Picture the scene: a garden in spring. The sun is shining, the flowers are blossoming. Two little girls are running around excitedly, searching behind bushes and looking around trees. It’s Easter, and there’s a bunch of chocolate eggs hidden throughout the garden. Idyllic? Well, maybe for the moment.
The older girl quickly starts finding the hidden treats, adding more and more of them to her basket. The younger one is struggling. She’s slower to find anything, more hesitant to really look through the garden. Her parents are trying to encourage her, but still; she fails to see eggs hidden right in front of her nose. Soon, the inevitable happens: she bursts into tears. Her parents try to calm her and tell her the chocolate will be shared between her and her sister afterward, but it’s no use. Eventually, her mother gives up. She already knows this procedure from the year before. And the one before that.
That little girl in tears? That was me. Every year it was the same story, and every year my parents tried to prevent the outburst by following me around while I was searching for chocolate eggs, trying to help me succeed. Little did they know, they were making it worse.
You see, my mum always assumed I cried because I found less chocolate than my sister. So she did all she could to make sure I wouldn’t be disappointed. She and my dad gave me tips while I searched. They hovered around me, gently urging me in the right direction. And afterward, when all else failed and my sister still came back with loads more chocolate than I had, they threw everything in one big pile and shared it fairly between the two of us.
What my parents never understood was that my crying had a very different cause.
I’m an introvert. That means, I prefer low-stress environments to public places, and I tend to be occupied with my own thoughts more than with other people. I get anxious if I find myself the center of everyone’s attention. So the problem with an Easter egg hunt is, when I’m the child doing the searching, it makes me the center of attention. Even more so when my parents constantly watched me in a well-meant attempt to help me.
To this day, I hate it when other people watch me while I’m working. And by “work,” I mean any kind of activity. Doing things in a group is fine, but doing something on my own and being observed by someone else is a nightmare. It makes me tense and self-conscious. I’m so worried about being judged, or being caught doing something wrong, that I stop doing it at all.
Now, let’s look back at those Easter egg hunts. I felt so observed by my family that I stopped putting any effort into looking for the hidden eggs. I was afraid I’d not find anything and look silly. The contradiction is, of course, that by not looking (or by only pretending to be looking) I made absolutely sure I didn’t find anything.
On top of being an introvert, I was also shy. The way shyness works is that you’re so worried about saying something wrong that you’d rather say nothing at all; even if not saying anything might end up being far more embarrassing than saying something silly. You can’t help yourself, because the fear is stronger than any logical reasoning. My childhood behavior on Easter was the same. I made a fool of myself precisely because I tried so desperately not to look foolish.
Surprisingly, I never wanted to miss out on this Easter tradition despite all the tears. When next spring came around, and my mum asked my sister and me hopefully if we were getting too old now for Easter egg hunts, both of us insisted on doing it again.
For a long time, when I looked back at this, it didn’t make sense to me. Why would I want to repeat an experience that surely wouldn’t end well? Even if I managed to get through it without crying, there would still be uncomfortable feelings during the hunt. The awareness of being watched. The fear of failure. The wish that this time it would be different.
That last point is probably the key to understanding my desire to repeat an unhappy experience. I liked the idea of the Easter egg hunt. Of roaming around in the garden while on the hunt, the excitement of finding something, the loads of chocolate you were left with afterward. The fact that reality never managed to live up to my imagination didn’t stop me from wanting to try it again. Maybe this time it would be better. Maybe this time I would not fail.
Einstein said that insanity is to do the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. If you believe that, I must have been insane as a child, or maybe we could stick with foolish. Either way, I have learned from those experiences. Most of the things I told you so far, I wasn’t aware of at the time. I cried because I felt like a failure, and more importantly, I felt like my family must be making fun of me for being such. I could have lived with being second best. I was the younger one, after all. But what I could not deal with was the perceived rejection on grounds of my not being good enough.
Only about twenty years later did I understand that it was my own behavior that brought about my parents’ protectiveness—which was well-meant, but in this case, exactly wrong. I realized how much wiser it would have been to just end the tradition, rather than sticking to it out of a misguided hope it would get better and an unwillingness to let go.
Today I know I’m better off staying away from things I don’t enjoy, no matter how much I like the idea of them. Yes, I like to imagine being the center of attention, to do something so original or funny that everyone around me is watching, spellbound. But I know if it actually happened, I would hate it. Instead, I concentrate on the things that I do enjoy.
Once I really was too old for Easter egg hunts I started to truly appreciate this holiday again. Suddenly the anxiety was out of it, and I could relax. Now I know that – no matter how much I love the idea of something – if it’s not my cup of tea, it’s better left to others.
Nele Giese is a traveler, writer, theater-addict and bookaholic from Hamburg, Germany. Her travel blog globalintrovert.com started as an escape from her daily office routine but has now become the foundation of a career as a freelance writer. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.