The Shyness Project

Archive for the tag “one-year project”

Blogging Connections & Meeting in Person

Hey all. I know it’s been a few months since I’ve written. I could tell you that I’ve been very busy with school and adjusting to a new city. Or, I could instead let you imagine that I’ve been on an epic mission to Mars teaching Martians to dance and do an array of moves that may or may not stoop as low as the funky chicken. Up to you. But in all seriousness, I hope this post finds you all healthy and happy. And that you’ve had a wonderful holiday and are enthusiastic for the New Year.

Thankfully I’ve had some more time recently on my Christmas break to read some of the blog posts of blogging friends and those who I take inspiration from. This has rejuvenated my spirits and made me grateful for this creative outlet and source of interconnectivity. I’ve said it before, but blogging truly can bring you in touch with some great people and be a source of motivation. I smile when reading a lot of your posts and feel a real connection to you. Even though I haven’t been posting as much, I’m happy to have been receiving several emails from readers and to have you continue to share and confide in me. I’m always honored, even if I can’t get back to you as quickly as I used to.

To go further into the topic of connections, I’ve been meaning to write that I was able to meet my very first blogging friend, Doug, and his wife Micaela, in the flesh this past summer. I was in the Midwest visiting family and wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make it work to meet up with him, but I decided to send him a message anyway. It had been a long while since we had talked, but Doug was delighted to hear from me and excited at the idea of meeting. So I pulled out the charm to convince my parents that this would be a rare opportunity, and thankfully they went out of their way so it could happen.

Meeting him in person was wonderful. I was nervous at first, but once he and Micaela came out front and greeted us with hugs I immediately felt at ease. My family felt comfortable with them quickly too, especially upon seeing their apple orchard, chickens, and adorable dog. Doug and I both said it felt like we had met before or were family. We chatted for a little while, explored their back yard, and snapped a picture before heading off on our journey to Illinois with one last hug and a nice card from them both. I left smiling, happy for the chance to meet and to strengthen a connection made through the blogging sphere. It’s truly a unique opportunity.

If you have any thoughts on the value of the blogging sphere or about blogging friends you’ve been able to form a real connection to or have met up with even, please share below! I’d love to hear your stories. More to come soon!

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The One-Year is Up: How I Got Here and What I Learned

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

Psychology Today Interview

shynessprojpsychtodaypostHi everyone! I thought I would let you all know that I have an interview posted on Psychology Today!  I was interviewed about the shyness project and have answered some questions on the site.

To view the article, click here. Thanks!

And feel free to leave comments on the site, I would very much appreciate it!

Looking Glass Self: What you see is what you get

There’s a theory in sociology called “looking glass self”.

This theory basically states that we are socialized to accept the judgment of others and reflect it back to others.

To illustrate what I mean, imagine you’re at a party and you don’t know anyone. You notice that the people look at you with friendly faces and appear to like you.  So in response, you act friendly and smile back at them.

You have a positive experience because you have a positive perception.

On the other hand, what if the opposite occurs?  What if you notice that people are looking at you with blank faces, and seem to be whispering about you and judging you?  In return you may act defensive, hang back, and give off signals that you don’t like them either.

Perceptions can be wrong.  But all we have to go by are our perceptions.

And because of this, I have found that being in the right mindset is extremely important in making friends.

I’ve heard some of my former high school classmates who are going to the same school as I am directly say that the people there aren’t friendly.  They’re mean and they stare at you.  And I’ve read status updates on Facebook of people who say that they feel so lonely at this school because they don’t know anyone, and they haven’t made any friends.

These remarks were a total surprise to me.  I’m going to the exact same school as them, so how could I have had such a completely different experience?  I had an amazing first week of school, and made several friends.  I was thrilled at the prospect of being able to talk to anybody in the school and become friends with them.  It was a whole new ball park for me, and was nothing like the cliquey and divided high school I attended.

Why was my experience so different from several of my former classmates?

Without a doubt, it was because my perceptions were different.  In my eager pursuit of seeking out new friends, I unknowingly had the perception that each person I approached was friendly and just as hopeful to make friends as I was.

And you know what?  That perception turned out to be very true.  Every time I mentioned that I was hoping to meet new people and make new friends, the person I had started talking to said that they wanted to do the very same thing.

I know making friends isn’t always easy.  I had to initiate a majority of the friendships I’ve made, but all it took was for me to open my mouth and say something to them, anything.  In my experience, asking a question has been the easiest way to start a conversation.   In particular, during the first week of school it is very easy to ask someone a question, like “Is this the textbook we need?” or “This is speech class with Mrs. East right?”  And from there, you can introduce yourself, they’ll introduce themselves, and then you can talk about college and majors if you like.  If you don’t know someone and you’re in a certain setting like school, talking about that setting is a great way to get talking.  And by the end of the conversation, all you have to do is ask to exchange contact information.  Facebook is a great way to go, and cell numbers work well too.  Then be sure to keep in touch with them, and before you know it, you’ve made a friend!  Simple as that.

When you hold a positive perception that people are friendly, then you are going to get positive results back.  So be sure to take notice of how you’re viewing a situation or a group of people, because your perceptions have more power in determining your experiences than you may realize.

Not A Great Start

Well yesterday I was supposed to go swing dancing for New Years Day, but the friend I was going to go with who drives us bailed out.  She had mentioned going to the dance the day before, and we had talked about it last week, but on the day we were supposed to go, she didn’t answer any of our emails or calls asking her where she was.  The drive to swing dance is an hour and a half, and she’s always been the one to drive us, so without her my brother and I couldn’t go.  I was hoping that I was going to kick off the New Year by talking to several strangers at the swing dance, but it looks like I’ll have to think of other ways to talk to some people in the meantime.

I went to the library and Ace Hardware today with my brother and dad, hoping to get some conversations in with strangers.  But once again, things didn’t work out as I planned.  I had an armful of books on careers and college majors in my hand, and was waiting in line to be checked out by a librarian.  I was hoping as she was checking out my books, I could start a conversation by saying that I was trying to figure out what careers I might want to go into.  But the line was apparently too long so one of the librarians told us to use the self-checkout.  So grudgingly I sauntered over to the self-checkout, my plan for talking to the librarian ruined.

Then we went to Ace Hardware.  My dad handed me and my brother his Ace card and we headed for the door while he went to check on some lottery thing.  We looked around for Borax, which was something that was supposed to fight off ants my dad had told me.  We looked up and down the pesticide aisle and didn’t see it.  Later my dad joined up with us and he eventually found it, but it was called Boric Acid.

We headed for the check out, and I rehearsed what I could say to the clerk in my head.  I was planning to say something like “We’re having an ant invasion” or something like that to get a conversation going, but once we got to the check out guy, I couldn’t make the words come.  My dad handed him the Boric Acid bottle and the guy just scanned it without looking at what it was, and said the price.  He then just kind of stared at us and looked at us blankly, and I awkwardly stood there ringing my hands, feeling ashamed that I couldn’t say something and break this awkward silence.  But the guy didn’t even look at what we were buying, and it all just seemed so awkward that I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

So I’ve experienced some set backs so far.  But at least I went outside the house today and made an attempt, even though I didn’t do what I had set out to do.  I have a month, there should be other opportunities.  The first couple will be the hardest.

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