I buy an ice cream and find a nice shady spot on a wall, by the edge of the road. The sun is beating down, and my ice cream is in danger of melting if I don’t eat it quickly.
I smell them before I see them. The wave of body odour hits me in the face. Then, the runners appear in a cloud of dust, commitment and endorphins. They thunder past, like a herd of wildebeest. This time, I can’t even spot him in the crowd.
Do you know what it’s like to be standing on the sidelines?
As a quiet student in a noisy class of super brains; as the girlfriend of a cute boy in a band; then a football widow, a soccer mum, and most recently, a business owner afraid of putting herself out there… standing on the sidelines is the story of my life!
I’m expert at standing back and watching other people shine.
And it turns out I’m not alone. 57% of us are shy. Half of the population are standing awkwardly on the edge of life, watching the other half get stuck in.
We are capable, smart and intelligent. We have knowledge and skills and experience. We have ideas, hopes, dreams and vision. We’ve got it going on. And yet, we hold ourselves back. We hide.
It’s happening in school, in relationships, in the home, in meetings, in organisations and in society as a whole.
Why shy people don’t get heard
Faced with the powerful force of loud, self-assured voices, we shy people can’t seem to find ours.
We stand back. We put our own opinions and wants and needs to one side. We let other people speak for us. We let other people shine.
We worry about being judged. We shrink away from competition and self-promotion.
We work and work and create and make. We worry about messing up, saying the wrong thing, or being criticised.
We feel like we’re not good enough, like our ideas are not valid and our voice doesn’t matter.
So, we keep our gifts locked away inside us. We don’t put up our hand. We don’t hit publish. Or send. Or unmute. We stand back and watch as other people get the recognition we deserve.
We stay standing on the sidelines — when we could be playing full out.
What happens when we’re shy?
When we stand on the sidelines, we miss out on experiences and fun and success and fulfillment and opportunities and happiness. When we allow our self-consciousness and insecurities to control us, we end up feeling stuck, frustrated and alone.
According to my research, shy people are less likely than outgoing people to get good jobs and earn lots of money. Shy people are half as likely to be happy than outgoing people.
Shy people are not broken. You don’t need to change who you are.
But, if your shyness is causing you to miss out, that is an issue.
And we are not the only ones missing out.
When we are silent, society as a whole misses out too. You have so much to offer.
The world needs your quiet, carefully considered perspectives, your innovative ideas, your intelligent solutions to complex problems, your authentic voice, your empathy, and your kindness.
If everyone was loud and shouty, nobody would be heard and nothing would get done! We’ve seen what happens when the world is dominated by loud people.
And that’s why we shy people need to embrace our shyness, to work with it, and find our voice. Because, we are the shy potential.
4 ways to find your voice and stop standing on the sidelines
#1 Talk about shyness
Shyness is not a shameful secret for people to mask and hide. Let’s start a conversation and make it easier for shy people to express how they’re feeling. If you get a sense that someone you’re close to is shy, start a conversation and invite them to share their experience and fears, so that you can better understand and support them.
#2 Create the conditions
Instead of feeling like a victim of shyness, let’s take control of our lives and create conditions that work for us. For example, if you find it hard to get a word in during remote meetings, suggest to your manager that you submit your ideas after each meeting. It feels good to be in control!
#3 Remember your purpose
Focus on the reason why you’re doing what you do. Your people need you. They need you to speak up and share what’s on your mind. Your purpose is more powerful than the fears holding you back.
#4 Find your voice
Shyness makes us want to hide away. It can make it hard to speak up. So much goes unspoken. Look for different ways to express yourself, privately, without worrying about judgement or perfection. Write a journal, start a book of doodles, learn to crochet, sing in the shower – choose something that feels easy and fun for you.
Are you standing on the sidelines?
Are you a shy person… or perhaps you feel confident in some contexts, and not in others? Do you feel like you’re standing on the sidelines of your life, wishing you could take part? I’d love to invite you to find your voice and say hi in the comments below. Let me know if this article resonates with you, and if you’ve any other helpful tips to share!
Boxer with a legendary left hook | Daughter of an inventor | Shycologist
I’m Nadia Finer, and I’m on a softly-spoken mission to help shy people be more mighty. I know what it’s like to struggle with shyness. You see, all my life I’ve had a little voice. Really little. The kind of voice that makes random people tell me that I should be a cartoon voice-over actress. A voice so little that when strangers ring my house phone, they ask me to put my mum on the phone. It’s no wonder I’m often shy and self-conscious!
I have spent the last 13 years helping people of all ages overcome their fears and insecurities so that they can step out of the shadows and achieve big things, without changing who they really are. I’m writing a new book called Shy and Mighty, (published by Quercus) as well as a book about shyness for kids.
I’ve travelled the world, speaking at international conferences, and have appeared in the Guardian, Radio 4, Entrepreneur.com, The Telegraph, The Independent, HR Magazine and on BBC Radio London.
To find out more about Nadia’s work, check out her website and join the shy revolution at www.shyandmighty.com