Attending significant gatherings, whether a class reunion or a family wedding, can make us anxious even as we look forward to them. We’ll be seeing people who knew us way-back-when, at those times of life we might prefer to edit or ignore. 

Why not consider such an event an opportunity to practice self-acceptance, self-compassion, and curiosity? 

I’m preaching to myself on the eve of my 50th high school reunion. To conquer my nervousness, I’ve created these 10 tips, which I hope might help you as well. 

Relax, It’s Not About You

No matter how much you want to look great (I asked my hairstylist to give me a “reunion special”), the truth is, most everyone will be concerned about how they look and sound. You can relax – they aren’t worried about you.

The Contest Ended Years Ago

No one will be competing for prom queen or remembering whether you even attended it. No awards, I trust, at the end of the evening for being the “Best preserved.”

Much of What You Remember Was Never True, and You Can Reframe It Now

A friend shared a story about her husband’s 50th. He had been a nerd in high school, long before being a “nerd” was in style. He figured no girl would want to go out with him, so he never asked one out for a date.

At his reunion, though, one woman confided to his wife: “You’re so lucky. Rick was the one guy in high school all the girls wanted.” He’d had no clue. At that moment, his old story about himself ended, and he was able to reframe his entire high school experience.

Many of the stories we made up about our younger years didn’t reinforce our power as competent, loveable, desirable people. Time to reframe the past! 

Remember those old phrases that begin with “I wasn’t ___ (beautiful/sexy/popular/smart)”? Chances are your self-judgments aren’t true. Challenge them a bit and you may crack the door open to a new way of thinking about your life.

Your Failings Don’t Matter

Your big event is the perfect time to practice self-compassion as well as compassion for others. We all have failings, and some of them were pretty obvious when we were younger. We made mistakes, some of them serious. And we survived. 

That’s true of everybody.

Remember the phrase, “I did the absolute best I could, under the circumstances.”

Then offer some of your compassion to others.

Have a Goal

I’m shy. The idea of greeting 150 people I haven’t seen for 50 years (and barely knew then) makes my stomach flip. I decided to set a goal: to learn how people age and what they see as most meaningful in their lives.

Creating a learning goal is a lot more empowering than the usual one: “To see how many people recognize what a great person I am today and how I overcame my high school experience.”

Practice Vulnerability, but Not with Everyone

Brené Brown coaches us to share our vulnerability, but not with everyone.

If your life has been rough recently, and someone asks, “How are things going?” you can test the water by offering a neutral answer like, “Fine, although we’ve had a few challenges/been dealing with some medical issues/have had to help our grandson, etc.” 

Be prepared to leave it there. If what you hear back sounds like genuine empathy and a desire to know more, you might saunter into the waters of a more in-depth, revealing conversation that is rewarding and soul-satisfying. 

If someone opens up to you, be equally discerning. Are they just whining or do they have an exciting story lurking, just begging to be shared? You can offer empathy, sympathy, or a word of support while deciding whether you want to continue down that conversational road.

Come with a List of Questions

I always admire people who can use questions to demonstrate their interest in others.

I often go brain-dead at a big event, so I’ve compiled a few questions to use after the standard “Where are you living/how are you doing/ do you have grandchildren?” litany has been asked.

  • What do you remember most about high school?
  • What was the favorite thing you did in high school?
  • What are you enjoying most these days?

If that goes well, I’ll build off of their answers with new questions or ask others such as:

  • What’s the important thing you’ve learned since high school?
  • What’s the one thing you wish you knew/we knew back then?
  • What are three things that have surprised you about life?

Find the Stories

Lots of us attend events with pre-packaged answers to probable questions. To find out more about someone’s life, we may need to dig under the surface veneer. To search for a story, begin with open-hearted curiosity and gentle prompts.

You can ask, “Tell me more about that,” or “What was that like?”, or “What was your experience?” With luck, you’ll hit gold and hear a story they don’t usually share. 

Laugh More

You don’t have to wait for jokes to laugh. Pay attention to how often you laugh at an event, and I bet you’ll laugh more. Spread some joy with a goal like, “I’m going to laugh at least 20 times.” 

Enjoy Being YOU

You’ve got nothing to prove. This fact, which I underscore, is an amazing superpower that comes with being our age!

If you feel awkward or anxious, take a few deep breaths and use your exhales to remember: I am whole, I am worthy, I am safe, and I am loved. 

Regardless of what happened back then, that’s the truth now and in the future to come. 

How do you handle class and family reunions? Are you closed off when it comes to sharing your personal tid-bits? With whom do you share your life experiences at such events? Please tell your stories below.

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