Friday, October 1, 2010

Overcoming Shyness

Please help me welcome romance writer Claranne Perkins to the blog.

I’ve always considered myself a shy person which is surprising because the careers I’ve had as a teacher, a reporter and a fundraiser, aren’t exactly designed for people who suffer from shyness.


As a child, I much preferred doing things alone like reading. When forced to go out and play with the other kids, I would enjoy the games of baseball, hide and seek and Simon Sez, but after about an hour of playing with others, I was more than ready to crawl back into my shell and enjoy a good book.


The only problem was I was naturally curious about other people and was usually the first on the block to meet the new kid and introduce her/him around to the others. In seventh grade, I started writing The Craig and Danny Mysteries to entertain myself with my weekly spelling word list combined with my love of The Perry Mason television show.


I was entertaining myself, but by the second installment, the teacher had me read the story in front of the class. With sweaty palms, a couple of deep breaths and an excruciatingly slow walk to the front of the classroom, I read my story aloud because the teacher had ordered me to. When I finished, I made a beeline for my seat. But the room erupted in applause and I remember thinking, “This writing thing might be a good idea. It was something I could do alone, let others read and be adored.”


As a sophomore in high school, I was still pretty shy, but nosy, and when it came time to do the five-page report on my future career, I was still thinking about being a novelist. Only problem was when I did the research, I found one sheet on “novelist” that more or less said “there are few successful writers and don’t expect to eat much. See Journalism.” That was enough to send me to the school newspaper where I got to interview people and write articles. I did enjoy interviewing others and I was writing alone so again life looked pretty good for a sixteen year-old.

To my sixteen year-old mind I decided to give up the idea of being a novelist until I retired. Then, if I failed, at least I’d have a pension coming in and some way to support myself. I won a scholarship to college that I wouldn’t have to pay back IF I taught for three years, so I went to college, majored in English-Journalism and in four years found myself teaching English to high school sophomore and seniors. I managed to perform in the classroom, but at the end of the day I was more than ready to curl up with a book or my favorite television show alone.
 Somewhere in my late twenties, I took the Myers-Briggs test and learned that my introvert score was only one point higher than my extrovert. By then I had been a successful teacher (high school English) and, in later years, would have successful careers as a reporter and a fundraiser, none of which would be easy for anyone painfully shy.


How did I ever survive, let alone manage to raise millions of dollars? I overcame and adapted and believe me--if I can, you can, too. What I came to understand after taking the Myers-Briggs was that I wasn’t as shy as I thought. I just preferred being alone. Too much social activity sapped my energy and I needed the alone time to recharge.

Extroverts crave social activity, being around a lot of people energize them. Since I secretly admired people who were comfortable in any social situation, I studied them and tried to copy what ever they did.

These are some of the things that helped me. Maybe they’ll help you:

 Introduce yourself to others and ask them a question about themselves. Everyone’s favorite topic is themselves. I found once I introduced myself and asked a question, all I had to do was listen and ask a few follow-up questions. Often, I would start with another person in the room who was alone or looked as shell shocked as I was feeling. Once we both relaxed, I felt free to introduce myself to another person. By the third person, I was pretty comfortable.


Practice. I was always willing to practice conversations. Sometimes I practiced in my bathroom mirror. Sometimes I practiced with a trusted friend. But I did practice so I would know ahead of time how I would react in different situations.


Read books, articles, blogs. One of the first books I read on “shyness” was Barbara Walters' book, How to Talk to Anyone about Anything. I also read about different celebrities who were supposedly “shy” but had great careers like Walters and Johnny Carson.


Set a goal. Decide to introduce yourself to five people and have a five-minute conversation with each. That’s a 25-30 minute social event that you can feel free to leave after your 30 minutes. Next time, increase your goal.


Have some stock questions. Writers like to talk about their books/stories. How they developed their writing careers. Their favorite writers and books. Just ask.

Visit Claranne on her group blog, Blame It On The Muse, Linked In, and Facebook.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for the crash course on overcoming shyness! :) I spent my childhood and even my high school years being very shy and uncomfortable in group settings where I didn't know people. I think it was in college where I sort of came out of my shell and got more comfortable with meeting new people. Today I'm by nature an introvert, but pretty social. I enjoy interacting with people, but like you, I crave my alone, quiet time just for myself.

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  2. Hey Claranne,
    Thanks so much for posting. Just got back from my conference and added your new links!

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  3. Good post,

    Awkwardness around people can be conquered. It does require a little effort.

    I believe a key component of becoming more outgoing is gaining the skill to acquire conversational skills.

    Difficulty coming up with things to talk about is one key reason shy people are anxious around others. Fortunately there are techniques so that you can improve your ability to make conversation.

    One way is to keep up with the news. Another way is to think up topics of conversation in advance of entering the social situation, such as a party. And, of course, showing interest in others is also crucial. It helps to be a good listener.

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