You know you’re shy when your stomach is bottomless, your mind goes blank and you struggle to say “the right thing” when you’re in a group or just with one person you don’t know well. That happened to me until I was almost in my fifties, when I forced myself into activities to help me understand and feel more at ease with people.
This month I gave my first talk about shyness in public. It was billed as an overview of my new book, Brave. A dozen gray-haired women filled the sunny meeting room at the Healing Garden in Harvard, Massachusetts. With notes in hand, I felt well organized. More important, I felt mentally charged, ready to share some of my history of shyness.
For so many years I’d tried to imagine what this would be like, and yes, I was still very, very aware of the mountain of pain connected with my shy past. I wanted to be well prepared and to avoid being tired that day from driving from Maine, I’d spent the night at my son’s house, not far from Harvard. Then in the morning, even before I’d finished my stretching exercises, adrenaline began taking over my mind. I knew it was a blessing, that it would shelter me from nervousness and feeling scared.
I felt focused and comfortable talking about my history, and I liked that. But halfway through the ninety-minute talk and half a dozen questions, I knew something was not right–the audience members were way too solemn. I sensed an air of detachment, but I didn’t know why or what to do about it. I continued to concentrate on delivering my talk about Brave.
After the talk, three women lingered and I asked them what they thought. They told me they had wanted to talk about their own shyness. This exchange with the women taught me I should listen to how people are responding to what I say. I should have picked up on the women’s need to talk about themselves. After all, they had come to the Healing Garden for a talk on shyness—why else would they be interested in the subject except to learn more about their own problems with shyness? I realized for talks in the future I should focus less on the particulars of my story and discuss shyness problems in general. Exactly what I want to do with this blog. Here we can talk about what we want because everyone has time to reflect on feelings, offer insights and learn from each other.
Let’s get a dialogue going. Use this blog to comment on your own shyness, or the shyness of loved ones, or to ask me questions about my shyness. You can post your comments here anonymously, under a nickname, or under your own name.