Would you believe me if I told you I’m the shyest person on earth?
I’ll understand if you don’t. When you’re sharing (some) of your life online, everyone assumes you’re a narcissist. Why else would you post endless selfies, vlog on Youtube and pour your heart out on blog posts?
But the truth is different…
In school, I was so shy, I’d refuse to read aloud in class – when I tried, I stuttered badly.
I hid in my room most of the time so that I wouldn’t have to talk to people – or worse, meet a stranger.
I never enjoyed going to parties or networking events by myself – I don’t know what to say.
When I meet someone as shy as me, we sit in silence for half an hour – neither of us has any idea what to do with the other.
Online is different. I find it way easier to share my most intimate thoughts with a bunch of strangers I will never run into in real life than doing small talk with a real person in front of me.
And while I do believe that shyness is NOT a disease and has its fair share of benefits – we shy folks tend to think before we leap into a situation and are seen as more approachable by others – extreme shyness can be debilitating, interfere with your personal life and cost you amazing work opportunities.
I know this first hand. Even though I’m often complimented on the quality of my work, I don’t get as many opportunities as other freelancers/bloggers who are perhaps less talented but more outgoing.
The uncomfortable truth is that people do business with people they like. The most successful bloggers/businesswomen/creatives aren’t always the most talented. They’re the ones with the best networks.
And so, if you want to make that dream of yours come true, you need to overcome some of your shyness, put yourself out there and start connecting with people. Here’s what has worked for me:
Do Things That Scare You
There’s no getting around this one: if you want to truly overcome shyness and reach for your dreams, you need to step out of your comfort zone. And that means doing things that scare the heck out of you. And if you’re terribly shy, that could be something perfectly normal as stopping a stranger on the street to ask for directions.
For me, that’s starting a conversation with a perfect stranger. I’m perfectly happy (and relieved!) to chat to strangers when THEY start the conversation but for the longest time I couldn’t bring myself to make the first step.
As a result, I’d always get stuck with boring people at networking events. While others went home with precious contacts that’d help them further their businesses and reach their goals, I’d have awkward conversations with someone in a completely different field, maybe exchange business cards out of politeness and never see each other again. Kinda defeated the purpose of networking.
I knew this had to change but I was too scared of walking into a room full of strangers and introduce myself to plenty of new people. So I decided to introduce myself to just one. Until I had approached a stranger and introduced myself, I wasn’t allowed to go home.
Of course, I kept procrastinating until the very end of the night but, once I did it, I realised it wasn’t so scary. The person I approached was so friendly and humble, I wondered why the heck I was so terrified of even saying hi to her!
I won’t lie and say that starting conversations with strangers is now easy for me. But I can do it. My network is growing. I’m getting more job opportunities. And enjoying life a lot more!
None of that would happened if I hadn’t been willing to get out of my comfort zone.
TAKE ACTION NOW:
What’s one thing that scares you but you know deep down you have to master to reach your goals? Now, think about the smallest step you can take to do it. For example, if you need to cold call potential clients, start with one a day. If you’re ok with one-on-one conversations but freeze in groups, go to a networking event a week and approach one group. Do enough to stretch outside your comfort zone but not enough to scare you back in.
Prepare For It
The worst thing about being shy is the tendency to overthink negative scenarios. You’re always wondering about what could go wrong or worrying about how you might mess up.
But what if you focused on what could go right instead?
But… here’s the catch: don’t just hope and pray everything will go right. Prepare for it.
For example, when I realised I needed to start approaching at least one person at every networking event I attended, I starting thinking about how I could minimize the risks of failure and embarrassment and make the interaction a success.
I came up with several questions I could ask to start the conversation such as, “Is this your first time at this conference?” or “what did you think of that speaker?” I practised my elevator speech so I could clearly communicate who I am and what I do without stuttering and sweating.
And I visualized the scene in my mind a thousand times. While I don’t believe that you just have to think of something for it to happen, neuroscience has proven that your brain doesn’t know the difference between you doing something and you doing thinking of doing something.
If you keep visualizing yourself kicking ass and slaying it, your brain will think you’re actually doing it – and won’t kick up such a fuss when you’re actually ready it to do it for real!
TAKE ACTION NOW:
Go back to whatever you decided to do in the previous exercise. What could you do today to prepare you for it? Maybe you can research who else will be at the conference so you can brainstorm a few topics of conversation. Or you can rehearse the pitch for your cold call. Or you can visualise yourself pulling it off with flying colours. Do it. Now.
Get Comfortable In Your Own Skin
When you’re uncomfortable it shows. And what’s more uncomfortable for a shy person than entering a room full of strangers?
I remember when I first went to networking events. I’d walk through the door hesitantly, scanning the room with my eyes looking for potential threats. I’d sit down on the edge of a chair, shoulders slouched down, eyes low. It was so obvious I didn’t want to be there.
At one of these events, an old man approached me. He asked me why I had come to the event. I said I wanted to meet more people. Next thing I knew, he introduced me to the girl sitting next to me. Turns out, he was the speaker at the event and had immediately noticed as I walked into the room that I was too shy to make the first move – even though networking with people was the whole point of the event!
Your posture, the way you walk, sit and move your body tell a lot about you. If you act like you don’t want to be there, most people will get the message and won’t even bother to say hi to you.
So, act like you want to be there. Walk in a room confidently, stand upright, don’t cross your arms and, most importantly, smile. Not only you’ll look more approachable to others, your brain will start to feel more confident too.
TAKE ACTION NOW:
When you’re shy, your body tends to assume postures that make you look smaller. So, take up space. Open your legs, spread your arms, sit down properly on the chair. And smile. Smile. Smile.
If you’re struggling with body language, I highly encourage you to check out the work of Vanessa Van Edwards. Her blog, Science of People, decodes human behaviour and gives you a ton of science-based tips you can start to implement right now to look and feel more confident.
Over to you, now. How did you overcome your shyness? Share your stories and tips in the comments below.