I’ve been shy all my life.
Most people in my life now wouldn’t realize it.
That’s intentional and the result of genuine effort.
When I was a kid, I missed out on so many things because of it. I wasn’t able to stand up for myself. I denied myself opportunities and experiences.
I’d stand there holding my mom’s hand while a grown up asked me a question. Then, just sit there and smile until my mom was forced to answer for me. I played it cute because I couldn’t find my voice.
The idea of asking for directions or asking a question at a store was paralyzing.
Books became my best method of avoidance. I was also deeply in love with them, but they were a crutch as much as they were a companion. I had an excuse to sit alone without having to worry about whether someone would come and talk to me.
As I grew a little older, I was perfectly able to uphold my end of the deal with friendly conversation if someone was willing to make the first introduction.
But, approaching has never been my strong suit.
Can I do it? Absolutely. Does it make me uncomfortable? Absolutely.
I’ve always been reluctant to wear my emotions on my sleeve.
If I was picked on at school, I acted like it didn’t bother me. When the day was over, I would sit outside and read while I waited to be picked up. I’d get in the car and as soon as the door closed, I’d cry my eyes out. The idea of the other kids seeing me upset was so embarrassing to me, that I learned to hold it in all day until I had a safe place to release it. It was the only way my sensitive and shy little self knew how to deal with it.
Now, don’t start feeling bad for me. I did have plenty of friends growing up. They usually ended up being the more outgoing kids who were willing to come to me. This trend followed me into adulthood.
It wasn’t all bad, but I was so limited.
I don’t remember the exact moment that triggered my decision to make a change. I just clearly remember thinking, “Being shy isn’t fun.”
One day, I was just over it.
Over missing out on things. Tired of trying to blend into the background. Burdened by my inability to share my thoughts because I was worried that ____ would happen?
What was I worried would happen? I’d be embarrassed? Judged? People wouldn’t like me? Some endless list of self-created ridiculousness.
So, I adopted a popular method that works with so many things in life (including a lot of people’s resumes):
“Fake it ’til you make it.”
I just starting acting like I wasn’t shy.
It was stressful.
And it was exactly what I needed to initiate change.
So, if that’s who I was…who am I now?
I’m still a shy person at my core, but I no longer choose to let that define me.
It rears its head from time to time in social situations where I feel out of place or I don’t know anyone. I do my best not to let you see it. Not always successfully.
The defense mechanism that many shy people have in place is a mask of apathy, which leads us to a skill for looking busy and a talent for looking disinterested.
The unfortunate side effects of my shyness are that I can appear standoffish, intimidating, and unapproachable. The irony isn’t lost on me. I prefer someone else to make the first move and I’m over here sending out all the wrong signals.
This residual shyness also leaves me at risk for the occasional twinge of social anxiety. Not full-blown-can’t-go-outside-and-talk-to-people-anxiety. Some lesser version that makes my heart beat a little too fast, makes me a little quieter than usual, and has me reaching for a quick shot of Jameson to calm the nerves before I head out the door.
But, I’ve learned that there’s only one thing to do in these situations:
Walk into the discomfort.
Just walk right into it. Shake its hand and make friends because you guys are probably gonna run into each other a lot in this life.
You don’t need to be devoid of fear, anxiety, or worry to do something. You just have to do it.
Fear regret more than you fear discomfort.
Discomfort passes through. Regret lingers.
Do things that make you feel uncomfortable until they become normal. (This is especially good advice for things like public speaking.)
It gets easier and easier every time you do it and realize that you’re going to come out of the situation perfectly intact, despite the outcome.
No worlds will end. The sun will rise tomorrow. Time will pass and Drake will drop a new single every other week.
You learn to shrug, say “Oh well”, and move on.
Shyness may not be your thing. Maybe you worry too much, you’re generally anxious, or you struggle with insecurity (as we all do at some points in our lives). They’re all the same in the end.
They’re holding us back.
Don’t let your choices be governed by nerves and worry. They’re terrible decision-makers.
Understand where the root of these hindering emotions stem from. Ask yourself:
“When did I become shy?”
“Why do I worry so much?”
“Where did I learn to be so insecure?”
“Why am I wasting my potential on this nonsense?”
Understanding the origin is essential to long-term change.
The best weapon against these feelings is being confident in who you are.
It’s the best thing any of us can do for ourselves.
When we feel confident: we don’t judge others, waste time wishing we were someone else, or stand in our own way because we think we’re not good enough. Instead, our energies are turned towards contributing our talents to the world and we feel comfortable being supportive of the people around us.
We all win.
Moving shyness into the background and confidence into my foreground has led me to be a more decisive version of myself.
I’ve arrived at a point in my life where I can set clear boundaries about things I will and will not have around me, about how I will and will not be treated. I can stand up for myself. I can be vulnerable and feel strong because of it. I can laugh off weird situations. I can walk away from people and things that aren’t good for me. I can even ask for directions at a gas station without feeling like I’m gonna melt into a little puddle.
My little self is still inside. Shy, delicate, and worrisome.
But, at least she has me as her backup now.
I’m there to be strong and confident in us and our choices, while she gives me the gift of empathy and sensitivity. We’re still a work in progress, but at least we make a good team.
Start walking into the discomfort. An uncomfortable start could lead to an amazing finish.
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