|Sigh: Bad form, bald spot...|
I try not to take myself too seriously and generally agree to participate in promotions when asked. People generally want to see the Dean of Students take one for the team. I felt somewhat affirmed in this when during his first year I watched new president Danny Anderson be a contestant in bat races, also at a football game. A few years ago we did a Trinity Night at the Missions game and professor Dennis Ugolini also did his duty, participating in a tricycle race.
He must have had that in mind when he showed up on October 26 to watch me do 174 push-ups. I agreed to this was part of the 24 Hour Challenge to promote institutional giving by students. I had pledged to do one push-up for every student who would donate. Last year the number was around 100. Do-able, with a break of course. This was the least I could do in a promotion that overall would yield over $200,000.
As the time arrived though, the flood of anxiety that I am prone to started creeping in. I have stopped hiding my issues with social anxiety as I see increasing numbers of students face the same issues. I used to be terrified to even introduce myself in a group or go to a social event with new people. In speaking publicly I would go into a funk days earlier and after. I tried exploring a different career, went to counseling, took a public speaking seminar, tried therapy with breathing exercises and controlling my pulse rate, but all to no avail. Turns out I wasn't shy or doing anything wrong. Until I stumbled on beta blockers and then Paxil, I always thought I was broken. Unless people have ever given a talk and looked at an audience thinking "why are they looking at me?" they will never grasp the horror of choking in front of a group.
This comes out once in awhile in small ways, so it is safer to avoid the spotlight, but that's not the kind of job I have. Years ago, pre-Paxil, some students wanted me to rap some words on a video and I said no. I might do it now, but I was basically paralyzed in fear of looking silly. But I did agree to be in a student music video to the song "Crush" a few years later. It was a smash hit, in part because it was good and in part because I looked like a total dope in a scene in which I was laying on a grand piano. (In my defense it was a dream sequence so it wasn't REALLY me!) I have since asked that it be taken down because I got tired of it following me around.
But the worst was when I was judging Trinity Idol and was heckled by a student in the crowd who shouted "who cares what you think???" That was also pre-Paxil and I froze. Now I would just tell the student to bugger off, but I didn't have the courage then. On a side note, turns out that student was drunk, had a drinking problem, and we would become close, as I tried to help him face his issues.
There are other examples: dunk tanks, many student video projects, cameos in the school paper and more. So I carried all of this with me into paying off my debt, very publicly in the University Center, on push-up day. Everything started just fine as I was able to knock-out 50 push-ups as the audience counted along. I needed a short break and then did another 24 or so. As I started to sweat and breathe more heavily the counting seemed less spirited. Then, as the breaks increased and the crowd started to trickle away on my long slog toward 174 the room seemed more like a Hillary Clinton victory party than a parade for the Chicago Cubs. Mercifully, sometime later that afternoon I completed my task.
Unfortunately this was all preserved on video as it was live-streamed on Facebook. Not that anyone besides me really cares, but it is like "Crush" 2.0: out there for posterity. I was happy to see one comment about me being in decent shape among the sea of comments related to my form and balding and graying scalp.And then the alumni started sharing their fond memories of Dean Grissom. I can't win.
I should add that my daughter, Joelle, who works here, echoed my request for someone, anyone (but specifically professor Andrew Hansen) to take a few of these push-ups off my hands for me, literally. But no one stepped up (or down), including Joelle.
And there you have it. It's not really about me - it's about the program, the cause, and the interaction. And yet as a person with anxiety, it usually feels like it is always about me. But I have come to a peaceful place that it is likely somewhere in the middle. A pie, a video, a set of push-ups... We all worry that people are sometimes laughing at us and not with us. I am a believer though, that we should take safe risks as often as possible. Even if we end up with egg on our face. Or even pie.