The definition of the word shy is “being reserved or showing nervousness or timidity in the company of other people.” If you are shy, or ever were shy, you have probably felt those moments of anxiety when answering a phone, or a question in class. School plays would call for a spontaneous “sick day,” and presenting projects was always a nightmare. Meeting new people may still be awkward, and making friends might be harder for you than it is for other people. These are things that all “shy people” experience, and while school-- and sometimes, life in general-- may be hard when you’re quiet, it’s nice to know that we all have something in common.
Another definition of the word shy is “less than,” and that is often what we are made to feel as naturally reserved people. If you consider yourself shy, you’ve probably been told somewhere along the line that you need to “break out of your shell.” These people make it sound like it’s easy to do, when you know that most times, leaving your comfort zone is extremely difficult. They may even tell you things like “you won’t amount to anything” or “you’ll never be able to function in the real world that way.” Others may say that being quiet equates to being rude or stuck-up. Still others may tell you that you want to be ignored, when all you want is to be treated normally, like anyone else. They might make you feel like you need to work on yourself, that there is something wrong with you, that you are somehow less than others. These people will always tell you to speak up, to be more sociable, to not be yourself. And when you finally try something new, someone might even say “You’re too quiet to be a leader.”
These things that they tell you are lies. There is nothing wrong with you. You do not have to do things you are not comfortable with. You are not rude for being who you are. And, most importantly, you can do whatever you want.
When you’re young, they think being shy is cute, then they take it back and say it’s wrong. I went through elementary school with very few friends, and I was often bullied. I barely spoke in class-- or even outside of class-- and giving any kind of presentation was near impossible. Anytime I had to read aloud, my voice would shake and my face would turn red. I was constantly told to repeat myself because I was too quiet. Middle school went by similarly, but people were even less understanding. Kids wouldn’t even try speaking to me, instead saying that I “never talked.” I even had a teacher tell me she didn’t like me because I was shy. All my life I was told by friends, teachers, other adults, and even family members, that I would not be able to function because I was quiet.
Then high school came. I began to find places where I fit in. I made more friends. I played a sport. I ran for class president and won, despite my voice shaking and people telling me that I couldn’t do it. I joined clubs, I took things over, I won awards, and I established myself. People knew who I was and what I did. I ran for student council and spoke in front of the entire school. I won, again. Even after everything, people said I couldn’t do it, but I continued to prove them wrong by working for and achieving whatever I wanted. And when quiet little me who could barely present her science fair project in fourth grade, gave the closing speech at graduation in her junior year, I knew that I would never be made to feel “less than” again.
In a society where we are trying to become more accepting and empowering of those different from us, I believe the “shy” stereotype is something that is not discussed as much as it should be. These stereotypes-- that we won’t make it in life, that we can’t be leaders-- affect both girls and boys. “Shy people” are generally thought of by adults and peers alike as being boring, antisocial, or even mute. In reality, they can be just as talkative as anyone else. As they get to know someone, they open up and let their true personality through. They can be intelligent, funny, good listeners, and great friends. “Shy people” really, truly are like everyone else.
Despite this, the word shy continues to carry a negative connotation. Since when did the volume of someone’s voice and how often they used it determine what they could do and how far they could go in life? Being shy only means that you are controlled in your actions and reserved in your words. It does not limit you and it does not make you any less than those around you. If anything, being quiet gives you a different perspective on life. You may find that people consider you to be more trustworthy than others, and when you do join conversations, they usually hang onto every word you say.
Use these things to your advantage. End the “shy” stereotype. Master your craft, be whatever kind of leader you want, and leave your comfort zone-- but only when you are ready. There’s no rush, and you will not be any farther behind for taking longer to come into your own. It took seventeen years for my voice not to shake when I spoke in front of people, and when I finally took that leap, broke out of my shell, left my comfort zone because I truly wanted to, it was the most fulfilling feeling in the world.
For anyone that’s ever put someone down for being reserved, next time think about this: How would you like it if someone told you that who you are is wrong, and it was something you needed to work on or change? And for every person who has been called “shy” or calls themself “shy,” do what you want and be what you are. Own it, for every time they’ve told you that they can’t hear you. Once you know the things they say are lies, the power is yours. You will not be ignored. You will never be less.