I’ve always been shy. I remember back in elementary school when I would dread the beginning of the year because there were new teachers, new students, new friends. That feeling never went away, and even today I still feel nervous and anxious when meeting strangers or being in unfamiliar situations. And try as I might, I can never shake that feeling.
Well-meaning friends and family have always encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone to “get over” my shyness. Or, sometimes they’ll just tell me to “stop being so shy,” as if that might magically cure me. And for the longest time I always assumed just that–that shyness was something that needed to be cured.
I’ve also been thinking more about this as I’ve gotten more involved with dogs and dog adoptions. Dogs are usually labeled either “friendly” or “shy” based on how they react around strangers. I thought it was so strange that the terms were shy versus friendly rather than shy versus outgoing, because it makes it seem like shy is the opposite of friendly. And while I understand dogs are different than people (because a shy, nervous dog can potentially be dangerous) but the concept still is similar–a lot of people think the words “outgoing” and “friendly” are interchangeable, yet “shy” and “friendly” are not.
I have also seen similar comparisons when I was searching for jobs. I would see a job description that would say the company wanted “outgoing, friendly, extroverted people” to work for them. Yet I’ve never seen any companies ask for “shy, friendly, introverted people.” Sure, shy people may not be able to instantly make friends with everyone in the room like someone more outgoing can, but does that mean we need to change?
If being shy is the opposite of being outgoing, why should shyness be “cured” if being outgoing doesn’t need to be? Simply put, being outgoing is a preferred characteristic in most aspects of society, so most people don’t see it as a disadvantage. It sucks for us shy people, but that’s just the way it normally is.
Based on personal experience, I know it can be tough to be shy sometimes. It’s never comfortable to feel anxious around new people, and there have been plenty of times I’ve wished I could be more talkative and outgoing with strangers. But at the same time, shyness has been part of my personality for as long as I can remember. I wouldn’t be the same person if I all of a sudden became a social butterfly.
So I really think shy people should not have to focus their efforts on trying to become more outgoing, and instead focus on finding all the positives of being on the shy side.