I’m a reformed shy girl. Anyone who knows me or has met me would be surprised to hear this. After all, I’m outgoing and have a career that puts me in the public eye. Certainly a shy person would never be able to speak on live TV, the radio, or host a show on Vh1 right?
The truth is, I was shy growing up and yet, I somehow managed to engage, put myself out there and do things that were scary and uncomfortable. I pushed myself beyond my comfort zone because I realized something early on.
Shyness can hurt other people. Yes, it can be hurtful and make the people around you feel alone.
What’s Behind Each Brand of Shy?
I know a lot of self described “shy” people. Some are able to face their fears and push ahead, and others never quite let go of the false safety of their shyness. So my thought is, there must be different levels of shyness…
Level One: Is the person who blushes at certain comments and moments, the guy or gal who is described as super sweet and soft spoken.
Level Two: Is the person who seems aloof and disinterested, maybe even arrogant, but who deep down is insecure and behind the cool exterior is actually dying to get into the mix and conversation.
Level Three: These are people who are masquerading as shy, but are really something entirely different. They are socially selfish.
Who Should Be In Charge of a Shared Experience?
This brings me to a story. Last week, my husband and I met up with friends. Some we hadn’t seen for a while and others we had seen just a couple weeks prior.
One might think the friends who hadn’t seen us for a longer stretch of time would inquire about us. Our lives, work, family, health. But surprisingly, that wasn’t the case. It was the friends we see often who were the most engaged, talkative and inquisitive, even though they know a lot about our lives.
My husband and I went around the table and asked friendly questions, eager to learn about what everyone was up to. Once we stopped asking our questions and engaged on new topics, the conversation lagged. After a few hours and some quiet, cricket moments, it was time to go. Literally and emotionally.
On the drive home my husband expressed how tired he was and said he didn’t know why.
As we broke down the afternoon we realized that most people at the table didn’t ask anything. They only responded to our questions. We felt like we were hosting a party rather than being in comfortable, easy, shared company. It was exhausting!
Because of this experience, I’ve decided to go on a social conversation strike.
Every day with my work — whether I’m coaching, matching couples, teaching or interviewing singles, I make a supreme effort to make people feel comfortable in my presence. I have to. Most women and men walk into my office feeling guarded or nervous. And since I can’t learn much about them in that environment, I bring up my game a few notches to provide a safe space for sharing openly and honestly.
When I leave the office at the end of the day, I’m tired like most people after a long day, but I’m a different kind of tired. I’m emotionally and socially depleted.
My friendships have been shaped by this as well. In my personal life, I tend to make friendships with people who are outgoing, inquisitive, social and interested. I need my friends to share and participate in the experience. Otherwise, it feels like work and I never truly get to clock out and leave my interview hat at the office.
So for the next month or two, I’m taking a break when I’m in social situations. I’m going to let others carry a little more of the burden.
Are You Focused Only On Yourself?
All relationships are a game of tennis. If you’re not getting the ball over the net and you’re unable to return the serve, you’re all alone. And what’s worse, it makes the people around you feel alone too. You’re expecting them to be there for you, to bring out your personality, while you aren’t fully there for them.
So where does shyness begin, and why is it such a difficult hurdle for millions of people? Shyness is often felt as a fear of how you’ll be perceived. And because you’re afraid of a potential misstep, you avoid risk. You hold back to protect yourself and protect your feelings. But do you see how that’s difficult for the people around you?
If you’re leaning on your shyness, it’s because you’re actually thinking more about yourself than anyone else is.
Shyness can actually be an act of selfishness.
If you’re not this person, you probably know others who are, because it’s not uncommon. And if you are, well, now that you understand how it affects people, you’ll want to do something about it, and fast.
One Handy Trick to Overcome Shyness
The first step in changing any behavior is to know you’re doing it. The next is to swallow the fear, step up to the plate and take a risk. Once you see how beautifully people start responding to you, you’ll begin to get really good at it.
When I was in my shy (selfish) stage in my younger years, I played a game that really helped me and I’d like to share it with you.
Everywhere you go, play the hostess. Pretend like you own the restaurant you’re dining in, the coffee house you like to frequent, and the dog park you go to on Saturday afternoons. Why the hostess? Because, when we have ownership of a place, or welcome people into our home, our focus is outward, instead of inward. As the hostess, it’s your role to make people feel comfortable and welcomed. Essentially, you become the care taker for the evening or day. Try it this weekend. It’s actually a lot of fun!
What’s Your Own Experience?
Which brings me to a final question for you, and I’m really interested in your response:
Do you have anyone in your life that makes you do all the social, emotional work? Or, on the other hand, have you ever been considered to be shy? Do you or any of your friends only come to life when someone makes an effort to bring it out in you?
I want to hear from you on this, so please share!
See you next week.