Professional vs. Personal (i.e.: why I’m painfully shy)

Originally posted on January 12, 2011 at 1:57 PM

I was watching an episode of What Not to Wear recently, and the woman they were making over said something along the lines of, “I feel like I have plenty of professional confidence. It’s just personal confidence that I need to work on.” It was like a little light came on over my head.

I’m a shy person, in real life. I’m introverted, quiet, and hesitant to start conversations with people I don’t know. I’m not so sure that has a direct correlation with personal confidence, although it seems like it should, because in general I would say that I’m a fairly confident person.

And it’s only in certain ways that I’m shy. Ask me to give a speech on a topic I’m confident in, perform with a dance team in front of hundreds of people, or go do a job interview, and I’m golden. But drop me in a room with two or more people I don’t know and ask me to *gasps* socialize? I’m done. Out. Call me a cab (as if there are cabs around here).

It’s excruciatingly painful for me to try to act normal as I talk to a near-stranger while my heart is beating faster than a squirrel’s. I try to be cool, though. You know, keep it low-key, act calm, smile, maybe even crack a joke if one comes to me. But the problem with that is that I’m not actually low-key, certainly not calm, and have no idea what to say as soon as the person I’m talking to decides to stop asking questions. At which point, I fall into silence out of sheer awkwardness. At which point I seem aloof and unconcerned with the person trying to talk to me. At which point I seem like a bitch.

Which sucks, because I’m not a bitch. I mean, I can act like a bitch occasionally when I want to, sure. But in general, I like to think I’m a relatively nice, un-bitchy person. High school’s over, people.

What I’ve realized, now that I heard that random person on TV say it, is that for me, the difference is the setting. Or more specifically, the set-up. I’m confident when I’m giving a speech, leading a group of people, or, oh, I don’t know… writing a blog, because I’ve been given – directly or not – the permission and authority to act on behalf of something more than “me.” I have a role, so to speak. Not necessarily a false one (it’s still me, I’m not acting), but I have a purpose to rely on. When I’m in real life with real people and they want to get to know the real me, I’m all on my own.

What to do with this, I don’t know. Becoming more outgoing (or less panicked when approached, at least) is an ongoing effort for me. I doubt that my revelation will help me overcome that so much as it has illuminated it. But hey, it’s good to know, right? And in spite of my shyness, I really do love people, so please don’t be afraid to approach me (slowly, and with no loud noises).

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