How to Stop Being Shy: 101

First of all: Whoa, it’s already October of 2014? To think I started this blog 3 years ago. It’s crazy how time flies. Granted, I never updated as frequently as I would have liked; thank you for your patience, all ye who subscribed. I’ll try to do better, after all the midterms and college goodness have winded down.

Anyway, today I was going through some photos of me and some classmates. I came across one of me sitting beside a girl whom we’ll call K* at a college farewell event last April.

I first met K my freshman year. You know how the first thing you notice about someone is their overall confidence? Those who exude too much self-confidence would grasp your handshake with an iron fist and talk loudly. Those who are relatively normal would smile at you politely and chat cheerfully about the weather.

The first thing I noticed about K was her insecurity. She avoided eye contact. She’d ask a question, answer too quickly, then laugh at almost every response I had. Example:

K: How are your courses going?
Me: Well, they’re kind of hard —
K: Hahaha, really?
Me: . . . yeah.
K: Hahaha okay.

Things never progressed much for the next 3 years in our friendship. Even though I’d gotten to know K well, she never emerged from her shyness. K frequently came across as a pushover, laughing away everything and being awkwardly quiet in groups. It got to the point where I was getting frustrated on her behalf. She was clearly smart and capable. She was pre-med, with supportive parents and friends who cared about her. But she was painfully shy, even around people she’d known for years, and conversations were often one-sided and stilted. For a lot of people, her shyness got in the way of getting to know her. 

What really broke the last straw was at the farewell event. Each year, this campus fellowship I’m in hosts a farewell dinner for the graduating seniors in the fellowship. K was among those last year.

Now, this isn’t just a fancy dinner (well, as fancy as food pre-ordered from an Italian fast-food restaurant can get). The underclassmen spend weeks prepping for the senior toasts: one or two people would go onstage and give a 3-4 minute speech for a senior, similar to a best man’s speech at a wedding.

Usually toasts induce laughter, tears, or some sort of emotion. It’s a celebration, after all. Well, K was the first to be toasted. After the toasters began their speech, K just sank into her chair with the same expression she’d had since the beginning of the night, staring with a blank, forced half-smile at everyone. The spotlight was on her. . . and it couldn’t have gone worse.

Despite the fact that the toasts for K were heartwarming and were nothing short of complimenting K for all she’s done for us, K barely responded. It was like she had stage fright. She didn’t thank the toasters. She sat there like a stone while the toasters awkwardly hugged her. The applause died down, and we moved on to toast the next senior.

I was a shy person back in middle school and part of high school. I didn’t like to speak in large crowds, because I was worried that whatever I had to say would either 1) bore them, 2) annoy them, or 3) all of the above. I was self-conscious and didn’t like meeting new people.

I was lucky to eventually overcome this obstacle in my life. And I didn’t overcome it by reading those sentimental “Just be yourself” or “Always believe in yourself” sayings. Because come on; when you’re shy, thinking I will believe in myself! isn’t going to magically cure yourself.

What did made me change, however, was a post I’d read online. It was a post by someone who jabbed at the deep heart of shyness. The post essentially said:

Shy people are too self-centered to realize nobody is scrutinizing them. They’re always worried about what they appear to others, when each person has their own baggage to take care of in life.

Of course, my first reaction was indignation. What? How dare you accuse me of being selfish? Being insecure and being selfish are two completely different things . . . ! Then I stopped and thought about why exactly I was shy around people. And the post was right: I cared too much about what they thought of me. I was afraid of them judging my actions. In a way, I was indeed too self-centered.

If you’ve ever tried talking to a shy person, then you know firsthand how incredibly difficult it can be to maintain those stilted, one-sided conversations.  Whenever I spoke with K, a voice in the back of my mind reminds myself, Man, I was exactly like this back then.

K was a good person and a caring friend, and for her sake, I hope she overcomes her shyness. In the end, no one can really change shy people except themselves. For those dealing with shy people, have patience. Patience is definitely a virtue. For those who are shy, speak up. Be confident. That’s not to say you should go out there and become that overconfident showoff we all know (and yes, we all know one), but it does mean you should respond when people make genuine efforts to talk to you. Because in the end, we’re all in the same boat, aren’t we?








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