anxiety · blogging · public speaking · social anxiety · writing

Scared by an Icebreaker Question

I have never liked icebreaker questions. My fear of them stems from my school years where the activity always came up as the teacher’s method of making everyone “get to know each other”. Icebreaker questions are meant to be non-threatening and a casual, fun way for people to interact with one another, but being that I was anxious over a multitude of things in this kind of social situation, any question I had to answer made me feel threatened and on-guard. My two worst fears are of being stared at by many people at once and of giving a dumb answer to the question.

A few weeks back I signed up for a workday on an outdoor urban farm. This was the last place I expected to be prompted with an icebreaker question. As it happened, I was the only volunteer who RVSPed for the workday who actually made it to the event, while the two others had canceled at the last minute, making me the sole “new face” amongst the farm staff members. Talk about intimidating. Had I known it was going to be like that, I don’t think I would have shown up. With the staff gathering around, I waited for what I assumed to be a quick introduction and explanations about which farm tasks would be designated for whom. One of the members said good morning to everyone collectively and began to ad-lib about the surprise birthday party his friends threw for him yesterday. He remarked that it was one of his happiest birthdays ever and then asked the icebreaker question: “What was your happiest birthday memory?”

One of the slots in my brain clicked into place as I comprehended his words, accompanied by the horror that hit me like the cold edge of a blade, in that instant. Within half a second I calculating the fact I would be fourth to answer the question based on where I stood around the circle of people. I barely absorbed what the people who went before we said. Vaguely, I recall someone else also spoke about having a surprise party thrown for her while she was in another country, and rather than a high-end European restaurant, she and her friends had gone out for Chinese food. That last part of the story drew a lot of laughs from everyone. This only increased my nerves. I thought, Goodness, whatever I have for my own story won’t sound even half as good. It’ll be so lame that it’ll be boring. I might as well be invisible. By the time all eyes went on me, I made a sorry attempt at delaying the inevitable by smiling nervously and saying, “Oh, I have to do this too?” I totally would have asked to be skipped over if the staff had given me the option.

Unable to escape the situation, I did a fair amount of pretending to get through the next part. I began talking, but I was also disassociating from myself in a way that caused me to feel as if I was half in my body and half floating above watching someone else in control of my body. I kept thinking my “happiest birthday memory” was not worth telling because it would not be interesting to hear. So for every word that came out of my mouth, I hated that I could only be honest about my experiences because I didn’t have a funny or cool story. The jist of what I said was that I haven’t really celebrated my birthday in recent years but the happiest one was a few years ago with my family, particularly with the cousins who I grew up being close to, as nowadays it is difficult to get everyone together for celebrations nowadays.

After my turn was done, I silently reprimanded myself for telling such a cheesy and stupid experience. I would compare it to mentally hurling rocks at myself. Over and over again. My mindset of “I suck, no one can relate to me” can often feel so true and absolute, especially with my own insecurities working against me. I answered the icebreaker question 100% convinced I gave the worst answer EVER and that I would surely die from my own internalized humiliation. But, it was in the aftermath of getting the chance to listen to other people’s varied answers that I saw I wasn’t so different from them.

The next person who went after me spoke about spending one of her birthdays with her parents and because of that experience, she made it a tradition for herself to be with her parents for every birthday. Her story was similar to mine, with the common theme of being around family. The very last person who shared her story said something I had been thinking of saying earlier but I was too insecure to actually say. She stated that, when she was younger, she never liked her own birthday, yet it was in her early 20’s she learned to appreciate it after realizing she had hated it because she was afraid of not meeting other people’s expectations for how she should celebrate it.

Featured Image by Alexas Fotos.

13 thoughts on “Scared by an Icebreaker Question

  1. I’m really glad that you were able to remember that happy memory of celebrating with your family. I hope that you’re able to gather with them in the future, as it’s a shame that you haven’t really been able to celebrate your birthday in recent years.
    Ice breakers are really strange situations to be part of. I’m proud of you for participating in it! You’re really awesome Nat, and I wish that you would give yourself more credit! You are so insightful and well spoken on here. I admire your talent and I’ve seen that many others do as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Once I aged out of the childhood/teen birthday cake phase where people would sing the b-day song to me and I would have to blow out the candles, I kinda didn’t know how else to celebrate. I have never been the b-day party type of person or having a large group of people with me during it either. I think everyone has their own comfort level with what they prefer for their birthday but I guess I haven’t really figured out what I want.

      You’re right, Lily, I don’t give myself enough credit. Looking back now, it was just a situation I felt stressed out about at the time but I dealt with it. Now it’s almost like I think of it as, “Oh, that seemed so long ago.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Aw :\ Ice breakers are so awkward. I think everyone wants to be interesting and endeavors to do so, but it’s understandable not everybody has a particularly cool story to say or anything. I think being relatable is nice, as “typical” as the story might be. For example, if I heard someone tell some extravagant story about his or her birthday, I might actually be put off like, “Dang, I can’t relate to this person AT ALL,” but I’d feel more in tune with somebody who has a similar or relatable story to mine.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s true, people’s opinions can vary so much. Some people might have been wowed by a cool story but for others, it might have made them feel out of place. That’s a good perspective to have and I wasn’t even thinking of that at the time. I get very stuck on my own perception of what other people must be thinking when really I actually don’t know what they’re thinking. This is the main part of social interactions that can be troublesome because I can’t be a mind reader and know for sure what people think of me, but I have a feeling even if I could know, I would probably find more excuses to worry lol.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeahhhhh anxiety just love giving us more reasons and excuses to worry xD so don’t be too hard on yourself. I get way too stuck in my own head and thoughts, too, when I know (at least later on) that I was overthinking it and those people couldn’t care less about me or what I did or said haha. Either way, ice breakers are AWKWARD!!!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. You should be proud of yourself for going to the farm despite your anxiety! I absolutely hate those kind of questions as well! Especially if it is in a large group with everyone staring at me! In school I used to always count how many people had to answer the question before it was my turn. The worst question for me was “tell a fun fact about yourself” and I could come up with absolutely nothing because I thought nothing was special or fun about me. I thought after high school the icebreaker questions would end, but at university this was still the case sometimes. I once had a professor who hated teaching so he spent the entire first class of the year ‘getting to know the students’ with icebreaker questions. I got myself so worked up by the time it was my turn. We had to say where we were from and apparently he had heard about the town where I live, so he started asking all sorts of questions about it. Just my luck!

    But anyways, in reality nobody cares about the answers to these questions I think. And like you said, others will probably give similar answers so they won’t think you are boring. Besides, you managed to give a good answer despite your dissociation! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh dear, having to say a fun fact about yourself is difficult. The definition of “fun” also depends from person to person and one person’s idea of “fun” may not match someone else’s. I get that in hindsight if people have a bad reaction to someone’s answer, it actually doesn’t matter because icebreakers shouldn’t be taken that seriously but the anxious part of me is always terribly afraid of the humiliation or saying something that other people will find lame/stupid.

      How could a professor hate teaching??? 😮 That is so strange he would spent the whole first class just on icebreaker questions. I’m sorry you had to go through that but it’s good you got through it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree, it’s easy to rationalise those situations in hindsight but not during the anxiety-provoking situation itself. But at least it helps not to dwell on it too much anymore after it happened and give your mind a break 🙂

        That professor was close to retirement and the class was scheduled on Fridays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. He didn’t show up for half of his classes and the other half he stopped at 5 because “it was cocktail hour”. Not that I complained about that, his class was very easy to pass as he was probably too lazy to make students resit it. But the introductory class was not my favourite 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, it is the aftermath that I got to calm down once the situation was over with. Phew!

        Lol that professor sounds like he wasn’t doing a very good job at teaching and preferred drinking. At least it wasn’t a difficult class then. 😛

        Liked by 1 person

  4. ‘the horror that hit me like the cold edge of a blade’ I can so relate to this feeling when you are forced to speak up and share something personal in front of a group of strangers! Like you I do not like ice-breaker games or chit chat. Just don’t like the focus on me and I am not good at coming up with ideas or something to say on the spot – I do need time to think it through and formulate my responses. It sounded like you thought what you said wasn’t bad at all and quiet similar to the others. I’ve never thought that…yes, I’ve thought my responses lame and not as good as the others, but what really bothers me is if people might remember how I say it – tripping over my words, maybe a bit of stuttering lol.

    Sometimes when I’m in a group waiting for my turn to answer, I get more anxious if I am the last person. I do like to offer something unique and it’s hard when everyone’s said everything to be said. Then again, it’s often not a competition.

    In a group situation, not everyone wants to get to know each other. Some are there to just get the job done. But of course, there are some and pretty much a lot of people in this world see sharing yourself and interacting with others as normal. This really is an extrovert world we live in that often frowns upon the quieter ones or have not much patience for those with anxiety.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Making spontaneous answers on the spot is a real anxiety inducer indeed! I hate the feeling of the countdown until it is my turn to speak. I too get even more nervous if I’m the last one. There is a vulnerability to having to share a personal experience in a group. Even if it had just been that I had to say my name, I would have felt nervous just because I would still have to talk and have everyone’s attention on me. You’re right, it’s not a competition to have the best story but somehow that thought comes up in my mind and another unmecessary reason I give myself to be fearful of answering an icebreaker question. I also don’t really feel, from my experience, that those questions help to build relationships unless we’re all working on the same assignments all day and are made to depend on each other so casual conversation would happen at its natural pace. Icebreakers give the impression everyone can get along, but it’s still normal for people to gravitate towards some and not others.


      1. Can so relate to the countdown until you have to speak. Just makes you jittery. Like you, even saying my name can be nerve-wracking. I have a small voice and sometimes people don’t even manage to hear my name D: Also so agree with you that those ice-breaker questions don’t build relationships until we each spend more time with each other working on the same thing or do things together.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The pressure to speak can definitely make one’s voice come out softer than usual. That happens to me all the time too. I usually try to plaster a smile on my face so if I do sound nervous, maybe people won’t notice as much if I’m smiling? lol. Mostly, I smile as a method of deflecting my own feelings so I can kind of ignore my own anxiety. It works… sometimes.

        Liked by 1 person

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