It suddenly dawned on me a few weeks ago that I very rarely feel shy or awkward any more. I was driving home and I just started thinking about it. I no longer dread cashiers striking up conversations with me (I used to find it so uncomfortable), I no longer dread attending new places or playgroups (nightmare), I don’t fret about what people think of me afterwards for hours and hours (what a waste of time), I no longer rely on Jared or a sibling to initiate conversation, I no longer try to avoid social outings (I’ve avoided hundreds, including my Year 11 prom), I no longer dread the hairdressers (awkward, forced conversation? no thank you), I don’t stress over what to do or cook when people come over to our house (I would get so worked up) and I don’t dread seeing people I know when I’m out and about (I would go through great lengths to avoid them).
I’m still not a massive fan of the phone, but I’m okay with that. My younger sister’s voice sounds similar to mine, so I would get her to make my phone calls, including calling in sick to work (!) I’ve moved on from that, but I’m still not overly keen. I’ve never been painfully shy – I’m definitely a ‘once you know me, it’s fine’, but it’s something I have really struggled with and hidden quite well.
It’s been a very gradual process, and without getting too deep and reflective about it all, it feels liberating. When I was about 15 years old I remember thinking about all the things being shy prevented me doing – the friends I wouldn’t ever meet and the opportunities I might miss out on. A few of my friends told me they thought I was snobby before they met me, and that bothered me too. What an awful vibe to give off. I hated the thought of people thinking I was rude, apathetic or snobby, but I have also learnt that some people are the first to say ‘nobody cared’, without making any effort themselves. This has frustrated me at times.
The lack of assertiveness worried me, as did the feeling of inferiority that I always carried with me. I’ve always been very sure of myself deep down – I have opinions, views and things to say, but it all seemed pointless if I kept my mouth shut, or didn’t act on them. It was frustrating. I decided that it’s something I needed to overcome – what if I missed out on huge opportunities in my life and had lots of regrets? I needed to become assertive and totally comfortable with myself. I remember my Dad sitting me down and telling me he thought I had an inferiority complex and asking me how he could help me. That had a profound effect on me.
I got into Kings College London to study Dietetics and Nutrition, but I didn’t feel like I was good enough to go there, so I decided to go and do something else. I didn’t even tell my parents, I just told them I didn’t get in. I didn’t dare go to some of my university interviews, so I just didn’t turn up. I was so used to behaving in this way that I didn’t think too much about it. I do look back and wonder how different my life would be, but at the same time I don’t have any regrets.
I’ve noted down a few things that have helped me approach situations more confidently in the hope that they may help someone struggling with similar feelings.
People that have helped:
– Jared has made all the difference. He has a particular talent for evaluating himself and is incredibly rational. He has helped me realise what thought processes are normal, and those that are abnormal. He’s asked me why I think a certain way, questioned my motives and encouraged me to go right out of comfort zone. He would get me to text him when I’d arrived at a new playgroup and help me plan my week. He has been so supportive.
– My Mum is a brilliant example. When she comes to mine and we go into town she literally talks to everyone. I’ve never really understood how to make small talk, but she is an absolute expert.
– Being around positive people. This one is obvious, but it is so important to be around people that lift and more importantly, that inspire you.
Practical things that have helped:
– Becoming a Mum has been a big motivator. I wrote a post while ago about how important I feel it is to be a happy and content for the sake of our family life. Motherhood throws you into so many unknowns and we somehow have to make sense of it all. Frightful words like baby massage, soft play, play group, music time, birthday party and play date enter your vocabulary, and you have to pretend you’re comfortable with them.
– Being a massage therapist. I used to have clients around to our house, but now I only work mobile (unless it’s a male client – following more than a few dodgy text messages). This has meant I’ve had to go to new places, meet new people and be professional. On the way to a client’s house I try to remember what we talked about last time and plan what to say, which I know sounds really cringe, but it has really helped.
– Joining the gym by myself. Before kids Jared and I would go to the gym together. I would constantly worry that people were staring at me and not enjoy myself. Now I’ve realised that people are far more interested in working out than looking at me. I also decided to have a proper induction so that I’d feel confident on the machines, and going to classes means I’ve had to be paired with strangers.
Thought processes that have helped:
– Turning the scenario around usually gives you the answer you need. If someone invited you round for a play date would you think they were weird or overly eager? – absolutely not.
– What is the worst that could happen? – nine times out of ten the worst case scenario isn’t that bad. Be realistic about the answer to this one.
– Who doesn’t like being given a compliment? If I think something nice about someone, I really try to say it. I’m not a fan of withholding compliments, competitive friendships, competitive parenting or ‘playing it cool’. I am so not cool.
– The thought of coming across rude fills me with horror and this has been a huge motivating factor too. I cannot bear the thought of apathy either. I so care about peoples feelings, and am so interested in finding out about people, but at times I have lacked the confidence to express both.
– Understanding that it is impossible to fulfil some peoples’ insatiable appetite for attention. No matter how hard you try, some people will always want more from you.
– Listen to the advice that you give to other people, and heed your own advice. Sometimes I hear myself saying things that I would never ever say to myself.
– Sometimes confident people need a break from approaching people. No matter how confident or positive a person, it is always nice for them to be approached rather than always having to initiate conversation.
– Knowing what makes me happy. I’m a creative person, a person that gets immense satisfaction from looking at beautiful pictures, a person that likes doing things and a person that likes to exercise. I have to find time to do these things amongst family life, otherwise I’m not happy and our family life suffers.
– I haven’t always felt this way, but now I feel strongly that it is my responsibility to include and enjoy myself wherever I go. It’s not always possible to have a good time, but it is always possible to make the best of a bad situation.
– If you’ve tried your best and had the correct motive, there is no need to worry about shoulda, woulda, couldas.
– I’ve discovered that people love being asked about themselves. In the past I would find it uncomfortable if people asked me about myself, so I always thought everyone felt the same. Turns out most people enjoy being asked about their lives. Who knew?
There are still many occasions when I feel timid, hugely lack confidence or overwhelmed, but I don’t dread situations like I used to, and I don’t fret about what I should have done. I’ve learnt to trust myself, and that finding happiness begins with me.
A million apologies for such a self indulgent post. It won’t happen again.