My shyness was, and probably still is, a formidable nemesis, an intractable opponent and overall bane of my existence. To clear the air, let’s first establish the — somewhat ambiguous — difference between shyness and introversion: introversion is a broad term to categorize someone’s personality, indicating that an individual is more attuned to their internal world, often having vivid imaginings and emotions. As opposed to extroverts, who enjoy interacting much more with external stimuli and find their harmony among others, introverts often replenish through solitude. Shyness, while it is definitely related to introversion, denotes a timidity that comes from fear of judgment. There are many introverts who are comfortable in public but who simply prefer alone-time.
Just like all things in this world, moderation is key, and shyness, when taken to an extreme, can become debilitating. During freshman year, this realization slammed into me like a freight train fairly quickly. The idea of transitioning from my one-floor middle school to a gargantuan high school of over 2,500 students instilled chilling dread in me before school even started. Once it did, I felt discombobulated walking through the halls, uncertain of my place as a single teenager among thousands, unused to this alien world that my friends seemed to acclimate nicely in. As the weeks progressed, I found myself retreating further back into my shell. My voice fled each time I mustered up the courage to raise my hand in English. Frustration took over one day, like whiplash.
During middle school, I’d exulted in my ideals of my high-school self, how I’d finally be in a place where I could access more diversity of thought, where I could start exploring my passions and reform my character. I’d foolishly believed that once I crossed the threshold, I’d be fueled with motivation, and I sulked when I encountered all of my insecurities still there. Once it dawned on me that, no, surrounding yourself with new walls can not fundamentally change you, I resolved to fix it. Rationally, this time.
Spurred on by my sudden determination, I signed up for my school’s book club, which — what? Wouldn’t that exacerbate the problem? When people hear the words “book club,” their eyes tend to widen and their noses scrunch up, imagining a starchy circle of older ladies reading obscure romance titles. Or, perhaps, a ragtag group of young enthusiasts who geek out on comics and science fiction. Book club is thought of as a place for “the odd ones” to find each other and mingle outside of the social scene. In movies, the typical depiction of a shy girl undergoing a personality makeover always involves her glamming up and heading out to some party. Certainly, a book club is the last item on anyone’s mind when it comes to encouraging gregarious behavior.
Yet, my experience in book club contradicted every one of these stereotypes. Heading to my first meeting, armed with my copy of the club’s reading assignment, I prepared myself for the possibilities. Aware of how crippling my shyness could be, how it seemed almost instinctual, overriding my desire to defeat it, I had relatively low expectations. Entering the room, I found a small group of people already gathered, along with two smiling English teachers who headed the club. Steeling myself, I chose a seat.
The change came, to cite The Fault in Our Stars, “slowly, and then all at once.” At first, I contented myself with listening to others speak, absorbing their ideas and manufacturing my own. However, before they could be shipped out of my mouth and manifested into words, I curtailed the path, stifling them from slipping out. They were too unpolished, too simplistic, and I would never dream of giving anything less than perfect products. Still, I managed to make a few affirmations here and there, innocuous observations on theme or diction. While my flesh pebbled at the thought of class discussions, I began looking forward to the next club meeting, making note of the epiphanies I had and unconsciously encoding in my memory what I wanted to touch on.
Then, someone mentioned that they didn’t like a particular series, and I immediately turned around in a mock gasp. We launched into a back-and-forth on the mishaps and the accomplishments of the author, and my mind wasn’t frantically supervising everything I said, my spine not ram-rod straight. I lost my composure, except it wasn’t a mortifying experience, and that instance of vulnerability embedded me deeper into this intimate club. After that, I, although in a stilted way, participated in the discourse, however malformed or rough-hewn my contributions were. In the midst of an hour, pages flipped as we referenced different passages, sentences broke off in excitement. The yearning to leave never crossed my mind.
Most profoundly, the instance when another’s gaze met my own as they understood what I conveyed lent me a sense of clarity. I wasn’t as eloquent as a seasoned professor, wasn’t as articulate or arresting as a Ted talk, yet I didn’t need to be. In simply delivering it, I casted myself out of the privacy of my mind, and I was promptly received. Each month we met, a layer of my shyness was stripped away, except it wasn’t as excruciating as I anticipated.
I acknowledge there were alternative ways of handling my shyness. Perhaps, book club was too tame, and I needed a challenge. Flood myself by joining a much larger club, talk more with more people, force myself to speak in front of my classes even if it was the equivalent of leaping off of a cliff. But would any of these infiltrate so deeply into my character? Would they dismantle my barriers with the same deftness as book club? I was not searching for hyperstimulation to combat my shyness. I did not seek more artificial conversation with acquaintances or the raucous chatter of a massive group. Why would I opt to eat Lays potato chips at French club, with its hundreds of members, when I could immerse myself in the social connotations of The 57 Bus with others?
In the end, trust has been an integral factor in my shyness. Trust in myself, in my belief that there is validity to what I have to say, and trust in others, that they’re not predisposed to scrutinize what I have to say. As a high school junior, I still experience flares of shyness, but it serves to ground instead of encumber, allowing me to be cognizant of my actions. When it comes to confronting personal barriers, clemency for those faults are crucial in resolving them. Don’t thrust yourself into situations that you can’t possibly stomach. Compromise with your limits, and don’t be so fixated on the goal. Lose yourself to the liberation of discovering new territory.
Photo Courtesy of Nicole Wolf via Unsplash