Monday, March 30, 2009
[photo credit Madonna Dries Christensen]
The class assignment was to write our top five fears. I don’t remember what I wrote at age fifteen. I only remember what was not on my list--- spiders.
I recall the day because of “him.” He dared to initiate a conversation with a girl who should have written “my own shadow” on her list of fears.
Evan* sat next to me in my high school religion class. I had noticed his ice blue eyes, his straight white teeth framed by tanned skin, and his shaggy caramel colored hair before. Yeah, ok, so he was good looking. Therefore, I felt safe in the fact that he would never talk to me.
Until he did.
Evan, peering over at my list: What? You’re not afraid of spiders?
Me, suddenly aware that those white teeth were flashing at me in a grin, those ice blue eyes crinkled in mirth: __________________________
Yup. That’s what I said all right. Nothing. Instead, I barely shook my head and let my long hair fall down over my face.
I spent the rest of the year hoping for a second chance. I kept my hair out of my face on the side facing him. I positioned my body slightly toward his desk. He never spoke to me again.
My two sisters, one eight years older than I and another four years younger, were spared the shyness gene. Instead, they had the pretty gene. They had long dark hair, were cute and were cheerleaders. Guys loved them. I got stuck with the brains gene.
I have no problem whatsoever admitting that I was a homely child. Where my sisters had thick, glossy, nearly black hair, mine was fly-away mousy light brown. I had buck teeth and glasses. My looks, combined with my love of all things scholastic, qualified me as Nerd Princess, Wallflower Extraordinaire, The Queen of Shy. I dared not speak to anyone first, fearing that if I did, the other person would flag down the police saying, “Officer! Officer! Excuse me, but why is this homely chick talking to me?”
My teen years were excruciating. The thoughtless comments of others didn’t help. My dad loved to party and when his friends came over the alcohol began speaking for them.
“Your sisters are so cute—what happened to you?” Ha ha ha. Ha ha ha.
“The way you look all you’ll ever be good for is a bar maid. By the way, bring me another beer.” Ha ha ha. Ha ha ha.
“Looks like you’ll be the last one of the sisters to get married.” Ha ha ha. Ha ha ha.
I believe they thought that if the room full of men laughed at their comments, it wouldn’t hurt.
Throughout my youth, I retreated into my books--- classics, sci-fi, textbooks, novels, or The Bible. It didn’t matter. A book was a book was a book was an escape.
My shyness level remained constant throughout high school. Rude comments forced me further inside myself, but having a job extricated me back outside. I never had a date. Never went to a dance. If I had to phone someone I would first write down everything I needed to say.
As is typical of many people who experience physical or emotional pain, I found comfort in religion. I pored over the New Testament especially and sought to live a good life. I tried to be moral, loving, unselfish, and kind.
During my early college years, I made a few changes. I got my braces off, cut my hair and got contacts. And I read something that forever altered my life. I can’t remember where I read it or who wrote it, only that for me, it was a Saul of Tarsus moment. The statement was something like this:
Shy people are the most self-centered people in the world. They think
at any given moment that everyone is watching them, waiting for them
to err, ready to pounce upon their slightest faux pas. If shy people would
only realize the world doesn’t care, they wouldn’t be so shy.
I took great offense at that statement. How dare anyone suggest that I was selfish! I took great care to not offend, to not say anything hurtful, to be a good person. I read my Scriptures constantly. I felt sorry for people who had less than I did. The gall of that author! I knew I was shy, but I was not self-centered.
When I calmed down, I realized that I was a hypocrite. I was self-centered. I thought back to that day at school with Evan. I was thinking only of myself and what Evan would think of me. What if he thought I was weird? What if I said something stupid? How could I respond in a way that was witty or clever? Me, me, me, I, I, I. Did I even once in those brief seconds think about how he felt? Nope.
I reflected on classes in high school or college in which I had to give oral reports. I had obsessed, wondering what would happen if I mispronounced a word or stumbled on the way to the podium. What if my classmates were picking apart my outfit or my hair? I heard not a word of anyone else’s reports. I was too busy hyper-analyzing my own.
Me again. I, I, I.
I was kind, unselfish and good all right--on the inside.
On the outside I was self-consumed, concerned only with how I appeared in every social transaction. If that was not the height of self-centeredness, then what was?
After about one momentous hour of self-introspection, I knew that I had kidded myself for many years. It was time to change.
I vowed that day to start anew.
I would now always volunteer to do oral reports first, rather than wait until the end in hopes that a meteor would strike the earth and I would not have to speak. I would realize that if I did make a mistake it might ease someone else’s discomfort at the fear of making his own blooper. I could then focus fully on what my classmates had to say.
If someone spoke to me, I would give him or her full eye contact. I would listen to what they were saying instead of worrying about what I was going to say. I would realize that if I said something stupid it was OK. It would only give others the freedom to say something stupid too.
I would now externalize my kindness instead of keeping it inside. If someone tripped and fell, I would offer a hand, rather than worrying if they thought I was a weirdo for stopping to help. I would write a note of appreciation to someone, instead of safeguarding that mental note.
I promised to be aware of the shyness of others and try to make them at ease. I would speak first instead of always waiting to be spoken to. I would realize that everyone wants to feel charming, so I would focus on what the other person had to say.
I woke up that morning painfully shy. I went to sleep that night an extrovert.
I had always admired one of our female customers at the restaurant where I worked. Joy was beautiful. She had softly slanting eyes, short dark hair and a perfect set of teeth. Had I heard of Laura Bush at the time, I would have compared Joy to her. She was elegant, impeccably dressed and spoke with a delightful southern accent.
One day I was walking across a grocery store parking lot, ready to shop after work. As I got closer, I saw Joy exiting the store. I felt slightly jealous. Joy, even in the middle of winter, looked beautiful. She was wearing a white coat and gloves with a white furry hat. She looked like a First Lady, I thought, or perhaps some visiting dignitary.
As she stepped off the curb, a car came careening through the slush, into her path. I was too far away to do anything so I watched helplessly as Joy stumbled and lost her balance, trying to get out of the car’s path. She was able to right herself, but the car’s tires splashed mud on her as it continued past, Joy now safely out of the way.
We are all the same, I thought. Even someone as poised as Joy will lose her dignity and her bearing in an effort to save her own life. Strange how a few seconds can change your perspective.
I Changed + My Life Changed= I Changed My Life
It seems odd to say that my life changed overnight, but it did. I stopped being shy in a day and started living a whole new life.
I got asked out on dates—lots of them.
I made so many new friends that I actually had to turn down fun things to do.
I got asked to speak in front of large crowds (300+.) No fear.
Celebrities or community leaders no longer intimidated me. (I knew that if a car was coming at them, they would still look ridiculous trying to save their own lives, right?)
Yeah, I got my teeth straightened and got contacts, but my face still really looked the same. The changes in me had nothing to do with how I looked. The changes came because of how I “out-looked.”
I realize that not all shy people are shy for the same reasons. Many enjoy their shyness and really have no desire to overcome it. Others are shy and not self-centered. But for those who would like to become less shy, I ask you to think of the statement that I read so many years ago, and see if it applies to your life in any way.
If it does, I challenge you to ask yourself if you are mostly thinking about yourself in social situations. And if you are?
To quote Mohandas Gandhi: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
And yes, the hot chick in the pink cat-eye glasses is me.
*Name changed to protect me, not him
Posted by Randi at 3:55 PM