Do you sometimes get shy when you meet someone new? Do you sometimes get nervous when you’re in front of a large group of people? Or maybe you worry a little bit too much if other people like you or not. I used to feel all of these things, but there was one realization that I had that made all of these feelings go away. Back in high school, I really wanted to be that cool kid who was always confident, relaxed and smooth in every single situation.
But I noticed that when I tried talking to an attractive girl or a popular kid, this awkward feeling would take over my entire body. And the more I thought about this feeling, the worse it all got. So I set out on a mission to get rid of this feeling forever. At first, I tried following the usual advice of just be yourself or don’t worry about what other people think. And this stuff did help a little bit, but I felt like these little mindsets were only treating the symptoms of my shyness and not the real problem. But one late afternoon, something really magical happened to me.
I found this old sheet of paper that had my dad’s signature on it and my old teacher’s signature on it. When I saw this, I immediately had a flashback to my younger self. I was standing in my old classroom and looking up at my teacher who was yelling at me.
She gave me a sheet of paper and said, Your parents have to sign this. It’s a sheet of paper saying that you were talking too much in class and it’s not OK. I looked over at my friends and I saw that they were laughing at me. And then when I got home and showed the paper to my parents, they got mad at me. So it was like my entire world was either laughing at me or getting mad at me for talking a little bit too much or just expressing myself a little bit too much. Nobody ever calmly or empathetically told me why I should not talk in class. It was always done in a harsh and stern way, whether it’s in school, at a restaurant, or even at home.
Kids are almost always told to sit down. Be quiet and behave like a good kid. And if they don’t do this, they are punished for it. And then years later, we wonder why we are nervous to speak up or to put ourselves out there in some type of way. If you truly want to get rid of your shyness and awkwardness, you need to do two simple things. The first thing is simply to acknowledge that you are not some loser or weird person for feeling those feelings because most of us were literally raised in a way to feel like this.
And the second thing you have to do is something that I call gradual exposure. You need to think about the scariest thing that you can do socially. Then slowly start working towards doing that thing. For me, it was going up to a random girl on the street and getting her phone number. So I started off small. I would say, Hey, what time is it? Then I said, Are you having a good day? It’s nice weather.
We’re having an inch by inch. I just kept pushing myself more and more outside of my comfort zone. And after a year of doing this, every single day, I got to the point where I could have that conversation without feeling forced or awkward. And if all that sounds like it’s too much. Then do something even smaller. Simply smile at someone. Make eye contact with someone. Even leaving your house and being around other people could be enough.
Nothing is too small when you start off, but you have to figure this out for yourself. I know this sounds incredibly cliche, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. If you consistently take steps in a single direction, it’s impossible for you to not eventually get to where you want to go. Trust the journey and believe in yourself.