Tuesday, January 24, 2017

On shyness and strength

"I reached out, she grabbed my hand, and we have been friends ever since" Gwyned wrote.
the sentence "I reached out" is big.

Recently my friend Gwyned and I were discussing the joy of having couple friends. She and her husband became couple friends when she reached out to the wife during a health crises, and they all bonded as four friends not two couples.

Reaching out is the step a lot of people miss for several reasons.

I was shy, very shy, growing up.
I was an A student, but once took an  F rather than stand up in front of the class to do a report.
I was an artistic sensitive person who grew up in an authoritarian abusive household, and self expression was not rewarded.

Confidence cannot grow in that soil. 

When I was in college, a girlfriend and I met some guys (who were students from Toronto) at Disney World and we all kept up a writing friendship when they left Fl. One of them told me being shy is a waste of time!


I had never thought of it that way.
Joe said, "just put yourself out there, take the risk you'll be rejected or ignored".
 "What's to lose really?" he asked

He was telling me the response from other people was less important to me than  reaching out was to me. He was telling me their response did not define me.

A little passing sentence in a long line of letters between college kids ended up changing my life.

I began that week to look people in the eye as I passed. I began to say hi when I sat near someone. I began to look at people rather than the tops of my shoes.
I became less shy.
I became more me, the person who wants to know others.
I became more powerful in a way, taking the risk of rejection knowing it would not un-do me to be rejected.

I became happier as I met some very nice people for a minute in passing, or who later became friends.

I learned I was a person who was interested in others, and by looking at them, and talking to them, I could learn about them. It enriched my life.

As a child, I longed to be a performer. A singer and dancer in shows. I was painfully shy, fearful of others, so I put that goal behind me as unreachable.
I approached University as a straight A student, confident in my ability to learn and succeed in school. I decided to be a surgeon instead of an actress.

I went through 2 1/2 years of pre-med classes, succeeding but increasingly unhappy. I went into counseling at University where I continued the real path to finding out who I was under the shyness. I took a turn from medicine toward psychology as I realized that fit me more. 
It was like the shyness problem... I didn't listen to my heart. I did what I thought I was meant to.
When I opened my eyes to the possibilities, and someone asked what I wanted to do instead of telling me what to do, I moved into social science field.

I blossomed and began to know who I was, and it wasn't who I was told to be. I never made much money as a social worker, but I learned about people in a way most people do not. I learned to see and hear them, that there were many choices in life. I learned self respect as I made choices too.

I've never been good at choice making because I become paralyzed trying to make the right one. Then I learned there is not always a right one to make.... you make a choice and live with the results until you make another choice. Making no choice may be the worst choice.

My baby steps toward speaking to strangers, reaching out to others became a marathon. I still have bouts of shyness, when self doubt and old parental disapproval plays in my mind. It's when I overcome and take the risk of standing up for myself, that I grow in strength.

The kind of strength that is real, the inside kind of quiet strength of character that is called for in society.

 I admire people who quietly know who they are.

With nothing to prove, they have no need to overpower others. When I am around them I am reminded that my opinions are valid and respected.

People who seek power at the expense of other people are dangerous and disgusting to me.
They see life as a competition with winners and losers. They find joy in overpowering others.  They can charm you in a manipulative way in order to steal your power.

I learned back in college what real strength was. It is quiet and deep.  I learned from a passing sentence from a new acquaintance.

Strength is knowing who you are, what you believe, and acting on that.

Strength takes away nothing from others.


  1. I agree with you making no choice is like getting a fail automatically... I don't like to make choices and I often ponder too much about the if's and but's... but there is always an if and a but... no matter what we do... and we can try to make the best of it...

  2. Amen. Took me a long time to learn this.

  3. I just got caught up reading your posts, Le Anna. As usual, you have a lot of substance packed into your words and lots of food for thought. It took me many decades to feel comfortable in my own skin, to realize I had a style, to know my own mind; I could go on. I am a late bloomer in many respects of my life. I understand a lot of women identify with this. Interesting stuff.

  4. What a great essay LA! Self esteem and compassion are so important as is respect for others. How do we learn these? first in the home, then in schools and then the work place. And in social encounters. Amen, i ponder as well, and then trust my gut in decisions, most times. Through my art of making something and all the decisions involved in building a dress,a necklace, a quilt,..... that was not there before, i have made/built a life, my life. Second guessing one self is (perhaps a cultural construct) an issue in some women's life until we become aware of it and do something about.i am enriched by hearing how you overcame the shyness that stopped you from being your best self!

  5. Great post! It really got me to thinking about past choices I've made - times when I backed down on something or made the wrong choice because it was safer and I was too shy/afraid to put myself out there. I know there are two great influencers for us - nature and nurture. And I wonder how much each comes into play. My mother was a strong woman - did as she pleased all her life (graduated from NYU in 1949 at age 20, in accounting. Worked all her life and retired as a VP with Wells Fargo). My daughter is also strong - put herself through college (Philosophy) while working full time. Marches for causes and is working on an advanced degree while managing a Resident program at a major hospital. Me? Didn't finish college, always wanted to be a designer, create, sew, craft. Great with numbers, logic and crosswords. Odd one out. My career was in bookkeeping, then credit management because I was good with numbers, people and creative solutions. But I am bookended by strong women, and it's hard to think of myself that way in comparison to them. It's just my nature to be different.

  6. Your friend Joe was a wise young person to share that insight with you. Congrats on finding your strength.

  7. Well said. I am basically a shy person too and always envy those people who can strike up a conversation anywhere, anytime.

  8. Thank you for sharing. There is much food for thought in this post and I will return to it again. It takes a long time for many of us to be our own selves and I don't think I'm really there yet, but I'm working on it.

  9. Hard to believe you were ever shy, but I'm so glad you got over it. Great thoughtful post, as usual.

  10. Your comments about people who do not need to overpower others was very pertinent. I think many people combine talking too much with not knowing what they are talking about. How much more helpful to ask questions rather than spout answers. No one knows it all. {Talking about myself here.}

  11. Wow! Deep and all so true. What an inspirational and affirming post.

  12. "I admire people who quietly know who they are." -- I do, too. What a thoughtful and well written piece, LeeAnna!

  13. This is lovely. I can relate, being a sister in shyness. It takes work to break out of that, which on some days I just don't have the energy for! So some days I just accept that today I am shy.

  14. I, too, can relate to your words and experiences. It takes many of us a long time to figure out who we are and where we fit best in this world. I still am shy (or maybe we can now call ourselves introverts?!) and most comfortable with family and long time friends. But I do learn a lot and get inspiration from people who aren't afraid to put themselves out there!

  15. Hi LeeAnna,
    This reminds me of Robert Frost's poem ' the road less travelled' ....two roads diverged in a common wood...one of my favourites! Sometimes to learn who you are and what you believe in leads one down many roads! Congratulations on writing such a beautiful and moving post!

  16. WOW! Great post. I needed to read something like this. I can relate to so many things you put into words. So many times in my life I have felt "invisible". Sometimes I call it my superpower; other times not so much. Do others have this feeling of "invisibility"? Thank you so much for your blog!

  17. Right on, you're a kindred spirit, LeeAnna!
    It's a fight, but well worth it.
    I don't always win, but who does?
    Keep on, you're on the right track.

  18. What a beautiful post! I am glad you took your friend's advice to heart. Being shy IS a waste of time. Having the confidence to be yourself and reaching out to others is so much more important.