I grew up being shy. After my mom died, I was forced to change classes in school and I became shy. Until then, I’d been a happy and popular kid. By the time I reached my teens, I was petrified of others’ opinion of me and barely spoke unless spoken to.
Then I turned fourteen, started dancing and decided that I was going to change. I knew I was someone no one could see because of my shy exterior and I wanted to change that.
Today, no one would guess that I was once shy. In fact, I’ve met people who haven’t believed me when I talk about my childhood as a “geek” and “nerd.” I can tell you though that it took me a lot of hard work to get to where I am today. As a result, I’d like to prevent others from having to work as hard as I did or feeling as shy as I did. No one should have to suffer because of being shy.
1. It’s Just a Label
The first thing to understand is that “being shy” is not really who you are. You are a heart and soul. You definitively weren’t born shy—it was something you learned. Maybe you learned it because you were told to be one way or another and felt you had to pretend, or were constantly thinking of how to present yourself. Maybe it was because some other girl was more popular. Or maybe it was a near friend’s or relative’s obsession with the opinion of others that made you withdraw. Whatever the cause, you are not inherently shy.
Some people confuse being quiet with being shy. Being quiet is a choice you make—you prefer not to speak very much. Being quiet can also be a way in which shyness manifests itself, as can being extremely outgoing.
When growing up, I was quiet and my best friend was extremely talkative. She told me that she was shy, but at the time I couldn’t understand it because she talked to everyone. Later, I realized that her need to please people made her talk non-stop while silently fearing they didn’t like her. Just like me being quiet because I was scared to show my true self, she was talkative as she feared people not liking her for just being herself.
So, what does being shy really mean? Well, how it manifests itself can take different forms as shown by the example of myself and my best friend, but what it usually stems from one or more of the following:
Unhealthy preoccupation with self (or being overly self-conscious): You constantly think about how others perceive you and are aware of your every move, evaluating yourself as you go along. After a social engagement, you might run over all the things you perceived you did wrong over and over again, reveling in a sense of worthlessness.
Negative self-evaluation: You constantly compete with yourself to be better, always feeling you didn’t do as well as you wished, or you simply focus on all the negative aspects of yourself or your perceived failures.
In short, being shy is about being self-conscious to the point where you stop being yourself. You don’t dare allow yourself to be free because you fear what others will think of your true self. Instead, you try to live up to a perceived idea of who others want you to be, or you are simply so scared of their opinion that it either renders you tongue-tied or makes you speak at fifty miles an hour.
By starting to acknowledge that shyness was a strategy you adopted due to one event/circumstance or another, it starts losing its hold of you. The more you become aware of what you are doing, the less likely you are to continue doing it.
You are a wonderful being. All that stuff you made up about yourself because of events and circumstance in your life is just a story you are running in your head.
2. They Don’t Care
Being shy is as a result of thinking about what others think about you when, in fact, they are much more likely to think about themselves.
When at a party, others aren’t really concerned about whether you trip or accidentally spill your drink. They are much more concerned about what they are doing themselves and if so-and-so likes them or want to be friends with them. They are caught up in their own version of pre-occupation with self.
Those who are not pre-occupied with what others think about them will likely be clear-headed enough to see through exterior attitudes. If they sense you are shy, they will make an effort to make you feel at ease. They will want to get to know the real person beneath the shyness.
Likewise, that person you might feel scared of talking to at a party may be just as eager as anyone else to find someone to talk to. People go to social events to meet others and most people, to some extent, fear that they won’t be accepted or find people they click with. If you talk to someone, you are actually doing them a favor.
What’s more, if you stop thinking about what other people are thinking about you and instead start listening to what they are really saying and being present with them in conversations, they will appreciate your company a lot more.
So, next time you go to a social gathering of some sort, stop to check what you are thinking about throughout the event. Are you focused on soaking up the atmosphere? Are you offering to talk to all those people desperate for someone to talk to? Are you truly listening to what they are saying, or are you merely walking around obsessing about yourself?
3. You Are Robbing Others of Joy
Essentially, if you are shy, you think others are harsh judges or you judge yourself harshly. As a result, you restrict yourself. You aren’t giving of yourself freely. You don’t show up just to be and share your gifts with the world. Rather, you show up scared that others will judge you for who you are. You’re being quite selfish, you know.
If no one gets to hear your jokes, see your smile, enjoy your thoughts and if you aren’t giving freely of your compliments and your love, you are robbing them of a gift.
I once tried for a week thinking I was welcomed everywhere I went—people really wanted to see me. As a result, I relaxed more and gave more of myself. I realized that my previous thoughts of being unwanted were far from true. And the more I gave of myself, the more others appreciated me.
So, walk proudly everywhere thinking you are a gift others just can’t wait to receive because, to the right people, the ones you have a true connection with, you are.
4. Start Taking Classes that Allow for Social Skills
I grew up not really knowing how to approach people in social settings where you didn’t already know others. It was nothing that came naturally to me; nothing I’d watched others close to me do. Social skills are extremely important for building confidence.
When I started dancing, I soon got involved with theater and from there I started doing improv as well. I learnt to step out of my comfort zone and talk to people. I became comfortable on stage.
I still didn’t harbor great social skills though, so later I started studying friends who were excellent at sales to see what they did to make others feel at ease. I also learnt a lot about psychology, first through acting and later through personal development. Furthermore, I came to realize that if I challenged myself to do things I was uncomfortable with, like talking to strangers, I’d soon become comfortable with it. And as the fear went, I stopped behaving awkwardly and people received me more positively.
Because of this, my whole world shifted. Instead of showing up worrying what others would think of me, I started showing up wondering how I could make others feel at ease with themselves. I learnt to focus on making others feel comfortable.
If you are a man, I’d suggest you take a course in pick-up skills (a good one), as they are all about overcoming social fears and understanding how to interact with people. I still suggest you take a course in this as a woman if you can find a good pick-up artist to work with. However, I also recommend taking a course in sales as well as improv theater. Once you become comfortable with rejection, as well as learn skills for how to approach people in a way that makes them feel happy, you will gain confidence.
In the meantime, show up asking yourself how you can make others feel comfortable as opposed to obsessing about how uncomfortable you feel or what others think about you.
Bonus Tip: They Don’t Want You to Fail
Michael Caine did a video where he talks about acting. In this video he shares that most new actors show up to a film set petrified what the cast and crew will think about them. In reality, the cast and crew are rooting for them. Why? Because they want the movie they are making to be great. If they showed up hoping the new actor would fail so they could sit around gloating, they would only harm themselves.
Likewise, if you are doing a job interview, holding a presentation or dealing with people in business, they want you to succeed. Nobody interviews you because they don’t want you to have a job. Nor do they listen to a presentation hoping you will fail so that they have to sit through something incredibly boring.
Think about it like this: people are constantly looking for new people to appreciate and become friends with as well as do business with. The more they find, the happier they get.
Maybe the all-popular bully wants you to fail so they can uphold their title, but that’s the exception to the rule.