This week, I was reminded of the piece I am now sharing here. Within a Zoom conversation discussing the 'noise' on social media platforms, thoughts turned to how some people have a lot to say right now, often very loudly, but how it doesn't always have much substance behind it. Whilst our lives have become increasingly insular this year, it is hard not to get swept up in the messaging fed to us through our screens and sifting truth from noisy soundbites is even trickier. Indeed, I have noticed several people actively avoiding news and briefings on TV, or stepping away from social media platforms for the sake of their own sanity and well-being.
I have felt myself becoming more insular as this new year has started. Being honest, I am struggling with all of the noise, the relentless headlines and those with loud voices that seldom appear to have any humility accompanying them. Whilst we are stuck within four walls and with our limited permissible social groups, I am having more and more days when I interact less and less often. So my Monday morning Zoom call has been a positive for me, a refreshing opportunity to talk with like-minded people in a calm, virtual format - the closest I come these days to a coffee shop chat!
The blog post below was written two years ago in circumstances which feel like an era ago, so juxtaposed to where we find ourselves now. I was preparing to go to London, to lead an author talk about my first book in the offices of Paramount UK. Thinking of that now seems like the stuff of fiction rather than reality - I travelled on crowded buses and trains, sat in a busy meeting room to lead my presentation and discuss my writing before enjoying lunch and a glass of wine sat in a nearby bustling bar, on a sunny September day. Is all of that something that I will ever be able to do again? I yearn to sit quietly in the sunshine, 'people-watching,' forming ideas to share through the pages of my writing. I'll dream of that context a while, as I put the kettle on again and load the dishwasher and watch the rain through my kitchen window.
Too shy, shy.
This week I am doing something a little different with my blog as I am starting with words that are not my own. Words that struck a chord and prompted me to explore the subject further. I was sent this, from a friend who is a follower of my blog:
“I was thinking have you done a blog about shyness? I was thinking about how I was quite a shy person which I know it might be hard to believe now. What is being shy? Is it misinterpreted? Is it a lack of confidence in yourself or just who you are? I know deep down when thrown into some situations that shy girl reappears but more and more I find the voice to speak up or is that confidence? Can becoming more confident make you overcome being shy?”
This got me thinking about all the children that I have taught over the years that one might label as ‘shy.’ Often they were girls and knowing what I know now about certain special needs, for some there may have been something deeper underlying their behaviour, their perceived lack of confidence. Putting that to one side though, there are always some people in a group who are the shy ones, the ones choosing to be at the edges of the conversation, first to sit at the back of a room in an attempt not to be noticed. Are they anxious about doing so or just happier not to be in the spotlight?
My husband has completed the ‘Myers Briggs’ questionnaire as a work exercise which analyses where a person falls upon the introvert - extrovert scale and looks at how each functions best. In an ideal business environment a workforce requires a balance of people, for each type brings its own qualities. I think it is good to remind ourselves that silence doesn’t mean that a person has nothing to say. A shy person may have the best ideas in the room and it is how they are enabled to share them that is important.
In my book, 'Finding My Way,' I consider my own confidence and how I have had significant dips in that and how I am trying to keep on rebuilding it. I use the quote about age, paraphrased eloquently by David Bowie:
“ageing is an extraordinary process whereby you become the person you always should have been.”
It is certainly true that age and experience of life both bring a certain level of increased confidence. I look back to attending training courses and speaking in front of parents as a young teacher and how nervous I would get and where I chose to sit to hide. Since then I became the one who would scribe the ideas and feedback during group tasks and stand out front to lead curriculum evenings or staff meetings with a learnt confidence. Yet, as the ‘guest blogger’ noted, certain situations can still trigger the former shyness experienced as a child. I suppose it is more likely to be the times when we are required to move out of our comfort zone.
For me, the age-related confidence boost has had the flip-side brought into focus by peri-menopause. Each time that gives you a slap to dent your confidence it can become harder to stand up the next time and there are times that you have to dig deep to stick at it and not run for the hills. The more I have researched for my writing, the more I am aware of just how many previously confident and capable women are out in the workplace, doubting their abilities and working hard not to be those little shy girls.
In a few weeks’ time, I have been invited into a London-based company to talk about the process of writing my book and how that and this blog emerged as positives from the place I found myself in, losing confidence in my abilities but finding an outlet in writing about my thoughts and feelings. The easiest response to such an invitation would have been to politely decline and then regret doing so as a missed opportunity. So instead, I have accepted and am pushing myself to talk about all that has been the focus of my writing this last year, to step out of my comfort zone and to be part of a dialogue with other women, hopefully all finding support by doing so. I will be channeling thoughts of the times that I have successfully led presentations, meetings and difficult discussion to tell myself that I can do this so that I can leave the shy girl at home that day.
Shyness, confidence, anxiety - I am not sure where the definitions and the lines between each are drawn. I am not sure that really matters either. Sometimes the loudest person in the room can also be the most insecure too. Human nature is a complex beast and I think we all hide the personality traits that we aren’t comfortable with. How many times do we scan a room and make a snap judgement about the people within it? How many times do we overthink our own participation within a work or social situation? Perhaps we should cut ourselves some slack and allow our inner child a space once in a while, without the need for apology.
This picture was taken back in the 1980s: confident or shy? You decide.