Now that you’ve read the stories of some of the wonderful people I’ve met along this blogging journey, I thought I should disclose my own story here as well. I have some new readers now who may not know my story and why I felt a need to start this blog in the first place.
In school, I’ve often been labeled as the shy or quiet one. I would hear this from other students, teachers- sometimes even strangers. I heard it so much that I felt like it was something that was forever going to be engrained in my identity. But I didn’t believe the shy or quiet label was right for me. I knew there was so much more to me than most people could see.
My worst year was in 6th grade, when I was bullied. My carpool group turned on me midyear and I became their daily target. They made me feel inferior to them, like a loser. They disliked me for being quiet and too good-natured. I had food thrown at me, was often ditched, was told I was a follower, was shut out from their conversations, was prank called, and was even the subject of a cyber bullying forum that I discovered near the end of the year. I was devastated and deeply hurt.
By 8th grade, however, I found my place and made a good group of friends who accepted and loved me for who I was. I was finally happy and had found my niche.
Fast forward to my senior year of high school. The first semester had just ended, and I realized that very soon I would be graduating high school and entering college.
I had a little bit of a breakdown. I couldn’t believe I really was going to be leaving high school. I was going to be an adult soon. I would have to get serious about deciding on a major and a career, and I would have to have some sort of plan for college.
But what would my life be like after high school? Would I find the courage to do the things I’d always wanted to do in life? Or would I be doomed to live a safe, but limited life ruled by fears?
I wanted to travel to different countries, and maybe even teach abroad. I had always felt like there was so much to learn from other cultures and I wanted to learn more about the world. Also, I wanted to write a book. I’d read several one-year project books and felt very inspired by them. I wanted to do a one-year project of my own.
But I doubted that I would ever be able to do either of these things. I figured the interviewer for the teaching job would think I was too shy or quiet and wouldn’t want me to be a teacher. And even if I passed the interview, I didn’t see how I was going to be able to muster up the courage to stand in front of the room and teach each day. And for the one-year project and book, I doubted that would ever happen. I didn’t think I would have the tenacity to stick with one goal and see through it all the way to the end of the year.
My future looked bleak. Others knew me to be a high-achieving, confident, model student, but underneath it all I feared I wasn’t going to have the courage to live the life I wanted to live. I was going to end up playing it safe and compromising my dreams for safety and security. I was going to live a “shy” life.
So when New Years Day came, I sat down and really thought. I told myself, if I could only choose one goal to focus on this year to improve my life, what would it be?
I realized that shyness had held me down the most. I felt like it was something I would never be rid of, and it would forever define me and control my life. What if I spent the whole year focusing on my shyness? Could I be rid of it? Would it free up my future?
And what if I shared my journey on a blog and then wrote a book about it? Then I could finally write a one-year project book, and it would be on a subject I know very well.
But I realized that this was probably just some idealistic idea that I would never follow through with. I’d never even talked about shyness before. I avoided all conversations about it and would never mention when I felt shy or nervous. I knew people would be surprised to know about the simple things that I struggled with.
I decided to develop a plan anyway. I checked out several books on shyness and read many internet posts on the subject. I brainstormed ideas of what I could do for the year and what fears I had that I could confront. The mere thought of confronting any of them made me feel nauseous, but I kept researching and writing.
Then it was New Years Eve, and I had my initial plan ready. I was scared to start the project because I feared failure, but I knew that I shouldn’t let the fear of failure keep me from trying. I decided to take a chance and dedicate 2011 to overcoming my shyness.
And I’m very glad I did. I’ve learned an incredible amount of lessons in a relatively short amount of time from doing this project. I started with talking to strangers, then focused on improving my friendships, then I started actively participating in class, then I began dressing outside of my comfort zone, then I shared vulnerabilities with friends and increased my energy all the while with exercise, then I joined Toastmasters and practiced public speaking (as well as took a college speech class), then I made an effort to make new friends in community college, then I tried some new things, then I faced my fear of the phone, and then I shared the stories of several of the people I’ve met along the way.
I’ve gained a tremendous amount of confidence from taking myself out of my comfort zone this year. On the last day of my career/life planning class this semester, we were asked to go around and write a compliment or something about the person that you’ve learned this year. This activity made me nervous because I feared the “Q” or “S” word would dominate my list like it once had in the past in a similar activity. But in fact, there was no sign of either of those words from my peers. The words they used to describe me were confident (which appeared twice), driven, changing the world, poised, great smile, nice, dependable, responsible, kind, patient, passionate, so sweet, honest, and respectful. It felt great to know that I finally was allowing others to see the real, complex me.
From sharing my experiences with shyness and social anxiety, I’ve realized how incredibly common these experiences are. I know it doesn’t seem like it- it didn’t seem like it to me before either. But let me tell you why we think that. We think that because people don’t talk about this. It’s seen as embarrassing or shameful to have these experiences and by admitting to having them you make yourself vulnerable to criticism to get over it, or for someone to feel sorry for you or try to give you advice that you may not want to hear from them. Others may not be very understanding or able to relate. This is why I’ve never talked about shyness or anxiety. But now I’ve written a whole blog on this, I’ve talked to friends and family about this, I’ve talked to strangers about this, and I’ve even given a speech on it. And do you know what I’ve found? Almost everyone I’ve talked to about this could relate in some way. People I would have never in my wildest dreams thought of as shy or quiet have told me tales from their youth, or even tales from their present. But I never would have been told or trusted with this information if I had never shared my experiences with them first.
And because I’ve made myself vulnerable and shared my experiences, I’ve felt more connected and closer to people than I have in my whole life. I’ve gotten closer with my friends and made new friends even, I’ve become a better writer and speaker, and I’ve gained a lot of confidence. I truly believe that I am not a person defined by labels anymore. I believe I can do anything, and that nothing is holding me back.
So you may be wondering, did this project “cure” my shyness and social anxiety? Well, that is not a simple question to answer. I don’t believe it’s something that can be cured, nor does it need to be completely cured. I’ve come to learn about all the benefits of having these experiences and all the positives and not just the negatives. These experiences have allowed me to genuinely connect with people, to be more understanding and empathetic to others, to be a better listener, to be humble, and to find inner courage when experiencing fear. I am confident, passionate, and driven, though there will always be a part of me that can relate to those considered shy or quiet. There will always be things that I can improve upon and will have to keep working on to maintain my progress. But I am in control of my life now, and I no longer doubt my future. I’m excited and ready to truly live the life I’ve always dreamed of- free spirited and out to make a difference in the world.
I know that for many people, a year might not be enough time to experience the results I did. But just because it was a success for me does not mean that I won’t get nervous for a speech, that I won’t get nervous for making certain phone calls, or that I won’t feel somewhat uncomfortable in certain situations. For me, the biggest success was not in completely overcoming my fears, but in proving to myself that I could overcome them when needed. This belief was strengthened throughout a year of building confidence and gaining positive experiences in situations that I once had very little confidence or experience in.
In 2012 I will be writing The Shyness Project book. I’ve never written a book before and I’m excited for the chance to get to share this story with more people. There were several things that I didn’t have time to post and elaborate on and I’m eager to share those additional experiences there. I’ll keep up this blog along the way to share more of what I learned to try and help others. I want to build a support network and community for all those struggling with things I and many others have struggled with. Because I think what would have helped me most growing up was realizing that I wasn’t alone. Thank you for reading and supporting my journey of personal growth. I can’t express how great it was to meet and truly connect with several of you who I would have never gotten a chance to meet before. I feel like I’ve made real and meaningful friendships. And I want to emphasize that this project would NOT have been possible without you and your support. This project was bigger than me and by supporting and interacting with me through this blog, we made this site a valuable resource for many people to come. I look forward to sharing what we’ve created here in a book so more people can be a part of this experience.
I hope you all have a Happy New Year and that you take a chance in 2012 and aspire to do something you’ve always dreamed of doing. We are all capable of accomplishing great things if we dedicate ourselves to something we are passionate about.
“The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do.” ~Sarah Ban Breathnach