Thursday, March 8, 2012

Too Shy

Believe it or not, I am a shy person. I say believe it or not because every single casual acquaintance replies “No Way!” when I tell them this little tidbit about myself.

When I was little, I never spoke to anyone that I didn’t know. Sometimes I didn’t even speak to the people I did know. My mum is really tall and I would hide behind her leg when people tried to talk to me. True story.

First day of School -
Grade One
When I went to school, my best friend Berit (still my best friend to this day) did all my talking for me. It was great. My dad took me to school the morning of the first day of school for grade one and I remember standing next to him on the playground watching all the kids run around and line up in their classes. I remember the terror I felt on the first day of school.

I’m a total daydreamer. Also when I was in grade one, I sat in the back by the guinea pigs and near the window. I would watch the guinea pigs or stare out the window all day. I never paid attention. Reports cards for the first term came out and showed how poorly I was doing in school. A parent teacher meeting was called. My teacher, Mrs. Wong, was totally apologetic to my parents. She said, “I’m sorry, she’s just so quiet that I didn’t even notice that she wasn’t paying attention!” I was moved to the front of the class where she could keep a better eye on me and where I wouldn’t get distracted and I did much better.

That experience taught me that I had to be noticed in order to be successful. My parents were always pushing me to overcome my shyness. I remember my mum getting so exasperated with me because I was too afraid to talk to people or to try anything new or go anywhere different. I always needed someone to hold my hand. I grew up feeling that my shyness was a horrible weakness that needed to be overcome and squashed and removed from my personality.

From the time I was two I danced ballet. I loved it because I didn’t have to talk. I could just feel the music and dance the steps. It was a great escape for me. The world disappears and I don’t even notice if anyone is watching. I’m also not clumsy when I dance. Those are some of the reasons why I love dancing so much.

When I was 7 or so, I was asked to give a talk in Primary – the children’s class in our church. When the person in charge told me it was my turn to give my talk, I lied and told them that I wasn’t giving a talk. I would have rather died than got up and speak in front of all the kids. The person in charge went and told my mother (I hadn’t told my mother that I had been assigned to give a talk). My mum took me to the library in the church, found a story in the church’s children’s magazine and had me read through it a few times, and told me that all I had to do was read that story in front of the kids.

Well, I read that story in front of all the kids, with my mum supervising behind me and an amazing thing happened: I DIDN’T DIE! The world didn’t end, the earth didn’t implode and I didn’t light on fire. I was okay! This was so great for little seven-year-old me. I discovered that the podium could protect me! It was like a wall or a shield.

This lead me to having the talent of public speaking. I won our first annual speech contest when I was a youth, I earned a spot on the student council because of my speech, and I won every debate I ever had because I was so skilled with speaking in public.

Don’t get me wrong, I get terrible butterflies and jitters, but it is more of an adrenaline rush and I actually get pumped up. Not the terrifying debilitating fear of actually speaking to someone that I don’t know.

I took to acting when I was in grades seven through nine. It was so great because not only would the stage would protect me, but I could hide behind a character too!

The Persona
Through these experiences, I learned to turn off the shyness and turn on this “outside persona”. It didn’t mean that the shyness went away, or that I was cured of my shyness, it was just put off to the side.

There are a few downsides to this:
 1)      Sometimes I don’t know where The Persona ends and the real me begins. I’ve struggled with who I am because of this.
 2)      Because I am hiding behind The Persona, it’s really hard for people to get to know me, therefore, I have a hard time making lasting friendships. I feel like a lot of my friendships are superficial. Only because people are friends with The Persona, and not me. I rarely let anyone in to see who I really am. Letting people in and seeing my imperfections terrifies me.
 3)      I’ve created this Persona so that people will like me and I’m horrified that if people knew the real me they wouldn’t want to hang out with me or be my friend.
4)      I worry that I am perceived as fake. The perception would be true, because basically, I am fake.
5)      It is mentally exhausting being “on” all the time, and that is what I need to be in order to maintain The Persona.
6)      I look like a snob when I don’t talk to people. The Persona makes me look like an outgoing person, but I’m not.

The Real Me
I have struggled with being shy my whole life. While I have tried to squelch that part of my personality because it is an imperfection and flaw, I have found it to be impossible. I have come to this new place in my head where I am owning my imperfections and recognizing that they are a part of me and they are what makes me who I am. I know that there are times when I need to overcome my shyness, but I also recognize that my shy instinct is okay and it’s okay to be shy and I’m not a bad person because of it. I also realize that being shy can limit me, but being shy can be a strength too.

I’m glad that I have learned to overcome my shyness in certain circumstances and for the talents that have come with that. I’m now learning how to exist in the world as a shy person. The true me, not just The Persona.

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