Voices: Make 2022 the year you embrace shyness – in yourself and others

·4-min read
‘I began to embrace my quietness and accept that I’m not the loudest or the most chatty, but that’s fine’  (Inside Creative House/iStock)
‘I began to embrace my quietness and accept that I’m not the loudest or the most chatty, but that’s fine’ (Inside Creative House/iStock)

As a child, I had this dream. I was going to be a performer. I loved dancing, singing and acting so I secretly planned a future on the stage – maybe as a ballerina, or in musicals. The lead roles, naturally. I envisaged moving into film and TV once I’d tired of treading the boards. Only, there was an issue. I was shy.

Now, if I’d known back then that Beyoncé was shy and that she created the Sasha Fierce alter ego to help her get up and perform, or that Elton John was shy as a child, Nicole Kidman, too, plus Richard Branson and Rosa Parks – well, things might have been different.

But I didn’t. All I knew was that my shyness made me quiet. It meant that sometimes, in social situations, I said nothing for an awkwardly long time. I had friends, and played well with other kids, but I was never gregarious and always felt self-conscious.

I thought: you can’t be a performer, you’re too shy. Shy people don’t perform; they sit in the corner reading and writing. You can be a writer – but not a dancer. Don’t be so ridiculous.

As I grew into my teens, and then into young adulthood, I let the dream drift away. There was a brief spell, between school and university, when I was living in Brighton with a musician flatmate and I’d sing while he played guitar. He suggested we perform at an open mic night and the idea made me feel giddy but it never happened, because I didn’t think I could do it.

Instead, I went to study English at university and later trained as a journalist. This was my comfort zone: putting the spotlight on others during interviews, and asking the questions rather than answering them. And as journalism increasingly moved online, it suited me even more. I could write articles alone, from home – a shy person’s dream.

After a digital magazine that I’d launched took off, I was offered my first book deal and then a second. When planning book two, I had this idea to write something on confidence. By now, I was running a business called The Robora – helping women to launch and grow their own businesses – and I could see that confidence was a common barrier.

But when pitching the confidence book, my editor and I got talking and I let slip about my shyness, and how despite a childhood of what felt like quite acute shyness, I’d managed to grow a career as a journalist, author and entrepreneur.

We soon realised the book needed to be on shyness, but rather than continuing the existing narrative around how to overcome it, I’d write about the benefits of shyness. I could now see that being shy had helped me to get my head down and contributed to my strong work ethic. If I wanted to be seen and heard, I had to be strategic about it – and so I was. I handed in notes before and after meetings if I felt scared to contribute on the spot, for instance.

My shyness has also made me more observant and a better listener, which has helped my work as a business coach. I listen to my customers and clients when they offer praise or criticism and do more of the same, or make changes. In all aspects of life, being able to listen – without interjecting – sets you in good stead.

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Interestingly, when I began the research for Shy: How Being Quiet Can Lead to Success, I discovered that more than 50 per cent of the population are shy. It’s a personality trait which is part genetic and part environmental, but unlike introversion – where you get your energy from being alone or in a small group – it can be overcome; you can shake off your shyness.

However, the more I spoke to psychologists, psychotherapists and fellow shy people who I consider to be very successful, the more comfortable I became with my own shyness. I realised that this wasn’t a part of my personality that I needed or wanted to change. I began to embrace my quietness and accept that I’m not the loudest or the most chatty, but that’s fine.

I also started to observe shyness in others and realised that I like the quiet ones; the people who hang back a little and take their time rather than jumping straight in at a party, for example. I find shy people intriguing and sometimes attractively mysterious. I want to ask them questions and to get to know the person behind the shy exterior.

So this year, I will continue to spread the word that shyness isn’t something to mask or escape from, unless you want to. Because if, as adults, we start to accept ourselves just as we are, we will naturally pass this message onto our children. Then other kids who are shy, like I was, will see that they can be and do whatever they like, while also being shy. And who knows, maybe 2022 will be the year I actually do perform my music or poetry on stage.

Annie Ridout is a journalist, author and entrepreneur. Her latest book Shy: How Being Quiet Can Lead to Success is published by HarperCollins

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