...but in the end it is worth the effort
I have not done many things in life warranting an outward display of satisfaction and pride. But after some serious reflection and consideration, I can truly say that I am extremely proud of myself for overcoming a debilitating affliction -- shyness. In fact, I have really come a long, long way. And you know what, it only took me about 60 years of conscious effort, and a lot of maturity to bring about this emotional change. Nature may have played a role too as it took its course through various awkward periods in my life.
I mention this now, particularly for the benefit of young people, because I know there is potential for shyness at a certain stage of personal development. I learned from firsthand experience that the danger of shyness is that it can often be mistaken for standoffishness or simply seen as unfriendliness, and this is indeed unfortunate. In my experience, shy people are very sensitive because of their listening skills and they are especially caring toward others.
An interesting Kidshealth article accurately describes shyness as "an emotion that affects how a person feels and behaves around others." Take it from me, shyness can mean feeling uncomfortable, self-conscious, nervous, bashful, timid or insecure. When a person feels shy, they might hesitate to say or do something because they feel unsure of themselves and they are not prepared to be noticed.
Experts have said that shyness is partly the result of genes and partly influenced by behaviors learned -- the way people have reacted to their shyness and the experiences they have had in life. In my case, I think that I was born shy. When I was about four years of age, I used to play outside waiting for morning milk and bread deliveries. One day the milk man hesitatingly said to my mother as he made his weekly collection: "It's too bad about your son, Mrs. Wright!" Taken aback, my mother asked why he would say such a thing. "Well, isn't he deaf and dumb?" was the shocking response.
It seems the milk man would always stop to speak to me but I never answered...Never even gave indication that I had heard him. So he just assumed that I could neither hear nor speak.
As I grew older my shyness grew more painful. I would avoid eye contact, even pretend to not see people rather than have to speak to them. I felt bad about this. I wanted to be outgoing and friendly, but I just did not know how. Saying hello seemed excruciatingly difficult for me and I would even go so far as to practice saying things like "hello", "hi", "how are you?" with different expression and emphasis, but nothing seemed to come naturally.
There were times during social occasions when I would feel alone in a crowd. I would hesitate to try new things, preferring instead to watch others before joining in on a group activity. The world's greatest wall flower, it took me for ever to ask a girl to dance, even longer to go out on dates. My shyness, or backwardness, was so upsetting and frustrating for me as a teenager that many times I would just close myself in my bedroom and cry.
And on that note, a word of caution here for those who are close to a shy young person. If you push, tease or bully that person into a situation they are not prepared for, you can make them even more shy. Likewise, if parents are overly cautious or overprotective, it can teach the child to back away from situations that might be uncomfortable or unfamiliar. Understanding, love and support are what a shy youngster needs most. Confidence boosting and the occasional pat on the back will also work wonders.
In sports I was confident, aggressive and competitive but it took years for me to realize I could carry all of that into other areas of my life, if I wanted to.
One of the best things for me was getting a job in a retail store where I was forced to approach customers and to wait on them. Even then, for the better part of eight years, I died a thousand deaths with each customer that came in the store. Eventually, I became a newspaper reporter and there I was again having to take my communications to another level -- digging for information, asking probing questions, gaining the confidence of others.
Strangely enough, I always enjoyed theatre and public speaking and through these interests I developed an ability to step outside of myself, to become someone else when I had to. The natural next step was to gain the internal confidence necessary to step out of my comfort zone when the opportunity presented itself. Like a lot of things in life, the more "stepping out" you do the more comfortable you become and before long you do not give it a second thought.
But as I have said before, I'm a slow learner. It took me until mid life to understand that practice truly does make perfect. Some of us, sad to say, have to practice social skills like assertiveness, conversation and friendly, confident body language, so that we can get the enjoyment from everyday experiences that we so longingly seek.
By the time I answered a call to take on church lay preaching assignments a few years ago, I did so with utmost confidence, free of self doubts and full of commitment. Stomach butterflies aside, I looked forward to each Sunday engagement and derived a great deal of satisfaction from the experience. So I am living proof that you can overcome shyness. It takes time, patience, courage and practice, but it is worth the hard work.
I am even going out of my way to talk to strangers now (the topic of a previous post), and if that isn't coming a long way, I don't know what is. Proud? Damn right I am!
The only pain I feel today is of a physical nature and I'm doing my best to deal with that too.