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Being shy is kind of like being part of the Missed Connections section on Craigslist, minus the creepiness, stalking, and unsolicited sexual requests. Hmm, okay…maybe it’s not.

Shyness encompasses knowing what to say long after the moment has passed. The act of wanting attention, without really wanting attention. That was my reality for years.

As a kid, my shyness was a major source of fear, shame and embarrassment. It was always framed by others as a debilitating web of missed and wasted opportunities. A disease of over-thinking, I constantly worried about what people would think of me if I said or didn’t say this, did or didn’t do that. It was all very awkward and very uncomfortable and probably stunted my emotional growth.

Going to school dances? Damn near impossible. I was perfectly fine with practicing the moves to Michael Jackson’s latest music video – excuse me, short films – at home, but wouldn’t dare keep a beat in public. Talking to boys? I mastered the whole admire from a distance thing and read corny teenage romance books over and over again in the hopes that I would one day live out the fairytale storylines.

It’s not that I didn’t want to talk or offer my opinions and commentary in social settings. Depending on the situation, I physically couldn’t. Paralyzed by fear, my muscles would tense, my heart would beat a mile a minute. Butterflies did more than flutter in my stomach; they were in there doing rhythmic gymnastics, competing for gold medals and sh*t.

But what I feared most of all was that being shy would keep me from achieving greatness. Somehow, I got it in my head that shy people didn’t succeed in life, especially when it comes to relationships and careers. The last thing I wanted was a life of mediocrity.

Why did I think this? Part of the reason was the reactions I received from people. Face it, most of us don’t gravitate to the quiet ones or the non-talkers in a room. We’re more likely to approach and more inclined to want to know the seemingly inviting people: mouths open because they’re engaged in conversation, eyes alert and allergic to darting, heads held high.

Because I was too busy doing the complete opposite, people assumed I was stuck up, rude, mean, angry, or that I didn’t know how to have a good time. Who does she think she is? What’s wrong with her? What does she have against me? My silence was a magnet for assumption and insecurity. It took me a long time to come to this conclusion. It wasn’t up to people to engage me, especially not when they were consumed with their own issues too. And here my ego fully expected people to come my way just because I wanted them to.

But my shyness wasn’t their problem. I had to push myself to talk, to dance, to mingle. That involved giving a genuine compliment here and there, asking a question or offering up a joke. Little by little, I climbed my way out of the hole that kept me from being and sharing my wonderful self with others. I even noticed that my shyness had sharpened other skills. It made me a damn good listener, for one, and also an excellent observer. I now consider these to be two of my best qualities.  Being shy sure helped on the introspective front, too.  A sista learned a lot about herself!

If I could talk to my younger self, I would tell her not to worry so much. I would let her know that one day, what other people thought or didn’t think of me wouldn’t be my problem. But, hey, when you know better, you do better. Here’s to mo betta.

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