with that intention that I end this post right here. I’m going to be honest and admit that I feel stupid writing this post.

But you’ll probably forget about this by the time next week rolls around.

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51 thoughts on “Your Fear Of Looking Stupid May Be Holding You Back

  1. This is a topic I recently talked about with my therapist, where the thought of “I’m not going to do X good enough, and I’m going to look stupid, so I might as well not do it.” It can be debilitating! Seeing this post helped me realize other people deal with this as well


    • Ha, I can relate, because I’m often learning one language or the other. I’ve found that I’m more forgiving of myself looking stupid practising another language though. I kick myself more when I sound like an idiot in my own language :P

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ahh this is so relatable,. especially – “Because I wouldn’t want to have a conversation with me.” I often refrain from talking because I take ages to phrase my questions in what I feel is the best way possible 😂

    I love your idea of a conversation being a way of giving back to the world. And this is great advice – “The more I redirect my attention to the other person, the less I focus on my own feelings and shortcomings.”

    Thank you for writing about this, it’s making me think about a lot of stuff, haha!


    • It’s such an honour when you say I was able to make you reflect. I take that privilege very seriously, especially because there are so many other things you could be doing. So I appreciate you for leaving this comment!


  3. I am an introvert who struggles to make small talk, even with people who I work with everyday. I am always on the agenda with them and even if i make small talk, i feel like i make a fool of myself there. Sometimes I wish I could talk something else comfortably with people. I like your idea of talking to people about them so I don’t think of myself!


  4. I absolutely hate being in a room full of strangers. I am an introvert and this would be very uncomfortable for me! I don’t know which is worse at wedding dinners…to be seated with bosses or strangers! So rather than look stupid, I would avoid these like the plague, given a choice at least. Anyway, you are right, no one has died from embarrassment! That is a small comfort, and when an opportunity comes, I will work harder at ‘small talk’! I suppose another way is to be current on current affairs and what’s going on in the world. Thanks for this post!


  5. Oh you’re not alone in that my friend, in letting fear govern your social or rather lack of social life. I am trying to rectify my own fear of looking silly or being uninteresting. When I was younger, I would get courage my drinking copious amounts of alcohol to be more social. But as the years have gone by, I realised that is not a sustainable way to deal with social So now, my latest technique is to make commitments I can’t weasel out of, and like you said, observe others in the gathering. I’ve noticed it always helps to ask someone about themselves, to get the ball rolling. All the best to us in overcoming our social awkwardness!


  6. It’s true, people are so caught up in their own lives that they can’t afford to spend mental energy constantly thinking about how stupid you looked in circumstance X. Well, maybe in high school people can, but as an adult? Nah. Sometimes when I worry about how I’ll come off in a given situation I’ll ask myself if anyone will remember it in a week, or in a year. The answer is usually no. Once of the few nice perks of aging is that I automatically care less what people think of me. It’s not an attitude I tried to cultivate with hard work. It’s just slowly come to be that way.


  7. Pingback: Escaping The Influence Of Others' Perceptions - Thomas Slatin

  8. As an introvert, I have always dreaded small talk, but there’s no way I could start talking about profound subjects with people without having to go through that dreadful phase first. I might look stupid when I initiate conversations with strangers or people at work or outside, but I also know people appreciate my efforts to get to know them better. They also think I’m friendly, so it’s not a bad start at all 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, looking stupid is going to be on my list of daily to-dos from now on, because I’ve avoided looking stupid my entire life and that’s gotten me nowhere. Time to explore what’s on the other side :P

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 2 people

  9. For some, doing something dumb makes you more likable, especially if you laugh at yourself. But also because it makes you more human and approachable. But, as a fellow introvert, I soooooooo get you.

    It’s also hard to work goat blood into small talk with a stranger. ;)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sometimes, after a spate of back-to-back events, all I want to do is to veg out at home and not talk to another soul. The introvert’s struggle is real, lol. And yes, it’s hard not being able to talk about goat blood till after five sessions or so of small talk.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I love the article, it’s written well. I am the person who comes up tp the stranger to ask about the meaning of life, because talking about the weather is not my cup of tea LOL Honestly, focusing on other people is a good call, it can be seen as a compliment or curiosity but at least it’s moving you in the right direction. In my case, I would always talk about myself while others want to talk about themselves – definition of a boring person – but I am learning my lesson, another 40 years and I will ace it, I promise. :)

    Liked by 3 people

    • Haha great to hear from the ‘meaning of life’ side of the story. I myself can’t even start the conversation, regardless of topic. So that’s where I’m starting my journey. But yeah, it really does help me get into the groove by thinking less about myself, so I’m glad I stumbled across that method. Thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. You? I can’t imagine you looking stupid Stu or being socially awkward.. are you sure?
    I think you need to send us a video to believe it. Hope you got my comment on your last post.
    I’ve gotten so used to looking and being stupid, it’s a line item. ha! 🤣 Great post and nice to know you’re human after all. 😘

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha. I do take lotsa vids of these events. Too bad the camera is not trained at me. I gotta get me some of your confidence. Am still a newbie at not caring what others think. It’s gonna be a long journey ahead, lol!

      Liked by 1 person

      • You know what they say.. practice, practice, practice.. or have 4 kids 😝and you learn not to care.. You take the seconds as they come and good enough becomes your new mantra. 🤣🥰


  12. There is so much value in this post. I have to attend a lot of functions and events with my husband, many of which are governed by old school ways and etiquette (British military). It took me a long old time to figure out the strategies so that it didn’t feel horribly uncomfortable. I used to spend days after each event replaying every conversation and being mortified about it all. I did have a lightbulb moment when I realised most people in the room feel the same at some level, so they weren’t too concerned about my awkward moments!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah. It does give me a level of comfort knowing that I’m not the only one going through this. And the less I focus on myself, the better I can learn to weave through these social events. Couldn’t imagine even attending one years back. Now I can actually speak to one stranger. Which is at my upper reaches of my abilities, but still improvement nonetheless, lol. Thanks for stopping by!


  13. I’d take it a step further. Not ‘don’t be afraid to look stupid’, but just ask all the things that make you feel stupid. Your stupid is another’s missing link (or genius). By asking the dumb questions, typically you inspire the greatest discussions. Also, people respect the courage, I firmly believe in that. I know I do. I’ve never thought: ‘what a stupid question’, when others ask questions. I just admire people for asking their questions. I think this goes for most people!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Oh yeah. As someone who stays on the sidelines a lot, I too admire those who are willing to ask questions, especially when they they seek clarity. There’s a certain level of putting yourself out there for that. Love your comment. Thanks for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. “Whatever you put out in the world doesn’t need to be a final product” – That pretty much sums up one of my philosophies in life: done is better than perfect! We learn the most from our mistakes. I’m sure I’ve looked stupid many times in my life and none of those experiences proved fatal. The older I get, the less I worry about what people think of me. If I look stupid, so be it! As my dad always used to say “If people are laughing at me, they’re leaving someone else alone.” Have a wonderful day Stuart!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh wow. Your dad’s quote is amazing. Kinda reminds me of the YouTube vigilantes against scammers, for some reason. “Every hour of the scammer’s that I waste means another hour not spent conning a helpless person.” Love it. Thanks for always being here, Michelle!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Thanks for this helpful writeup Stuart! These are insightful self development tips. As an intellectually curious person, I’m often at the crossroads of asking questions or maintaining silence to avoid looking stupid! Trust me, those questions will keep coming

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lol I always default to silence exactly because of that. Because I fear looking stupid. And by keeping quiet, I can’t look stupid. But at the same time, I also won’t be able to build possible new friendships. So lately I’ve started erring on the side of action. Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I so relate to this. I hate small talk, but as you said, it’s often necessary to build a road into the big talk I find so satisfying. I like your point about focusing on the other person; that also helps me not get so over-analytical about how I’m talking or what stuttery thing is coming out of my mouth. Thanks for putting this out there. It helps all of us feel so much better just to know we’re not the only ones.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Lol don’t you just hate it when you stutter your words? I mean, the other person probably didn’t realise it, but it’s just us wishing we could’ve said something that much more elegantly. I’ve since learned to accept that I’m an imperfect person though, and that’s helped me be a goofball during social interactions without kicking myself about it.

      Thanks so much for sharing your lovely thoughts, April!


  17. I’m usually feel that I look stupid when trying to talk to other people. It depends on the person I talk to. With some people I feel more anxious than with others. It’s like my instinct telling me that this person is judging me for who I am. Probably it’s just my imagination.


    • Yup, ‘just my imagination’ is such an important thing to remember. I can never trust my scumbag brain, because I know it makes all kinds of scenarios that likely aren’t true. Anyway, thanks for stopping by!


  18. Great post! I think back to all those bad impressions I must have given at various corporate events I used to attend because I had to. No introvert would ever volunteer to attend but when your boss summons. Still, yah I did learn a lot by being dumb all those times, so it’s not a complete waste of time. And after reading your post, it’s clear this being stupid in front of people isn’t a waste of life either! Thanks for the vulnerability Stu, so the tdy of us can be too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yup. I’m not an events person in general, so most of these events are part of the JD. But you know what? After each experience, I feel better for having conquered just that little bit more doubt in myself. Which I’m sure you’ve done a lot in your past engagements. So I guess life is always a win-win, eh?

      Liked by 1 person

  19. I’m reminded of my years at university, where I was getting mediocre grades, despite having been diagnosed with an unusually high IQ. The doctors decided that it would be in my best interest to prescribe me medication to slow down my overactive brain, which ended up being what I refer to as being the cancer of my intellect. So much of our lives is being measured numerically, where the top performers are seen as intelligent whereas those who score lower are doomed to a life all but guaranteed to be filled with missed opportunities. I wrote an article about the experience, which published this morning. I’m currently working on an article for tomorrow, which will inevitably link back to this post.

    Enjoy. :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, that’s a lot of writing you’re doing. Always admire a high writing output. I’ve always believed there are all sorts of intelligences. Like someone may not use the language the same way I do, but perhaps they can express their bodies in ways that I can’t. Anyhoo, thanks for sharing your link!

      Liked by 2 people

  20. I love all of this Stuart. Especially the reminder that not everything needs to be perfect…because what is ‘perfect’ anyhow? Just our nutty benchmarks and attempts at measuring our worth. There’s such a release when I remind myself that pretty much everything I do, say, touch, think is going to be imperfect…but your reminder that things (even relationships) are shaped ‘as we go’. Ah…that’s liberating. Thank you for the nudge. xo! 🥰

    Liked by 3 people

    • It’s a lesson I have to constantly learn too. I always hope that the next words out my mouth would be the wisest thing I say, but it’s because of exactly this that I end up being the quiet guy in the room, and thus, the not-so-fun person at a party.

      Better to fumble and make connections, I say! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Victoria!

      Liked by 1 person

  21. I like the idea of looking at that attempt at conversation as a first draft with room for improvement. I think people in general aren’t as social as we were pre-pandemic. I hope that’ll balance out over time! Excellent tips to get out there even if you’re feeling a little rusty or awkward 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  22. I feel stupid most of the times. It’s like stupid=me. So, when you say you feel stupid while writing that post, it’s like just another day for me. 🥺 You have very successfully put out the insecurities of speaking out. I always tend to think- “Why will that person want to talk to me?” And I then sit quietly. 🧏🏻

    Liked by 2 people

    • Lol that’s exactly me too. But then I think back, what has sitting back ever done for me? With that question, it becomes easier to take action. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, btw!


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