5 ways my shyness as a child has shaped adulthood for the better.
When I look back upon my childhood, there is one characteristic that stands out far more than anything else: I was overwhelmingly quiet around everyone outside of my mom, dad, brother, and 2 or 3 close friends.
Throughout my childhood, I was called quiet by teachers, acquaintances, and many extended family members. Sometimes my quietness came from a lack of confidence and social skills, sometimes it was a choice.
Being quiet presented challenges for many years, some of which remain. I grew to expect many of these challenges. I, however, wasn’t prepared for the benefits I believe I’ve experienced as a result of my quiet demeanor.
Shyness and social anxiety have provided many challenges for many people, myself included. The following benefits are simply things I’ve noticed in my life, most of which came a few years after my most challenging years.
1. It’s Easier to Avoid Peer Pressure
High school and college students are usually well-meaning, but they also make a lot of controversial decisions. With the increasing availability of potential hazards like drugs and alcohol, there is a lot of responsibility needed. Sometimes all it takes is one or two people to pull you into a decision you wouldn’t usually make.
I think growing up shy has allowed me to distance myself from these situations a little better than most. I’m not afraid of alone time and don’t feel much of a need to do something solely because other people are doing it. Some people might fear that not being a part of activities that might cause them to lose a friend or look uncool in the eyes of their peers, but I’ve been outside of the so-called “popular group” long enough to know strong friendships also require respect for other’s opinion.
If someone is not capable of appreciating the beliefs you feel are important, then they are not likely to treat you well as a friend.
Friends disagree at times. They push back with reasons for why they believe in what they do. These conversations can strengthen a friendship, but if they start shaming or degrading you for what you think, say, or do, it’s time to end the friendship.
2. I Enjoy the Quiet Moments
A good conversation can be so precious. Sharing and listening to another person with genuine interest is one of the better feelings we can come across in our day to day lives.
For me, the quiet moments between those conversations can be equally, sometimes even more, joyful.
I think back to a phone call I had with my dad a few years ago. He was going through some health issues and had spent a few nights in the hospital. We talked a little bit about how things were going. Then, as we got toward the end of the conversation, the silences increased.
With someone new, I might have felt slightly awkward and searched for a way to end the silence. At that moment, however, it felt like the silence conveyed everything I couldn’t. I felt so connected to this person I loved. The silence gave space for those emotions to arise.
Some might say silence says nothing. I would say that under the right circumstances, silence says everything you need to hear. When I’m around someone I care about, silence can be an opportunity to embrace that invisible connection I feel.
3. I Emphasize an Appreciation of Small Interactions
From the moment we’re born, most of us are taught to say thank you. As such, it can be easy to overlook the importance of pleasantries in our lives.
When we’re busy it can be easy to accept a simple “thank you” without truly acknowledging it, but the person saying it could be conveying true, authentic gratitude through their statement.
Going through times where I have been alone, and not always as a result of my own decision, I make it important to appreciate the small moments of acknowledgement I experience. Every time someone thanks me, says hello, or smiles toward me is an important moment in my eyes, whether I know them or not.
These actions are small and far from my biggest goals in life. Most of these moments will be irrelevant as soon as they pass. I don’t want to draw up a big story that makes these moments more than they are, but I do want to be grateful for what they are.
Sometimes, after a long day, it helps just to think “one stranger happily said hello to me today”. We live in a world where it is easy to tear ourselves apart with fear, anger, and criticism. Every interaction with others is meaningful and acknowledges our importance, no matter how small the interaction may be.
4. Missed Opportunities Are So Much Worse Than Those You Take but Don’t Enjoy
It is often said that some of the greatest regrets people have when they reach the end of their lives are the opportunities they didn’t take. Whether they were too afraid or they felt too busy at the time, these missed opportunities force us to wonder what could have been.
This question seems to find its way into the back of our minds again and again as we grow older, far overshadowing the difficult nights when we did accept an opportunity and it didn’t work out.
My shyness as a kid led me to avoid many opportunities. For many years, I avoided all extracurricular clubs and leadership opportunities that didn’t involve sports. I saw opportunities that sounded interesting but let my fears persuade me to ignore those opportunities. As I reflect on these opportunities, I can’t help but wonder where I would be now had I done the things I contemplated.
What experiences would I have had and how would they have shaped my personality? I can’t help but feel like I missed out.
There were a few opportunities, I accepted near the end of high school as I began to expand socially and I am so happy I did. Some opportunities, such as the Senior Play, were a blast to be a part of. I look back on these experiences with such fond memories and can’t imagine how I would have felt had I not taken the opportunity. Other events, such as NY Boys’ State, were very difficult to get through. There is a possibility I regretted some of these experiences at the time, but looking at them retrospectively, it feels so much better to know how they went instead of wondering what the experience could have been like.
I still have a lot of decisions that will come my way in the coming decades. I also know I’m going to have to turn some down. I just don’t want to create a pattern. Shyness led me to miss out on a lot of cool opportunities when I was younger, and I don’t want that to be the story of my whole life.
If anything, my shyness has played a role in defining the importance of even the most simple opportunities. I feel very grateful to have started learning this lesson at such a young age.
5. Be Good to People
One of the most important lessons anyone can take from their struggles is the idea that everyone goes through rough periods. We all have times when we don’t think or act exactly how we would like to. We all have moments where circumstances outside of our control make our lives harder.
Everybody suffers to some extent from their life not being quite what they want it to be. This suffering is often at least part of the cause of conflict between people.
Knowing this, we can approach others with compassion. We can look for the good in people when they may have trouble seeing it themselves.
My shyness and social anxiety posed multiple challenges for me as a kid, but I was just one of many cases. There are millions of kids throughout the country that went through challenges both equally and more difficult than mine. When I look at the world through this perspective, it’s easier to understand some of the fear, anger, and hatred we all have. These attitudes emerge as a result of imperfect beings in imperfect environments.
Social Anxiety Has Shaped the Person I Am Today
The more I consider my social anxiety as a child, the more I realize how deeply it has affected my life. Much of the person I am today is a reflection of my shyness in some way, from my personality to my actions to the thoughts I have as I’m trying to fall asleep each night.
This is the power of past events and the stories we create around them. I consider myself to be long past the most difficult stages of social anxiety, yet I continue to discover new truths about it each month.
When I was going through the worst stages, there was no way I could have seen my social anxiety in any sort of positive light. Every day was a struggle to overcome. I was largely focused on getting through each day rather than trying to enjoy my time. At the time, survival was my definition of success.
A lot of time has passed since then. I have slowly changed into a completely different person. I find myself with a different sense of perspective that allows me to see the benefits of my struggle with social anxiety. After all these years, I might even consider myself a little lucky to have learned so much about myself and my world at an early age.
Sometimes our greatest personal battles give us new information we wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. Social anxiety was my greatest battle and it continues to teach me more than I could have imagined.