A Memory of Transformation
Although many of you, my regular readers, may find it surprising, for a good portion of my life, I was a painfully shy and socially awkward young man. From roughly the age of 12 to 21, I was extraordinairly shy and reclusive. Trust me when I say that discomfort with social contact is definetly a difficult thing to overcome. For me it was exceptionally difficult as I yearned to be gregarious, I yearned for social contact and interaction. I literally hated my gripping and overwhelming fear and anxiety, and hence I began to hate myself. Fortunately, I was exceptionally lucky to have found a way out of this pit, the hellacious and overwhelming and oppressing weight of shy despair that I felt anchored to. What follows is an abbreviated version of the story of how I was able to pull myself out of the horrors of this debilitating condition of near phobic shyness. I am not sure if this little story will help anyone else or not, but I am hoping it may help other very shy people to see that there can sometimes be solutions to that fear:
So, again, even though you may find it hard to believe, at an earlier time in my life, I was extraordinairly shy and reserved. I did not feel comfortable in anything other than one-on-one conversation, I felt that people were talking about my inadequacies behind my back, and the thought of going through a crowd of people was daunting. I was a social hermit, afraid to meet and mingle with people, afraid of them knowing me and knowing about me. I feared the pain of rejection too greatly. It is difficult to try to put into words the pure fear and utter stress I felt if I were to have to go into a crowd, if I were to need to speak to a few people at the same time, if I were required to socialize in any form.
Oddly enough, for me, however, I also had a dream tucked away back in a deep, heavily protected place in my brain. Though my whole life I had (oddly perhaps) been enthused about and desiring to become a professor, a science professor to be exact... and to study life and to seek new answers to questions. As I grew and matured, that dream never left, but neither did my overwhelming shyness. It was not until my first semester in graduate school that I found MY key for letting loose those fears, those worries that would keep me from living.... In the graduate school I attended, a part of my scholarship for study involved participating in the teaching of certain courses. I was both in sheer panic and in utter fascination about the prospects. I worried and fussed about the impending class I needed to teach all that summer. A few times I felt it was impossible.... impossible for me to go in front of a class of 25 freshmen, only two or three years younger than me, and talk to them let alone teach them anything of value.
I spent many, many sleepless nights during the summer prior to starting graduate school, and dramatically overindulged in my briars as that fearful day drew ever closer.
On that day, I walked into the class, my hands and arms trembling with fear, I could not look at anyone, but pretended to look at EVERYONE by gazing around the room, never letting my gaze stick long enough to see anyone clearly. I gripped the podium so strongly, my knuckles were visibly white. It took a few stumbles, a few "ahs", a few coughs. But I made it through. One student came up to me after class and told me I did a nice job. I thanked him profusely. It was the start of my teaching career.
How did I actually get the courage to go up before that class? Every cell in my visage was screaming in protest. I was literally so, so shy that I was nearly a hermit. I did it with two simple factors that I still use in many situations to this day:
1. I found something to care about, to yearn for, to desire SO MUCH that it would help to counteract the IMMENSE, DEBILITATING shyness. Wanting to be a professor was the desire that counterbalanced my fear in this case.
2. Perhaps the most important aspect was for me to adopt the notion of PRETENDING to be a successful version of your goal. In this case, I screwed up as much courage and conviction as I could to tell myself that I would simply PRETEND... pretend to be a knowledgable, commanding, thought-provoking professor... even though I KNEW deep inside it was a bunch of b*llsh*t... I was just a novice, young pup, still wet behind the ears. I was, in my own mind, a complete and utter failure and fraud... but I knew I could PRETEND to be that which I dreamed of.
Eventually, after many weeks and months of pretending, I began to see, feel and realize that instead of PRETENDING, I actually willed myself to BECOME that which I had so dreamed about. And in the process of pretending to NOT BE SHY AND RECLUSIVE, I became more and more outgoing and responsive to people.
For me, it literally was one of the most important transformations in my life. I now am a rather outgoing person. It has made a world of difference to me and I have adopted that strategy to overcome many other fears.