Updated: Jan 8, 2022
Who are you and how do you stretch your happiness?
While many introverts are shy (myself included), shyness and introversion are two different things. Introversion is a genetic gift. We are born with those personality traits. Shyness is not genetic, but a social condition.
This is not about "becoming an extrovert" or pushing yourself to an unhappy place. This is about expanding your comfort zone to be your best, most satisfied self.
Origins of Shyness
Especially as a kid, many of us were teased and bullied for not being social, for fumbling over our words, and for not fitting in. This may have started due to our innate introversion and thus our desire to spend more time alone, with our hobbies and thoughts, in our safe place.
But this often evolves into shyness as a protective mechanism. We become afraid to speak up for fear of being laughed at and called names. We become scared that we will forget the poem we are supposed to recite at school or the presentation we are to lead at work. We shake over the prospect of entering a conversation that becomes a debate, one that we are not equipped to either remember our points or illiterate our position. What if we forget the words? What if we stumble and pause with a soliloquy of umms and ahhs? People will point and chuckle. And worse yet they will talk about it behind our back for days! These visions of doom and gloom may be unrealistic, but they are the fears inside our head, affecting our self-image.
This is not a safe place. So we shrink into our corner, our comfort zone of solo hobbies. Later, this reticence can lead us to literally shy away from our dreams and ambitions.
The Road to Renewed Strength
But I'm here to tell you two things:
Embrace your introversion
Challenge your shyness
The first is who you are. You have wonderful strengths to discover and use in order to be a caring life partner and a resilient, prepared, thoughtful leader at work.
The second is a by-product of years past. It's okay to be nervous, but a great new experience is out there if we challenge our shyness.
I'm a 54-year-old shy introvert. It took me decades to recognize and embrace my introversion. Only now am I beginning to understand the difference. I'm trying to shed my decades of fear and stretch myself. The prize I am chasing is a more confident me who can bring my voice into the social and meeting rooms when I want to. You can do the same.
Three steps for challenging your shyness
1. Change Your Mindset
No one is perfect. Forget what you see on TV. Everyone has their flaws.
Truth be told, chances are, you are not the focus of everyone's attention. But even if some are, who cares what they think? Lean on your strengths of looking inward instead of outward.
Shift from comparing yourself to others and just compare yourself to you...your own goals and ambitions and what you can control.
Support yourself with Positive Self Talk and envision success. Rather than be your own worst enemy and cut ourselves down, lift yourselves up!
2. Explore & Expand Your Strengths (check out more here)
As an introvert, you have many valuable traits which can help you tackle your shyness:
Planner- Introverts are excellent at preparing. So prep for your next social event or work meeting. Before outings, familiarize yourself with the venue, scope out who is attending that you may want to meet, review bios/notes of past acquaintances that may be there, draft a list of conversation starters and topics for the audience. For your next meeting, prepare the agenda, compile slides or materials, practice a lot, but don't apply the pressure of memorization. Once you know your material, be flexible.
Thoughtful- Rather than consider the outing or meeting as a time that you are on the stage, take the approach to be curious about others. Shifting your mindset to your audience or just to the person next to you leans on your Thoughtful skills and alleviates the pressure that you are always in the spotlight.
Listener- Rather than focusing on what you are going to say next, just listen. Questions and shared interests will naturally arise if you just listen to others.
3. Dip Your Toe In and Enjoy the Ripples (check out more here)
Equipped with a positive mindset and your innate strengths, you are ready to go.
Start small by conversing more with friends and co-workers. Go to a small party with friends.
Bring notes of a few conversation starters or topics to raise. Take a peek at a restroom break to refresh your memory if you experience Introvert's Paralysis.
Seek one or two people that have something in common with you. 50% of the population are introverts, many trying to better manage their shyness just like you. Find them in the corners, in the bar lines, in the back rows at meetings, and just ask them one question.
Consider stretching further as you gain more experience. But remember, this is not about "becoming an extrovert" or pushing yourself to an unhappy place. This is about expanding your comfort zone to be your best, most satisfied self.
Be patient with this new journey. You've built up your defenses to be safe. It will take a while to feel comfortable to relax them. Be proud of taking chances. That is true growth!
Though the link between shyness and introversion is not a rule, shy introverts are quite common. This is our one life to lead. You don't have to let shyness hold you back.
You don't want to have genuine regrets when you are older that you never tested boundaries or that you missed out on something you really wanted to do. By using your strengths and having a positive mindset, you will find that stretching your self may be the best thing you've ever done.