1/29/13

Here's to the Shy Ones.

Providence, RI. College. Mid-semester. Required course. Sophomore year if my memory serves me correctly. Class filled to the brim with people from my extended social circle (i.e. people I drank dollar drafts with at the bars...). We had been spending the previous weeks working on some sort of project, I can't remember anymore exactly what. But what happens after, I remember very very well. All too well. Midterm presentation to the class about the progress of our work. 20 minutes. There may have been times in my life prior to this day that I was required to publicly present (there must have been). Those times have all but disappeared in my memory. This was the only time.

My name was called. I had been slightly nervous sitting there at my table prior to my turn but really nothing crazy. I was dreading it somewhat because unless you are a freak or complete overachiever, who the hell LIKES to present? I got up and moved to the front of the room with my materials. Got everything all set up on the overhead. Time started. And I stopped. In that moment, I stopped. And I stood there, in that halted moment, for the next 13 years of my life.

I couldn't breathe. I could barely get the words out. I certainly could not think, which made it very difficult to give any sort of cohesive presentation. My palms were soaked through. Mouth dry. It is all a blur to me but I am pretty sure I spat out about three full sentences, said something totally and utterly ridiculous like "that's my project," and turned and walked back to my seat. All of maybe 45 seconds. I still remember the weird looks people gave me. My teacher never even broached the subject (I clearly should have failed that project but didn't) probably because he could see that it wasn't for lack of preparation, just sheer terror. It was that bad. Up until that point I had never really had awkward social moments. I didn't consider myself shy or afraid of striking up conversation with people. Well, that moment? It changed everything.

I spent a great deal of my graduate program in New Orleans avoiding classes that involved presentations. No joke. I would register for a class, get the syllabus, look it over and if there were any sort of presentations involved, I would drop it and register for something else. Of course, it was not always possible. It's grad school. You have to present at some point. So I would literally type out my entire presentation, word for word, go up, put my head down and read verbatim from the sheet. There was no other way. Once I was up there my brain completely stopped working and I was incapable of actually thinking. It wasn't about doing it well. It was about getting through it alive. The fear spread to job interviews, interactions with my mentors, you name it. It was everywhere.

That was manageable though compared to what it did to me as a person. I slowly became slightly shy. That feeling of being in a situation where I was required to talk and nothing would come out scared the shit out of me. I would find myself in social situations, lost for words, feeling horribly embarrassed. I hated going out with new people. Hey, I hated meeting new people period. To this day I maintain a small, very tight knit group of friends. And I don't much enjoy straying from it. I have always wondered what people talk about so much, all the time. Small talk? Meh. No idea. Not interested. People who meet me most likely think I'm a huge bitch because I'm not all that friendly. But I swear that's really not it (although I will most definitely tell you that I can be a huge bitch sometimes too...). I am really just shy.

It's a word that makes people cringe. Never a good thing. In this world of social media swirling all around us shyness is certainly not something to be valued. All of the successful blogs that I read are filled with advice to "get out there," "go have coffee with fellow bloggers," "hang out with bloggers in your city," "network, network, network." And all of those words of advice, simply put, fill me with dread. I can't imagine much worse than scheduling someone I have never met for coffee (hello? this is like a non-stop first date. do people really find pleasure in this?!). I know that I would probably be a much more successful blogger and decorator if I could find it in me to get out there and network. And part of me is slowly coming around more. In the past two years I have learned much better how to manage it. I don't know what it is. A relationship that makes me feel stronger. A growing into myself. Don't know. I don't dread as much as I used to. I can get through an interview and not feel scared or awkward. I do believe that I have finally found my voice again through all of this. Something about this year and my pure resolve to push things through has made me able to talk without my voice quivering, to approach people and ask dumb questions, to not really care at all what anyone thinks of me. In my professional life, it has been a revelation.

It has also made me realize one thing very firmly. I am a shy person. It doesn't debilitate me like it used to. But it's there. It's not rooted in low self-esteem (I actually rather like myself) or self-consciousness. I'm just slower to come around. And I refuse to accept that it's a completely bad thing. In a world filled with loud voices, showy drama queens and chatty people, I'm okay with being one of the ones who prefers quiet. Yes, I probably do miss out on meeting some great people. But I feel lucky to have the ones that have infiltrated my shell. And I really do believe that those people will get to me no matter what, because they were meant to. There must be some value in us, the shy ones. There must be a place for us to succeed in this very loud world, to not be overshadowed by the talkers, to not have our talent go wasted just because we don't like having cocktails with people we've never met. Hey, I blushed fiercely every single time Justin used to talk to me. Within seconds, every.single.time. And now he's my husband so that must count for something, right?

Warehouse 17C by Arturo Franco Office

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