I count myself incredibly lucky to meet my readers every day.
No matter whether I’m in Sloane Square or some far flung beach on a tiny island, every single day for the last few years I’ve met at least one person who knows almost everything there is to know about me! It’s quite a surreal experience.
“Surreal, but nice.”
And besides having questionable taste in online literature, almost all of them have one thing in common. They all want to know how I can be so confident. So many say with a sigh, “oh I wish I could do what you do, but I’m too shy”, “oh I would love to start a blog but I’m too embarrassed, what would my friends say?”. Over the years I’ve answered thousands of comments asking for help and advice anonymously. So many of them have to do with shyness. Talking to someone they fancy, someone they admire, going after a job they’ve always wanted, feeling good at parties, or just having their picture taken.
The answer is always the same.
You are not shy.
You are tall or short. You’re blonde or brunette or a fiery redhead. You are funny, clever, kind or maybe quick witted. Those are things which you are. Your shyness is just something hiding who you are, and it’s removable.
One thing almost all of us heard about ourselves when we were just old enough to understand, was “oh she’s shy…” as we hid behind our mother’s legs and were given a reassuring pat on the head. It was our Get Out Of Jail Free card. No need to do the scary thing of saying hello, we’ll just hide right here, thank you very much! This was then repeated again and again until we were suddenly too old to get away with it, and were thrust out into the world to get on with it. But you still carry this card with you, “I’m shy”. You think it will protect you from the scary things in life, save you from embarrassment, from heartache, from rejection. But all of those things are the puny side effects of wonderful things. Some of my best stories are tinged with embarrassment, my incredibly painful heartache over the years came from wonderful love affairs, and rejection is generally just the universe stopping you from doing something you weren’t meant to. Every single time I’ve come up against a block in my life, I have ended up looking back and thinking “thank goodness!” (Though it’s hard to see it that way at the time of the rejection!) My point is that yes, I have experienced all of those things, I have come away with no scars. Believe it or not, you can survive embarrassment!
Deep down in your subconscious you may think that your shyness is protecting you, it’s not. It’s blocking you, it’s smothering you.
I was terribly shy as a kid. Once when I was about 5 I was taken to the Pantomime (non-Brits, it’s like a funny play with audience participation) and at the end of the show, 5 children were allowed to go up on stage to meet the Fairy Godmother. Before I knew what was happening, my dad whisked me into the air and plopped me down on the stage. I was frozen with fear and a stage-hand pushed me into the centre of the stage, under the spotlight, and along with 4 other much bigger children we lined up ready to greet the Fairy Godmother. She would come along the line and greet each of us, and we had to bow or curtsy in return. The other children had seen this happen before, so did a small bob of the knees and put their hands out for treats. The rookie over here grabbed the edges of her skirt and did the lowest, Disney Princess style curtsy you’ve ever seen. The entire theatre said “ahhh” at once, while the older kids looked at me and sneered. All I wanted in that very moment was for the earth to swallow me up. Instead, a microphone came towards me and I was asked my name and where I was from. I answered but no sound came out, setting the audience off again. Honestly. 5 years old and I wanted to die. We were all given bags of sweets and off we trotted.
This very silly 25 year old memory is so crystal clear in my mind it could have happened yesterday. For someone who can barely remember what they had for lunch yesterday, this is pretty amazing!
But it was the first time I can remember feeling truly embarrassed. “If only I’d stayed in my seat, I could have saved myself from that feeling.” Is what my subconscious thought for so many years. And it held me back for a long time. In the interest of not embarrassing myself I was very quiet, rarely spoke to anyone outside of my small friendship group, and even within it, I never truly let myself be… myself. I was always a version of what I thought others wanted me to be. Only at home would I be silly, funny, goofy and full of opinions and ideas. But I’d blush fiercely if asked a question in school with the fear of getting it wrong – what could be more embarrassing than getting something wrong?!
But at some point in my late teens, I read a quote that really changed everything for me.
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself. “
So I decided to stop being shy. I realised that shyness is not apparent to anyone but yourself. You don’t have “SHY” tattooed on your forehead, your mother is not standing behind you making excuses for you, no-one knows you’re shy but you. So stop it. You may think that you’re saving yourself from a whole world of pain by choosing not to do things “because you’re shy” but you’re actually just missing out on all of the best bits of life. Instead of thinking about all of the things that could go wrong, think about everything that could go right! You could have your dream job, your dream partner, make amazing new friends, but most importantly – actually be comfortable in your own skin.
This won’t happen over night. Sadly you cannot just flick a switch. But you can make small changes which one day will become so natural to you, you’ll forget you ever had to try.
Change your posture. Shoulders back, head up. Walk as though you’re wearing an invisible crown, which will fall off if you hunch your shoulders, shuffle your feet and look at the floor.
Make an effort to do something that scares you, every day. You don’t need to jump out of a building or anything, but strike up a conversation with a stranger, make a joke, make your voice heard in a group. This will do two things, it’ll give you a wonderful little shot of adrenaline and maybe a few butterflies, it’ll build your confidence every time it goes well (and you may make a new friend or three!) but also on the rare occasions it doesn’t go to plan, you’ll learn that you can survive it. You’ll finally learn that getting things wrong or feeling embarrassment is not going to kill you.
Once you truly understand this, truly understand that you have so much to gain, with so very little risk, well… there will be nothing holding you back.
When someone asks your opinion, think about it. Think about what you really think, then tell them. Start small. When someone asks you what you want to eat, think about it for a second, then answer. This sounds so silly but I can’t tell you how relieved the person asking will be not to hear “don’t mind…”
If you want to get a photo in front of a red telephone box with a swishy dress, you get that damn photo! Who cares if people look? Have you ever seen someone laughing with a friend, trying to get a photo in a busy place and thought “Jeez, what a moron. Look at them, they should be ashamed of themselves.” No, because normal people don’t think that way… and even if they did, it doesn’t matter! A stranger’s opinion should not stop you from doing whatever the hell you like. Do you want to look back at your life and think “well, I didn’t do much but at least no strangers thought any less of me”.
As long as you’re not hurting anyone else, do whatever you want. You have a responsibility to enjoy your own life. If you only get to live one, and it’s this amazing incredible gift where you have free-will and the opportunity to do whatever you want with it, why waste it trying to be invisible?
Smile at strangers, say hello to your neighbours. I do this all of the time, living in a big city, occasionally people don’t smile back or look away and I get that little twinge of embarrassment – but it’s a good thing to feel. It’s a teeny tiny reminder that it doesn’t matter. Embarrassment is not life threatening. “Better To Be The One Who Smiled Than The One Who Didn’t Smile Back.” – Mari Gayatri Stein
If you want to start a blog (or whatever your pipe dream that you keep putting off is) you really do have the freedom to do just that. Don’t kid yourself that when I started I was any different to you now. Sure, it was a few years ago, but I was just a girl writing letters out to the unknown. People at work told me I was stupid “don’t waste your time, there’s so many blogs out there already”, friends asked what made me think I was so special, that no-one would read it (needless to say, they are no longer my friends!), but I did it anyway. And look how well it turned out!
I reach millions of people all over the globe, there’s not one country in the world where people don’t read this blog. Not bad for a girl who just decided not to be shy anymore.
Imagine what you could do.