The Other Side of Shyness: How I Stopped Being Shy

As far back as I can remember I was shy. I was scared to speak with strangers, even for something as trivial as ordering food at a restaurant. My heart would race, my throat would clench, my mind would spin on how I’d be perceived… how I’d be judged. Now, I don’t care.

I remember one afternoon circa 1993, when my mom stopped the hunter green minivan with the faux-wood paneling, handed me money, and told me to run into the convenience store to get milk. I curled into myself and shook my head. I was NOT going. Give me a tetanus shot, make me do dishes, heck have me scoop dog poo… anything but have to talk to the cashier. No. Way. My sister — two years my junior with not one ounce of social anxiety and lax impulse restraint — leapt from her seat reaching for the $5 bill. “I’ll do it! I’ll do it!” She clamored. “No,” my mom said, yanking the money away from my sister’s reach, “your sister needs the practice.” My sister balked. I crumbled. I survived the 2-minute errand, but it was far from a cure. Bless my mother

Decades went by and I was still shy. Cashiers and waitstaff no longer made me shrivel, but I would never dream of entering an unfamiliar room and striking up a conversation. Making friends was hard. Really hard.

More often than I’d like to admit, there were incidents in my early life when a close friend sought to expand the social circle, not wanting to end our friendship, but simply wanting to add to the group. Anxiety and ego inevitably overwhelmed me, and I would foolishly take the request as a traitorous dagger (which it was not — at all — but just try telling me that back then!) Because I couldn’t fathom reaching out to gather more friendships, I was jealous of others’ ability to do so. I felt vulnerable and defensive. Lesser. So I would get angry and end the friendship. Stupid, right? Yep.

Come young adulthood, the first years of corporate life were challenging. Most of my coworkers were at least a decade my senior and in different life stages than recent-college-grad me. I made myself even more guarded with a “work” me and a “home” me, hoping to off-set my obvious youth with professionalism. Needless to say, that level of detachment paired with shyness was not conducive to numerous work friendships.

Then I got engaged. People I barely knew would approach me with wedding-related questions throughout a workday. My shyness was waning with the increased socializing. One wedding and a few years later, I was pregnant. My world changed.

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Being pregnant granted me access to a secret club that was constantly seeking members: parents! That baby belly was like a beacon to any parent — young, old, first-time, or seasoned — and even grandparents to immediately strike up conversation. And once I was really showing, the world had a talking point in full view. As long as I kept a sense of humor and viewed awkward questions and others’ verbal diarrhea as fodder for my mental “shit people say” list, it was all good.

Then, I had my first child. I was set on giving her a variety of experiences, getting her socialized, getting her out. I took her to mom meet-ups and baby-and-me tumbling classes, story times and swim classes. We did something every day.

One day, as I entered a mom meet-up, I felt the anxiety and internal concerns over others’ perceptions bubble up within me. Then, I looked down at my chubtastic baby and thought: “but I have a built-in buddy!” And I was at ease. Being alone in a busy room without someone to talk to wasn’t so scary anymore because I had my daughter beside me. I was OK.

Not too long after, I had my middle son. I was so busy nursing my newborn while chasing my toddler, I didn’t have the time to worry what others thought. Instead, I sought out friends who resonated with me, who shared perspectives and viewpoints with me, who could relate to my present life stage. I still hesitated before reaching out, but I was getting better.

Two years later, I had my third child and by then I was comfortable with myself. I was so focused on my own standard daily chaos that I could hardly care less if you gave me the side-eye for having a tantruming toddler (that says more about you than me, afterall) or balked at my snot-smeared yoga pants and breastmilk-spotted nursing cami. I had way too much stuff to wrangle to worry about that. Even more, I realized most other people were like me and had too much going on in their own heads and lives to give me much thought! So why assume they’re judging me harshly when I may not even be on their radar or, if I am, maybe it’s positively so. If they are actually being mentally critical of me, why should I care anyway?

Less shy, I began conversing freely with fellow moms at playgrounds, classes, story times, and in the grocery store. After two incidents when I let my fear stand in the way of asking, “Want to do a playdate sometime?” (The mom version of “Wanna grab a drink?”) and subsequently suffered missed-friendship regret, I decided to do better.

I began listening to my gut, honoring my intuition. If I was drawn to connect, smile at, or chat up someone — even if I didn’t immediately understand why — I did it. And that is how I began making some of my dearest, strongest friendships: listening to my inner self, not my fears.

I was now on the other side of shyness. I could easily enter a room with confidence, seek out a person with whom I could relate, and start a conversation. I became the human shepherd, constantly aware of those on the periphery, gauging shyness verses disinterest. If I sensed shyness, I tried to bring them into the fold. If I felt a group with whom I was talking appeared unwelcoming or closed-off to others, I changed my positioning and body language to open the circle. I never wanted to make others feel the way I had so long felt: judged, alone.

I had not realized how far I’d come until recently at the playground. A mom I’d only met last year was floored to hear I was ever shy. I was floored she was floored! Little did she know, I spent more of my existence shy than not. I surely have changed. And for that I am grateful.

The world is a brighter, friendlier place when you’re on the other side of shyness. I like it here.

Motherhood Changed Me

Motherhood has changed me… drastically. I am in no way the same person I was before. And I am immensely thankful for that.

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#2 and Me

 

As a child, I was so shy that I remember bawling when, at 6-years old, I had been asked by my mother to run into the convenience store to buy milk. The thought of interacting with the cashier — an unfamiliar adult — terrified me. Another time I nearly melted into a sobbing puddle when she asked me to run into the dog groomer’s to pick up our cocker spaniel. Conversing with strangers was a massive undertaking.

In school I had a few close friends but I never felt I fully belonged. I was self-conscious, anxious, and generally just lost. I was guarded and clingy. Socializing was entirely exhausting.

I clung to familiar faces in unfamiliar settings. I got miffed when my safety nets would want to branch off and meet new people. They didn’t want to abandon me; they simply wanted to meet new people too. I understood their desire — I wanted that as well — but I was far too shy to follow in their footsteps. Instead of encouraging their social goals, I’d get resentful (really, I was angry with myself but it was easier to throw that frustration on someone else.)

My shyness continued into young adulthood. After college, I began working in an office that predominantly employed associates at least 10 to 15 years my senior. So, my feeling of not fitting in continued. I was so much younger than my colleagues that I amplified my guarded nature in order to secure my professional demeanor. Unfortunately, this was isolating.

Then came the struggles trying to conceive. Hiding that burden burried me deeper into my self-imposed isolation. I felt unfulfilled, unhappy, and stressed. I was lost.

Then I got pregnant. Just as a colleague had once told me would happen, a whole new world of people came into my life. My pregnancy showed quickly and obviously, so people — familiar and not — felt at ease discussing pregnancy and babies with me. I enjoyed the built-in conversation starter.

I began to grow accustomed to conversing with strangers. It felt good, even when the strangers had verbal diarrhea, as is so very common when people chat with expectant women, I found the foibles entertaining. Heaven knows I had made plenty of social missteps, so I was not one to judge!

After having my first child, my sense of purpose was clear. My priorities centered upon her and my little growing three-person family. My former concerns, plans, interests, and worries seemed utterly trivial. I was happier but I was still anxious and still battling shyness. Still somewhat self-conscious, but gradually coming out of my shell.

I was slowly becoming more outgoing, more comfortable in my own skin. However, I had previously been so painfully shy that I had a long road to travel.

20.5 months later, I had my second child. Socializing was paramount. I wanted my children out and in the world, learning social cues and proper behavior. I encouraged self-confidence, outgoing tendencies, and friendliness. I wanted them not to suffer from shyness as I had and still, to some degree, did. The efforts succeeded.

2.25 years later, I had my third child. I was no longer shy. Instead, I shouldered a caretaker demeanor. Upon entering a social setting, I’d seek to include, to engage the seemingly shy ones, to help others feel welcomed and safe. I smiled, I laughed, I focused on maintaining a welcoming vibe.

I started conversations easily. I was self-confident, outgoing, and fulfilled. I was no longer anxious — but still stressed as I did have three close-in-age kids afterall — and I was happy. Social engagements no longer stirred anxiety but excitement. I enjoyed connecting with others and helping shy counterparts tiptoe into a safe, friendly, nonjudgmental conversation. My purpose was inclusion.

Motherhood, out of necessity, ripped the selfishness from me and that began the healing. When you are no longer the center of your own world, you become less self-conscious and more other-centered. When you have a purpose, you no longer feel lost. When you are content, you no longer feel insecure or depressed. When you are at peace, you are happy and can share that with others.

Motherhood made me who I am now, and I could not be more grateful.