Am I the only one who becomes comically stressed at the idea of small talk? (This is a cue for you all to raise your hands. I know you feel me.)

My heart starts to thump wildly at the vague possibility that some awkward interaction with someone I vaguely know will happen. I get goose-bumps and chills. I start doing things that I would never consciously do: nail biting, chewing on my tongue, raising and lowering my eyebrows in a weird way as I imagine our awkward conversation. And that’s another thing: the conversation in my brain is always the most awkward version of whatever could happen, which exacerbates all previous symptoms.

It goes a little something like, “Oh hey, didn’t see you there.” (I’m such a liar. I saw you there like 10 minutes ago and then we made eye contact and I HAD to say something.) Then the person doesn’t remember my name but I remember theirs. I don’t just remember their name, though: I also remember everything I have ever heard about them via conversation, the Internet, friends, telegraphs, etc. (both a blessing and a curse, I assure you). I remember their profession, family, dog’s name, and latest instagram obsession. The conversation in my head is a blur of stream of consciousness turned blabbering nightmare worse than Lorelai Gilmore on crack.

What actually happens is very different. (Usually. Although I can tell you personal anecdotes that would prove that my verbal vomit is actually real and can inhibit conversations.) I say hello politely, making special effort to remember their name, which is something that normal human beings should do, and then have a nice conversation about what they are up to, what coffee they are drinking, and their dog. I am not a psycho, nor am I intimidated by the other person’s amazing coolness. People are people, no matter what.

The truth is, I’m afraid of small talk because I don’t want to step outside of my comfort zone. Chances are, you’ve done this too. It is so easy to barricade ourselves in our own heads and avoid strangers. It’s easier to stick our nose in our phones than to look up, say hello, and make a new friend.

But let me be real here: every friend each of us has was made because we made the effort despite the awkwardness. We stepped out into the unknown, put our best foot forward, held out our hand, and said hi. We barreled through the awkward coffees and work lunches. We stuck our foot into our mouths and divulged that yes, maybe we Googled them once or twice. What happens from there? The next Calvin and Hobbes is born. Biden and Obama. Lucy and Ethel. Jeff and Jill (personal plug here for my cool parents who just so happen to be one heck of a team). You get the drill.

So make the small talk. Give a high five, handshake, or hug. Become friends. Talk about real stuff. Be a team with someone. In that friendship, within that team, becomes the community that pushes us to our very best selves and our biggest dreams. Take the plunge. Be awkward.