This post was written by NobleHour Special Contributor Natasha Derezinski-Choo.
The five-year-old Natasha was an imaginative little girl living in her own little world. She played by herself or with her cousins, living comfortably in Neverland until she was thrown into the big wide world: school. She went through pre-school with her cousin—where the two of them only talked to each other—and spent junior and senior kindergarten (we had two years of kindergarten) mostly keeping to herself the whole time. She lived within her imagination. She was scared to talk to people she didn’t know. Then, at five, she started grade one where she barely knew anyone. In her new school, everyone could read, but the five year old Natasha didn’t. From the start she didn’t do very well in class, but luckily her teacher realized her potential.
In grade one, my teacher gave me a green, apple-shaped timer to set when I started my homework, because I struggled with managing my time and finishing my assignments. On it she wrote, “Natasha, you can do it!” and I did. In time, and with my mom’s help, I learned how to read, and I studied and became self-disciplined. By the end of the year I was doing much better. Ten years later, and my peers don’t believe that I used to make D's on those very first report cards because I’ve managed to do pretty well in school. All because of those little words of encouragement, I’ve learned there’s nothing stopping me from my determination.
By my freshman year of high school, school came easily to me, but inside I was still the shy little girl again - in a new school of 1,700+ students where I only knew four people. My quietness was still holding me back. My best friend wrote me a note in the beginning of the year when I was afraid to talk to someone who intimidated me, and on it those same words from grade one occupy the whole page: “You can do it.” That was the day I stopped being shy. Little by little, I shed my inner silence. I started talking to people outside my comfort zone. I joined clubs at school and even ran for office in one. I volunteered. I spoke up, and the whole time I was still just as scared as before, but I did it all anyway. I feel like I’ve become a better leader and person because of it. Overcoming my shyness has been one of my biggest personal challenges because it’s something I had to figure out by myself, but today it’s resulted in the confident young woman looking back at me in the mirror.
The green-apple timer doesn’t ring anymore because it must have been dropped a few too many times, and when I shake it the pieces inside rattle about. The message written in Sharpie is faded, but I still keep it and the note because they remind me of how much I’ve grown in my short time on earth. However, this story is not about my accomplishments, or telling you how great I am—because I have flaws too. It’s about how I see my own shyness in my peers all the time, and how just a little bit of encouragement would give them the courage to speak up and share the brilliant ideas hiding behind their quietness. Let this be my “You can do it” to every shy person (but if you aren’t shy keep reading too).
Being shy can keep students from becoming more active in extracurriculars like sports, clubs, and service-learning. Timidity can keep us from achieving our goals because being a bit timid and shy is about fearing speaking up both in our words and our actions. An idea can be entertained in your head, but for it to come to fruition, you need to speak up. Maybe something inspires an idea in you that could solve a problem in your environment. Perhaps you think of how to change something in your community like homelessness, hunger, the achievement gap, poverty, or clean water, but that idea is just a thought until you make it a reality. That takes courage, and it takes confidence in yourself and your abilities.
If you feel like your shyness inhibits you, I challenge you this week to speak up just once. Ask just one question in class. Ask a teacher for help if you’re struggling. Talk to someone outside of your usual group of friends. Find out from your peers how you can join an organization at your school and become involved in something that interests you. Call one local nonprofit and ask about volunteering. Think of something you’ve always wanted to do, and if the only thing keeping you from it is your fear of speaking up, then challenge yourself to do it anyway. Sometimes it’s the scariest things that end up being the best things.
Confidence often appears as being loud and fearless. However, confidence in fact is not how we interact with others. It’s how you interact with yourself, and how you learn to believe in yourself. We seek the approval of others before our own, and confidence is learning to be comfortable with your own self-approval. I’m so grateful that along the way I’ve had people who, in four little words, believed in me and gave me the approval I thought I needed, but I realized all I needed was to find the nerve to believe in myself.
Susan Cain’s book Quiet talks about the power of introverts where she challenges the negative connotations behind the characterization of an introvert. She talks about how we live in a world where being bold, outgoing, and sociable are valued most, and being quiet and thoughtful are not considered useful. Everyone is both intrapersonal and interpersonal, but we typically lean naturally toward one more than the other. With the immutable babble of some successful, loud extroverts we often tune out people who are quiet. However, Cain suggests that introverts actually make better leaders than extroverts because they are better listeners and can lead more productive groups. Don’t see your quietness as a weakness; see it simply as part of who you are.
Being quiet isn’t something to be ashamed of. It’s something to be embraced because it means you bring something different to the table. Don’t change yourself into someone you think you should be, but sprout into the person you want to be.
For me, overcoming my shyness wasn’t about changing who I am. I’m still very much the imaginative little girl from preschool, but I’ve grown up and developed my ability to communicate who I am to the world. As much as I love my friends and activities that challenge me to speak up, my favorite time of day is between 2:30-5:30am when I can be by myself, entertaining the constant soliloquy in my head. If you aren’t a shy person, I challenge you to realize that speaking up is not as easy for some people as it is for you. I challenge you to be the green-apple timer in someone’s life, and if you’re like me and are shy, I implore you to adopt the mantra: You can do it.