I was reading an old diary I used to keep today, and I wrote something down about how proud I was that I had waved to someone I hadn’t seen in a while. I was proud because I previously had been too shy to do something like that before. Sounds a bit crazy right? In a nutshell – I grew up terribly shy. And just as I was approaching my teens… my confidence deteriorated also. Now, this is going to be a personal one, and a long one… so grab a cup of tea.
When I was very young – as in still in nursery – I was painfully shy. Throughout nursery, I never said a word to anyone, to the point where when I actually did open my mouth and speak, someone said they had thought I was a ‘mute’. As school progressed – I got louder around the people I knew. Because of the way school works when you’re young, being shy didn’t stop me from making loads of friends. However, if you were to put me in front of anyone I didn’t know, I would once again revert back to my shy self – unable to do anything but smile. Why was I so shy? I honestly think it was just in my nature. I was always way too concerned about saying the wrong thing, and way too concerned about judgments – so whilst my mind was always working, nothing translated to my mouth. But this started to harm me the older I got – because the older you get, the more being able to socialise and speak up can put you forward in life. Time after time I would kick myself for going to parties and not socialising or being too shy to dance or I’d kick myself for not speaking my mind in class and having someone else impress with what I wanted to say. I just wished that I had been one of those people that was born naturally outgoing – it seemed like a much easier life to live.
Although I’d constantly try and make and effort to come out of my shell (‘new me’ and all), what really helped was just experiencing life. Which may not seem like the most practical tip – but it is totally true. The thing is, the older you get, the less you can be shy if you’re trying to achieve different things. For example, this week at work I had to meet a some clients and also a set of investors – these were completely new faces that I’d never seen before, but I was able to introduce myself confidently, and not shy away like the mute I once was. I was able to do this because I’m now way more experienced in that area, every day I’m meeting and conversing with completely new people, it’s what my job requires of me, but also what life typically requires from all of us. The older you get, the more mature you get, and the more you start to realise that no one is really digging to deeply into what you say. Being less shy is something that continues to grow as I get older, even just in the past few years – I still remember having a friend around 2.5 years ago that would always point out to me that I came across as shy.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m still not an extremely loud outgoing person. I’m naturally quite quiet, I’m quite a chill person and I tend to listen and I contribute when I want to. Plus I’ll be honest – I still have to psyche myself up a sometimes when it comes to huge social situations, but what I’ve realised is that this is the case for a lot of people. You can even see cracks in some of the people you may believe have no inch of shyness in them – it’s just human nature for most of us. However, whilst I can be quiet at times, I can and definitely do strike up and hold a conversations with people from many different walks of life. I definitely don’t find myself choking up and kicking myself as much as I used to. If I have something to say – I can say it, and with confidence, to anyone. Practice makes perfect, after all.
Confidence, to me, was an even bigger challenge to overcome. Whilst shyness was more about being quiet and trying to get out of my own head – confidence involved how I felt about myself. Growing up, I was pretty confident, and I can say this is something my parents instilled in me. But boy, once I started secondary school? My confidence shattered into a million pieces. Whilst I did have a lot of friends, and from the outside looking in life probably seemed really peachy – I was actually truly and totally insecure. It really revolved around how I felt regarding how I looked – I would always hear whispers about X, Y and Z who had called me ‘butters’. I even remember once me and two of my best friends all had a crush on this guy, who relayed to someone that “the tall one is butters”, guess who the tall one was? Me. There are a million other stories that I could dip into – for example, when the boys in my class would make ‘buff’ lists – let’s just say that I never performed well on those lists. Or, another story that springs to mind is a friend of mine once coming back from holiday to Sierra Leone and proclaiming that he was suddenly interested in black girls – there were only two black girls in my year at the time, and when he chose which one to pursue, it definitely wasn’t me. It all got so bad that I once went to bed and prayed to God to make me ‘pretty’.
Of course things are totally different now. I definitely have a million times more confidence than I used to have (and I can’t say it doesn’t feel good sometimes to LinkedIn the people that whispered behind my back and see that they have amounted to a whole lot of nothing!) I think the biggest way I picked up my confidence was the realisation at a young age that there really was a bigger picture that was a whole lot more important than boy X at school thinking I was ugly. I poured myself into my studies, and knew that if I did that I could land myself in a top university which could essentially land me a great job, and that is how things played out. Another thing that worked for me was to shift around the people I hung out with – did I really need to be hanging out with boy X after I had heard what he said about me behind my back? No way. Did I even need to be nice to him? Not at all. At times I would even confront these people, but of course they never admitted it to my face. Regardless, sometimes there’s nothing better than disposing of bad influences in your life.
“Sometimes, there’s nothing better than disposing of bad influences in your life”
As I grew older and was settling out of puberty, things started to get better. Suddenly people weren’t looking at me because they thought I was unattractive, some of these people actually wanted to talk to me?! Also, my hard work started to pay off into different achievements, and whilst you definitely shouldn’t need achievements to validate you and make you feel good about yourself, it does help sometimes. Thirdly, as you get older, people mature and grow. My focus now is totally on self development – what really matters in life, and how can I focus on being the best me? If I had this sort of mindset earlier on in life, I doubt I would’ve felt as down in the dumps as I sometimes did. I remember once bumping into one of the main school culprits at a party when I was around 17/18 and letting him know (after a few drinks) how much I used to dislike him. He apologised and urged me to forget the past – “people grow up” after all. School can be hard sometimes as everyone’s so young, most people are immature and some people are going in completely different directions in life – but it’s such a small, minute part of your life in terms of the overall picture – you’re literally just getting started! In this sense, and as always, nothing heals and helps better than time.