My husband likes to tell this old joke about a man who walks into a bookstore and says to the bookseller, “I want a book on chutzpah and I want YOU to pay for it!”
Here’s a new one: I saw a book about introverts in a store today, but I was too shy to buy it.
This is partly true. I saw but did not buy this book because I hadn’t heard of it. I was looking for a gift and didn’t want to misjudge a book by its expensive hard cover, so I bought something else. I’ve never been too shy to buy something after going to the trouble of finding it, but it is true that at times I have been shopping for a particular something and been too shy to ask about it.
I was intrigued by the book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, so I looked it up and watched author Susan Cain’s TED talk. My heart sank when she said that shyness is different from introversion, which is the tendency to feel more comfortable and capable in quieter environments. Shyness, she explains, is about fear of social judgment. My (admittedly insecure) take on this is that it’s perfectly fine to be an introvert, but shyness is a weakness. If a champion of introverts can make me feel bad for being shy, I guess that proves that I am.
My shyness probably goes back to my earliest school days, when I was teased for, among other things, being pale, quiet, bad at sports, good at reading, and for being shy—kind of a self-fulfilling accusation. So yeah, I fear social judgment. What am I supposed to do, LIKE it? I know, I know, we shy folk are not supposed to let this fear stop us from doing what needs to be done.
One summer years ago when I was visiting a friend in Ann Arbor, I found out that my cousin from California was also visiting friends there, and we arranged to spend a day together. The main thing I remember is that we were driving around the countryside feeling hot when we found a small public park with a swimming lake. Of course we didn’t have swim suits, but there weren’t many people there, so my cousin suggested we swim in our underwear. Which we did, and it was refreshing in more ways than one. What stands out most though is that before we took off our clothes, she announced to the people nearby what we were going to do, breezily and confidently deflecting any potential disapproval.
I recognized this ability as one my mother has—to talk to anyone about anything she wants and not be embarrassed. This always used to embarrass me, but now I was envious of my cousin. “So this is how people who are not shy act,” I realized. It’s appearing as if you don’t care what people think, whether you do or not. It’s criticizing yourself first before anyone else has a chance. It’s having chutzpah.
With age I’ve gotten better at brazening through uncomfortable situations with apparent confidence. Sometimes I am confident, but sometimes I have to pretend. It can be exhausting, and sometimes I want to melt into the woodwork and not ask where they keep the wart medicine.
I know not all introverts are shy, but it seems like we might be more prone to it than some others. What about extroverts? Can you be an extrovert and also shy?