Growing Up Shy

by Keira Johannson

In second grade, my teacher asked us to describe each other using only one word. We brought out our scrap pieces of paper and wrote down the names of all twenty-something students in the classroom, and next to each name, we gave them a word – a nice one (for the most part). And it dawned on me then that every student in that class thought of me in the same way: shy. At seven, I became the official “shy kid”, a label that, at the time, I had no idea would have such a huge impact on my life.

What they don’t tell you about being shy is that for the most part, it’s not our choice. You see, I didn’t realize I was shy until I discovered that my preference for being quiet was seen as a bad thing. I’d be going on a play date at a new friend’s house and when my mom would drop me off, I wouldn’t say much at first. “Oh, she’s just shy,” my mom would say. And, nothing against my mom, but when you’re five and still learning who you are (not that anyone should know who they are at five), having my first impression be that I was shy was sometimes hard to navigate. The confusing part of it all was that I had these people who were telling me I was shy, but I knew deep down inside me that I genuinely loved being around people. It’s difficult when the world is saying one thing, but your mind is saying the complete opposite. So instead, I fit the mould that I was placed in, ignored the voice in my head that told me they maybe perceived me wrong, and began to check off every criteria that makes up someone who is shy.

Throughout middle school, I learned to accept being my own company. My 12-year-old self stuck to my small inner circle of friends and would rarely reach out to anyone new. I remained the quiet kid and every classmate would turn their head in shock when I raised my hand to speak. Classmates and teachers continued to describe me as shy, quiet, and reserved, which ultimately led me to distance myself from my surroundings even more. This pattern later continued into my first year of high school, translating to severe social anxiety. The first few years of high school were tough. I had distanced myself from a lot of my close friends and completely disassociated myself with the world. When I look back at that time of my life, all I see is darkness. My anxiety was at an all time high and the way I coped with it was by avoiding it. I avoided all social gatherings and kept a lot of my thoughts to myself. I was lonely and the saddest I have ever been in my entire life.

Going into my senior year of high school, I was craving emotional connection. Around September, I chose to finally listen to that voice in my head that told me I wasn’t shy. I began to define myself by my own labels and be the person I always knew I could be. I reached out to new people, engaged in different hobbies, and ultimately gained the confidence I had been lacking all along. I learned not to care what other people thought of me, which is a lot easier said than done. At the end of the day, I only have this one life, and I would hate to be old and grey and realize I spent all my time hiding in the shadows. Instead, I hope to shine bright and live my life with purpose.

At seventeen, I look back on my adolescence and can pinpoint all the moments when I held myself back; when I should have spoken to that new friend, or went to that party, or answered that question in class. But life is too short to regret the things I should have done. Instead, I aim to focus on this moment. Right here, right now. As I prepare to leave high school next month and move on to the next chapter of my life, I leave with the wisdom of knowing exactly who I am. The other night, I opened my journal and reflected on my childhood experiences of feeling alone and insecure with myself. And I wrote down that same prompt that my second grade teacher once gave to me: “Describe yourself in one word”. Instead of receiving twenty slips of paper with the word “shy” written on them, there in front of me was the word “confident” written in large, bold letters.