Words by Briana, 21 VIC
People describe me as shy.
It is neither said in a positive or negative light. Just an observation that people say to explain why I am the way I am.
It’s a quiet word. The first letters are pronounced with a soft shhhh, like when you shush someone to silence.
There are many labels to describe one’s personality and presence. Yet I am not described as introverted, reserved or socially anxious.
Introvert has earned itself a title. It has been proven valuable. There is even a movement called the ‘Quiet Revolution’. Yet I am not introverted because people do not drain my energy. I do not need to leave social gatherings to recollect my energy. I am comfortable in my solitude, but I also like to be around others.
Reserved is someone who knows when to speak and what information to share. They can have a hard stare but a relaxed mouth. It is someone who observes people and reads them well. I do not fit into this definition either. I easily mistake someone’s body language and spoken communication for something negative.
Social anxiety is a diagnosis. I do not avoid large social gatherings. Yet in situations such as public speaking or social gatherings I start to sweat, my heart beats fast, my teeth chatter and sometimes I feel nauseous. I fear I will do something to embarrass myself or say the wrong thing. But this does not occur all the time or effect my daily routine as it may for some.
Shyness affects how we present ourselves. Being shy can sometimes be mistaken for unfriendliness. My unwillingness, or forgetfulness to make conversation equates me to being shy.
You should smile more, I’ve been told. Smiling is freeing. An employer has said to me, it does not take effort or energy. Yet the muscles around my mouth will not move. It’s not my instinct to smile, it’s my instinct to look down. When I do smile and it is returned, the little gesture feels wonderful. I want to show everyone that I am approachable. My boyfriend explained to me that when we met, my shyness made me look unfriendly and disinterested. That was the last thing I wanted to project.
In lockdown, I was happy being a homebody. I was happy in my bubble of not seeing anyone other than my boyfriend. We never interacted with family and friends, but it put me back a step right when I was starting to show confidence in my social interactions. I felt I couldn’t make my body language open so that I could be approachable. My quietness made it difficult to converse with new people. I was so close to coming out of my shell, but lockdown CORNERED and pushed and squeezed me into the confinement of my shell.
Staying in my shell prevented me from practising my social skills. Confidence was a learned skill that I exercised when I presented myself to others and interacted with others. When I was not consistently being exposed to professional and casual social environments, I felt I was out of practise. This lack of consistency made me awkward and weird around people.
Being shy does not only affect first impressions in social gatherings, but also in the workforce. You cannot be shy and unsure of yourself in an interview. Unfortunately, my personality does not shine right away. What others have had the pleasure of experiencing is absent in my performance in an interview. I have more to offer when I become more comfortable.
Shyness is a warm blanket that you can snuggle under because you know it’s a place where you feel comfortable and safe. It is easy to revert to this state of being when you’re in situations where you feel overwhelmed or out of your element.
But I cannot stay in my self-made comfort zone forever.
Am I missing out on opportunities because of my shyness? Is it a waste?
Does shyness add value to my life?
Adults have said to me ‘you will grow out of it’.
I look at them with hope and scepticism. Is there something wrong with being shy? Is it not an acceptable personality trait?
Being shy has many perks. You think before you speak. You are a listener. You are a quiet achiever. Everyone’s achievements count, and you understand that you are not the only one who works hard. You have a calming presence. You are considerate of others. You reflect on your own behaviour.
I have accepted that at times it is okay to be shy, it is a part of my personality. The right people will adore your shyness. But I have also appreciated the person I am becoming when I stem away from my shyness, as it reflects my personal growth.
Embrace your shyness. Learn to appreciate it. But also challenge yourself to break out of your self-made comfort zone every now and again. It’s a slow process and there is nothing wrong with small steps. We cannot be a different person overnight.
Here’s some advice if you don’t know how to break out of your shyness: Start with a smile, quick eye contact and maybe if you allow it, genuine small talk. It works. It could be the person you sit next to in class, a regular at the gym or coffee shop, even try the person in line next to you.
Can you be shy and outgoing and a homebody?