It often comes as a surprise to people to learn that I was a shy kid. If you’ve ever heard me talk about my passion for karaoke, you might be surprised by this. And if you’ve ever seen me perform, well that’s a different story. If I’ve ever talked about my beloved years in high school theatre (albeit working backstage and not on stage, but if you’ve ever been involved in theatre you know everything is a stage and life is a cabaret), this fact might be shocking. These activities seem completely out of sync with someone steering from the limelight.
And I stayed away from the center of attention through most of my elementary days. Quiet, soft spoken and introverted around strangers, I strove to disappear into the crowd. My mom signing me up for two seasons of softball was horrifying, not to mention a graphic display of my lack of athletic ability (and an influencing factor in why I choose to run in solitude as an adult).
My close family and friends have watched me grow up, overcome challenges and push past my timid nature. To newer friends, and especially colleagues, telling them about my past is like I’m talking about someone else.
It wasn’t until my first job out of college at a family owned publishing company that I started to recognize that I no longer was the shy kid. About a month or so into my editorial internship, my supervisor suggested I keynote a seminar track for the day. This involved leading conversation to a packed room of attendees and moderating questions to speakers. The thought of doing this terrified me, and I flashed back to my youth when I would be called on in class. No matter how sure I was of the answer, I never wanted to say it aloud in front of my classmates, for fear I would be wrong. Luckily, my boss didn’t press the issue and I didn’t have to relive any more childhood fears.
But even though I didn’t undertake the challenge, it made me realize that although I sometimes feel like that clumsy, shy kid I once was, that kid wasn’t who I was as an adult. I was stretching beyond her capabilities. I was doing things she couldn’t imagine doing. I was making her proud. And people didn’t see the shy kid at all. From other people’s point of fire, I’m a confident woman that takes charge. This both surprises me and doesn’t. I both believe this and don’t. I’m a contradiction.
I’ve now grown out of a lot of fears synonymous with shyness. I speak out now when I have an opinion. I certainly rock an Adele song like you’ve never seen. Have you seen Wicked? You haven’t until you’ve heard me sing “Defying Gravity.” I’ve even been known to dance on a bar a time or two. I’m often mistaken as an extrovert – capable of commanding a room, owning a stage, leading a crowd.
But despite these obvious extroverted displays of confidence, the shy kid lingers. I feel her in there, reminding me of my humble beginnings, grounding me to remain true to myself. I am still shaking when I get in front of a crowd of strangers. Even though I’m a regular at my local karaoke bar, I shake on songs I’m not familiar with, or on ones I really want to nail. I feel awkward in some social settings, and I feel a tug of foreboding when I get ready to attend situations completely out of my element.
So my extroverted shell has become my protective shield for the vulnerable shy center. And it allows me to push past my insecurities and forge ahead. As a journalist, this certainly is a necessary trait. As a business professional, it’s a survival tactic. And as a human being, it’s a blessing that allows me to experience the world in a way I wouldn’t if I stayed cooped up inside myself.
I think recognizing this in myself is really important; and it’s only been recently that I’ve fully understood its implications. For one, I don’t think I’ll ever outgrow my shyness. I’ll certainly overcome some aspects and grow as a person, but deep down inside, I’ll never lose a part of it. For another, my shy history has made me who I am, and is still helping to define me. I’m more empathetic and compassionate for it. I have grown a lot too, which is comforting. I like to think of myself as an ever evolving soul transforming into a better version of myself with each of life’s obstacles.
To all of my fellow shy kids, I know you’ll relate. I know there are many of us, under the guise of talent, charisma, charm and intelligence. Lying just beneath the skin of artists, businesspeople, mothers, daughters and friends. We know what it means to walk this fine line of introversion and extroversion. It’s a careful teeter, but in some ways the best of both worlds. And that makes me think I must be doing something right.