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I’m so shy!

A letter-writer is afraid of making mistakes and being judged.

I know just how you feel, says our elder – I’m an introvert too. Here’s what works for me.

 

Dear EWC

I’m an introvert person. For now I’m studying in college. I’m a future teacher. I’m so shy and quiet I doubt myself because when it comes to real life, I’m not good enough. Every time I face a challenging situation I step out because I’m afraid to make mistakes and to be judged. I am preoccupied with what people would say about me. Can you give me any tips or maybe some advice? Thanks.

 

Rose replies

My name is Elder Rose, and I wanted to answer your letter because I can speak from experience about being painfully shy and quiet as a young person, just as you are. When I was in high school, I could go the entire school day without talking to anyone! If I had to talk to anyone, I pretty much just stammered and ran away! I eventually overcame it, so I will share what I’ve learned and what worked for me in hope that it will be helpful to you. 

You and I are introverts, Ellen, which means, among other things, that ‘alone’ time recharges us and time spent with people, while rewarding, can also be draining. We also tend to be very self-conscious, which means that we are painfully aware of everything we do, and we think everyone else is too. We think others are judging us harshly for our mistakes and inexperience. We think others are talking about us and analyzing our every move.

I eventually found out something: they aren’t.

Here, in a nutshell, are some things I’ve learned through a lifetime of dealing with shyness. See if any of it resonates with you:

  1. Lots of people find shyness in a person appealing, especially if that shy person is out there trying to be social. Just about everyone has felt shy and unconfidents at times, even those uber-confident-acting people you see at parties. A lot of people will empathize with your shyness and will actually like you all the better for it.
  2. Your own worst judge is you. Nobody else really cares if you stumble around for the right words, if you don’t have the latest fashions, or if your heart is pounding. They are too busy worrying about themselves, how they look, what they are saying, to focus on yournervousness. Also, don’t put up with negative self-talk. Shut that critical inner voice right down. Practice replacing every critical thought with a positive thought about you. Even if this feels silly, do it anyway!
  3. When you make a social blunder – and everyone does – forgive yourself and move on. Nobody is keeping score.
  4. No matter how well-behaved we are, there will always be some very nice people who just don’t like us. That’s okay. If someone doesn’t seem to like you, it is more about them than about you. Just move on until you find the people you resonate with.
  5. Don’t worry about having to be perfect – perfection is boring. If you snort when you laugh or if you blush beet red when introduced to someone, it’s part of your charm!
  6. It’s OK to ‘fake it till you make it’! Ask people about themselves, even if you don’t expect to find them interesting. Chances are, after some conversation, you will find yourself genuinely interested. Don’t feel like smiling? Smile anyway, and one day, you’ll find yourself smiling with sincerity!
  7. Be aware of your body language: Uncross your arms, make eye contact and cultivate a social smile. Practice this in the mirror if you must!
  8. Practice, practice, practice! The only way to feel more comfortable in any situation is to push forward through your fear and do it anyway. Remember when you learned to ride a bike, how wobbly and uncertain you felt? How afraid you were to fall? With practice, it became second nature. The same is true for social situations. 

Ellen, keeping the above observations in mind, here are some practical tips for how to begin to overcome your shyness: As an introvert, start small. Focus on one or two other people at a time. For example, if you’re attending in-person college, walk to class with another person. Sit with someone you like at lunch. Make eye contact with the person sitting at the next desk and say “hi”. The first time you do these things it will feel so difficult, but it will get easier with practice. If you chicken out, just forgive yourself and try again. Choose one or two people you like, and challenge yourself to get to know them better. If you know you are going to be in a social situation with other people, prepare yourself ahead of time with questions to ask (I still do this). People love to talk about themselves! Ask them about their families, their studies, their plans for the weekend, their hobbies or their pets. Remember to share something about yourself too, so that they can get to know you.

Say yes more often to invitations from friends and family members. You’ll gradually build your interests and experience, and you’ll become more confident socially.

If you must attend a large gathering such as a graduation or a wedding, look for someone you know and hang out with them. Ask them to introduce you to their friends. If there is no one you know, look for one other person who seems to be alone and introduce yourself to them. They will appreciate having someone to talk to! In this way you will meet new friends and build a social circle. 

Ellen, I know that many of the things I am suggesting are not easy for you right now. They weren’t for me, either. But if you wait until you feel no fear before trying something new, you will never make progress! Your letter tells me you are ready to try. Approach all this with a sense of adventure and start being excited about what could go right. You have a lot to offer! Good luck!

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