Overcoming shyness has its rewards

Robert Burns

My palms were sweaty. My heart raced. My stomach felt as though it had dropped to my knees.

It was my first assignment in my first journalism class at Eastfield. We were supposed to write a profile on a club or organization, and I had chosen the Disability Services Office.

I sat just outside of the office, frozen. I was supposed to meet with DSO director Bobbi White. I couldn’t. Instead, I stared at the entrance, watching people come and go. It was like there was some invisible barrier I couldn’t cross, no matter how much I wanted to and knew I needed to.

I left without setting up the interview. Because of my shyness, the article wasn’t published, and I knew it was my fault.

I have always been shy. I’ve had a pretty visible disability since birth called spina bifida that requires the use of leg braces, and I always felt people were looking at me, judging me. As a result, I was never one to attend parties. I preferred to stay in and read a book or play video games. I was a loner, and I was OK with that.

Eventually, I began to dread social situations. I would actively plan my day so I could avoid social interaction as much as possible. I thought this was just some awkward teenage phase and it would pass. With time, I’d become the social butterfly everyone else was. It never happened.

After my first article failed, I knew the next one could not. Why did I feel this way?  Why couldn’t I approach people? It wasn’t as though they were going to bite my head off. Yet that was how I felt. That was my irrational dread.

Thinking it through is what helped me the most. I felt like my every word or action was somehow being criticized. I now know that was utter insanity.

I thought to myself:  “It’s OK if you mess up. People mess up. They aren’t there to judge you.” It was my truth now, and I kept repeating it.

This became my mantra.

For my next story, I had to interview students and faculty members. When I interviewed the first faculty member, anxiety set in again. But now I was armed. I had my mantra, my sword. I repeated it over and over in my head and took a deep breath. I’ll admit I was hesitant, but I completed the interviews and felt relieved. I wrote the story and it became my first article to get published.

The beast was slain. I felt accomplished.

There are many ways you can overcome shyness. I realized that my negative thoughts about how people perceived me were all wrong.

Sometimes, however, it takes a more proactive approach. Here are three strategies that might work for you:

Several websites recommend that you wear mismatched socks.  At first, you may feel conspicuous, but eventually, you will forget you have them on. More importantly, few people will even notice your mismatched socks.

Then there is the advice late-night talk show host Conan O’Brien used when he was younger: Force yourself to do something completely out of your comfort zone. Conan did stand-up comedy because it was what terrified him the most.  This method is called radical implosion. Essentially, you tackle a problem so huge that once you get through it, your original goal is easy in comparison.

Another thing you can do is go to a busy place and take off your watch if you have one. Then go up to 20 people and ask the time of day, spacing each encounter out by three minutes. Keep a log of their reactions. At the end of the day, you should notice that most people will give you the time. Some will walk past you without a second glance.  Some might even engage you in brief conversation.  Reflect on how the people reacted to such a simple request. Soon you will realize your apprehension was just a silly social fear to begin with.

I conquered my fear of talking to people. This is my second semester on the Et Cetera staff, and I really love it. I get to learn about people and do what I love: writing. I talk to people now without much hesitation.

If you would have asked me in high school if I would be doing this in college, well, I probably wouldn’t have even answered you back then.

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