The Courage of a Quiet Teen

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Brittany Wood, founder of "The Shyness Project"

This is a guest post from Brittany Wood, the courageous author of “The Shyness Project” blog.

They called me “the shy one.”

That’s it, nothing more. The shy one.

For the last 19 years of my life, I’ve heard that I’m shy from peers, teachers, parents – even strangers.

What they said made me believe I was a shy person, and that that was my biggest downfall. I never felt they were right, though, and I didn’t understand why they called attention to it. That awful, audacious question, – “Why are you so quiet?” – always seemed so condescending, as if there was something wrong with me that needed fixing.

In 6th grade, I was bullied. My bullies made me believe I was a shy, boring loser who nobody liked. I let these labels seep into my identity. They thought shyness and quietness was weird and pitiful. Whether they were embarrassing me in the car each morning when I didn’t sing with them to the latest songs, or saying terrible lies about me online, I never felt comfortable and dreaded each day.

After middle school, I gradually became a much more self-assured person. I learned that nothing was wrong with me, and that I was only made to feel that way because they were acting out of insecurity. By putting the target on me, they were making themselves feel safe from ridicule. Once I was away from them and made real friends, I learned to respect myself, to be confident, and to never let anyone walk over me like that again. I didn’t allow others to put me down anymore. If they did, I distanced myself from them, and focused on the people who truly loved and accepted me.

Near the end of the first semester of my senior year of high school, I started thinking seriously about my future. I had just finished reading an inspiring book by Sean Aiken, who worked 52 jobs in 52 weeks, called The One-Week Job Project. I was amazed by his bravery and tenacity, and I decided then that I too wanted to do a one-year project.

But what was holding me back?

Shyness. Fear of failure. Fear of giving up. I felt like there were many things I would never be able to do because I was shy.

But New Year’s was approaching, and I began to feel excited by the prospects of change and self-improvement. Every year I would set numerous goals for myself like exercising more, eating healthier, and helping out more around the house. Even though I always started these goals with enthusiasm, it wouldn’t take long before I would lose interest and give up on them.

This year was different. An idea hit me. What was the one thing that I felt held me back the most and was going to keep me from trying and achieving all of the things I wanted to in life?

Shyness.

Excited yet uncertain, I started brainstorming how I could turn this into a one-year project. I researched how to overcome shyness as much as I could, and mapped out a yearlong plan to tackle my fears.

Then I started a blog to reach people and share my journey. I wasn’t doing it just for me; I wanted to do it for anyone who had ever been labeled “shy.” I wanted to educate people about shyness and show how simple tasks can be obstacles for a shy person. I wanted to express how it felt to be looked down upon for being shy, and how labeling and jokes have a much more painful effect than most people realize.

I tackled goals to talk to strangers, to reconnect with friends, to participate in class, to dress confidently, to allow myself to be vulnerable, and to give public speeches. I opened up my once private life and disclosed the very thing I once purposefully never talked about, my feelings of shyness.

I doubted myself a lot in the beginning, and it was hard to leave my comfort zone as much as I did, but the passion I felt for my project and all the support I received from some amazingly kind bloggers pushed me to keep going, to keep challenging myself.

One of the most challenging tasks I pursued was to join Toastmasters and practice giving speeches. I was terrified of public speaking, but I’d heard that Toastmasters was a great way to overcome public speaking fears. I read how Toastmasters had improved people’s lives even. One quote really spoke to me, “Do the thing you fear, and the fear of death is certain.” I decided that if everyone I’d read about could do this, then I could do this too.

In my first speech, I took a big leap and shared my shyness and bullying story. It wasn’t easy for me to talk about this very sensitive subject, but I believed sharing my experiences would allow my group to better understand why I joined and also to understand more about the struggles that can come along with living a life of shyness.

As it turns out, my ability to give speeches and do things I fear has changed how I view myself. Before when I was called shy, I believed I had to accept what others said as the truth. Now that I know more about introversion from books, articles and “The Power of Introverts” blog, I’ve realized that a lot of my natural quietness has been mistaken for social inhibition. In truth, however, sometimes I just prefer to listen and take in more information than talk, and to be in small groups rather than large ones. I do feel shy in certain situations, but overall those feelings aren’t central to my identity, and there is much more to me than that.

I love how my introversion has allowed me to have strong empathy, to be a deep thinker, and to genuinely connect with others. Introverts are valuable assets to society, whether or not they find themselves feeling shy in some situations like me, or not at all.

Every action I’ve taken to expand my comfort zone has helped me grow as a person. I realize that I’m capable of anything I set my mind to, and no longer will I let what others say about me hold me back. I have also become aware of the positives of being more inwardly focused, and have learned that accepting yourself doesn’t mean that you can’t take steps to improve yourself.

When we feel like something is holding us back from living our lives to the fullest, it is important that we identify what it is that is limiting us and what we can do to take this weight off of our shoulders. Until we do this, we will continue to feel powerless and overwhelmed. Through mindfulness and passion for the change we seek, however, we can begin to take back control of our lives, and to start living the life we have always wanted.

Brittany Wood is the author of the The Shyness Project blog. Over the course of 2011, she recorded her year-long journey to confront her fears. She believes in the value of shyness and introversion, and hopes to help change the message in our culture that being inwardly focused is something to look down upon.


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38 Comments

  1. Sarah on 07.02.2013 at 10:40 (Reply)

    I can’t even imagine how much my growing-up years would have been different if I had had someone like Brittany to identify with and look up to. She’s doing amazing work and I’m sure that she is changing lives!

    1. Brittany on 08.02.2013 at 19:09 (Reply)

      Wow thank you so much Sarah for your kind words! This was a wonderful comment to see first, thanks! :)

  2. Tim Larison on 07.02.2013 at 11:32 (Reply)

    Brittany is amazing and I have been following her blog for over a year. I wish I had the self awareness and courage she displays when I was a teen! Toastmasters was a big part of my overcoming shyness, too (for me in my late 20’s). My son is also an introvert who had problems with public speaking, and I showed him Brittany’s blog (as well as sharing my toastmaster experience). That encouraged him to try Toastmasters himself and like Brittany discovered, it really helped. Now a freshman in college he recently had to give a speech to his honors class and he handled it with ease.

    Thanks Brittany for being an encouragement to introverts everywhere through your blog, young and old.

    1. Brittany on 08.02.2013 at 19:18 (Reply)

      Thank you very much Tim, I’m really honored your son was encouraged by my blog and tried out Toastmasters too! It’s really cool to see how much my dad has gotten into Toastmasters too since I bugged him into trying it out with me. This past summer he gave a speech at my brother’s wedding and he did great! Thanks for your supportive and kind comment!

  3. Erin McNaughton on 07.02.2013 at 12:21 (Reply)

    Brittany, I can relate to you in so many ways and on so many levels and I feel that our journeys are near mirror images. Barb Markway sent me to your blog about a year ago and I’ve been so inspired by what you’re doing since. I, too, was called shy throughout life and teased for being “too quiet,” which deeply damaged my self-esteem and belief in myself.

    Like yourself, I read and was intrigued by Sean Aiken’s book–I realized then that as much as I wanted to do something similar and BIG, I was not courageous enough. Though my blog is more expansive than than simply addressing and overcoming my shyness, that has been a huge theme throughout, and I’ve realized that speaking to people (even just online) has built up my confidence and connect with like-minded people. The past 2+ years have been incredible for me, and I think blogging and opening up in that type of “safe environment” is a great outlet and opportunity for any introvert.

    I wish you all the best, Brittany!

    1. Brittany on 08.02.2013 at 19:29 (Reply)

      Thanks Erin for letting me know how much you can relate! It’s funny how many emails and comments I’ve gotten where people say that they feel like I’m writing about their experiences because they can relate so much.

      Glad to hear you loved Sean Aiken’s book as well! It is definitely one of my favorites. It’s great that you have been running a blog too and have found that writing has not only been helpful for your readers but for yourself as well. Blogging has certainly been a great experience for me as well. Thank you again Erin for your kind words and for sharing your experiences!

  4. Jen on 07.02.2013 at 12:23 (Reply)

    I’m jealous that Brittany has figured this all out at such a young age! I am in my 40’s and only in the past few years have recognized the power of introversion and embraced my true self. Nice article – I’ve shared it with my introverted teen and look forward to exploring Brittany’s blog.

    1. Brittany on 08.02.2013 at 19:34 (Reply)

      Thank you Jen! I’m flattered that you shared this article with your nephew and I hope you enjoy my blog posts!

  5. Barb Markway on 07.02.2013 at 12:30 (Reply)

    I’m so proud of you Brittany, and so glad I have been able to share in your journey!

    If you want to read an interview with Brittany right after she completed her one-year project, you can find it here: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shyness-is-nice/201111/the-shyness-project

    1. Brittany on 08.02.2013 at 19:36 (Reply)

      Thanks Barb for your constant support and friendship! I’m really glad we crossed blogging paths, we have had a ton of experiences in common.

  6. Jackie on 07.02.2013 at 12:39 (Reply)

    Go Brittany! you are amazing and so inspiring to this older introvert! We all must work to become our authentic selves and embrace that introvert inside. QUIET has helped me believe in the Power we introverts have! Your courage and daring greatly will certainly encourage others to learn to be a extroverted introvert!

    1. Brittany on 08.02.2013 at 19:39 (Reply)

      Thanks Jackie! Yep, introverts are just as valuable as extroverts, and I’m glad we have Susan to advocate on our behalf.

  7. Patricia on 07.02.2013 at 13:03 (Reply)

    As I read this, I was struck by how narrow our societal view is of how people “should be.” It is definitely skewed towards extroverts. I think many “extroverts” are just as insecure as “shy” people but we can cover it by never shutting up! I’d love to challenge extroverts to try a path similar to Brittany’s but in “reverse.” Perhaps meditation is the equivalent of Toastmasters for extroverts. There is much to be gained in learning to listen and observe and be in solitude or small groups. We begin to understand and appreciate those whose comfort zone is in such places. The bottom line, to me, is accepting others as they are and as they change who they are! Brittany is correct that bullying often comes from those who are so unsure of themselves that they direct attention to others to keep themselves safe. Thank you for sharing your journey, Brittany.

    1. Brittany on 08.02.2013 at 19:47 (Reply)

      Thanks Patricia! You raise quite an interesting idea there about challenging extroverts to place themselves out of their comfort zone in more introvert territory as well. Perhaps that will be someone else’s project! And I agree with you about how our society is skewed toward valuing extroversion, even though introversion is just as valuable. I’m hoping we can all help change that though! Thanks again.

  8. Julia Barnickle on 07.02.2013 at 13:07 (Reply)

    Congratulations Brittany! A lot of what you say resonates with me,and it’s wonderful to read about your personal triumphs – and that you were doing it for everyone who’s ever been labelled “shy”. May you continue to shine.

    1. Brittany on 08.02.2013 at 19:48 (Reply)

      Thanks Julia! I’m glad a lot of what I said resonated with you and you were able to relate!

  9. Celia on 07.02.2013 at 13:27 (Reply)

    It is great that Brittany is dealing with these issues and such a young age. When I was her age, I was made to feel badly by the adult world for being shy and quiet.

    As I have gotten older I have gotten more outgoing but sometimes it still comes up with therapists what it means to have a “full” social life and good friends.

    I think for young girls be the idea that for her to be sucessful in high school it is to be popular-when I was growing up it would be more acceptable to be a smart quiet guy.

    While I have felt that social anxiety has at times been a problem for me, I still think the anxiety free person would still be considered to be quiet and not as social as some people.

    Sometimes I think people have problems realizing that the goal in life is to be the best YOU can be rather than being someone else.

    1. Brittany on 08.02.2013 at 19:56 (Reply)

      Thanks Celia! In high school I didn’t have much trouble luckily, it was just middle school when “popularity” was on a lot of my peers’ minds, which in turn caused them to try and bring others down in order to raise themselves up. It is unfortunate that there are people who feel the need to act this way, but I think you are correct in pointing out that just being yourself is the best way to overcome such challenges.

  10. Rich Day on 07.02.2013 at 14:46 (Reply)

    I can assure you that now, at this point, even those moments of bullying have been elevated to mean something different. It is one of the most positive aspects of life to know that moments of past pain over time serve to bust out the walls of our hearts, giving us compassion and undertanding. You are helping others now who need your insight and experience, and no doubt in my mind at all that your own sometimes difficult moments in the past have given you the tools to do so. There is nothing more valuable than a single solitary human self, and no smile so broad as seeing one grow towards their potential, free and unfettered. Thank you for all of those who are helped by your courageous pursuits.

    1. Brittany on 08.02.2013 at 20:09 (Reply)

      Wow thank you so much Rich for your thoughtful and kind comment! I definitely agree that past struggles and pains can be used to help ourselves and others. It’s pretty cool if you think about how something you once thought of as a burden or weakness can become a strength later on in life. Thanks again!

  11. Sofia on 07.02.2013 at 14:52 (Reply)

    Brittany – what a great story, and I’ll be sure to check out your blog. As a fellow introvert and shy person, I find what you did incredibly brave. I’m in my late 20s and only just beginning to realize that being shy/introverted isn’t a bad thing, but actually an asset. Best of luck as you continue on your journey, and do keep writing!

    1. Brittany on 08.02.2013 at 20:12 (Reply)

      Thanks Sofia! Yeah it can take a while to realize that fact because of the bias towards extroversion. Hope you enjoy the posts and thanks again!

  12. nancy b on 07.02.2013 at 20:52 (Reply)

    Last year, my daughter’s first grade teacher remarked on how “shy” my daughter is. This didn’t ring quite true to me. She’s not one of the noisy kids, but she never seems fearful or nervous in a social setting. Later, I asked my daughter, “do you think you’re shy?” “No,” she said. I replied, “You just don’t have a lot to say, right?” “Yeah,” she answered.

    1. Brittany on 08.02.2013 at 20:19 (Reply)

      I’m really glad that you asked your daughter if she thinks of herself as shy after her teacher made that comment about her. I had definitely heard that a lot growing up from teachers and it was never a good feeling because I didn’t see myself as shy either. I often just didn’t think of as many things to say in class as others and preferred to work quietly. Thanks for asking her how she felt about herself rather than putting the limiting “shy” label on her!

    2. Brittany on 08.02.2013 at 20:19 (Reply)

      I’m really glad that you asked your daughter if she thinks of herself as shy after her teacher made that comment about her. I had definitely heard that a lot growing up from teachers and it was never a good feeling because I didn’t see myself as shy either. I often just didn’t think of as many things to say in class as others and preferred to work quietly. Thanks for asking her how she felt about herself rather than putting the limiting “shy” label on her!

  13. Conrad on 07.02.2013 at 22:09 (Reply)

    I don’t know whether Brittany reads this list, but she is to be commended for her fortitude and determination to overcome her shyness.

    It raises the point however that shyness and introversion are not the same. I think Brittany realizes that shyness is a handicap that needed to be addressed and overcome. Introversion however is another matter, in that it is immutable. Introversion is a trait and a preference. Shyness has a different basis in that it is withdrawal stemming from a form of social anxiety. It is possible and even likely that all shy people are introverts. But not all introverts are necessarily shy. One can overcome being shy, as Brittany did once she recognized her fears. An introvert can learn to act extroverted when it is to his advantage or necessity to do so, but he will always be an introvert.

    Shyness is curable, as is any other phobia or form of anxiety. Introversion is not ‘curable’, because it is neither a handicap, nor is it a deficiency.

    1. Brittany on 08.02.2013 at 20:26 (Reply)

      Yep introversion and shyness are definitely not the same thing. My project was focused on overcoming fears of mine like public speaking and raising my hand in class rather than trying to rid of my introversion and the way I get my energy. The two often get mixed up like you say which can be frustrating though. I like to think of shyness as more of a restrictive feeling I get in certain situations rather than a total sum of my personality, and introversion as a natural demeanor of preferring quieter and smaller settings than louder and bigger ones. Thanks for your comment!

  14. Ray DoRayMeFa on 07.02.2013 at 22:16 (Reply)

    Brittany, I’m amazed by the content of what you write and the incredibly articulate way in which you write it!

    As other people have commented, your bravery has let you realize things in yourself at a young age, an accomplishment that takes less courageous people decades to figure out. You’re getting to know yourself very well through your project, and you definitely appreciate your own value–things that will help you in so many ways in future years.

    You’re to be congratulated not only for having undertaken to improve yourself, but also to write to the world so that you will help others. You’re an inspiration.

    1. Brittany on 08.02.2013 at 20:31 (Reply)

      Wow thanks so much Ray! Your words mean a lot to me. This project has definitely helped me learn a lot about myself early on and discover some strengths I didn’t know I had in me. I believe that everyone has undiscovered strengths within them that could be brought out through challenging themselves as well and I encourage others to try similar projects of their own. Thanks again for your support!

  15. […] me.  Also, I just got an article published on Susan Cain’s Power of Introverts website here that you may like to read as well. Thanks again for reading my blog and making this an interactive […]

  16. Gerrit on 09.02.2013 at 02:22 (Reply)

    Great post, Brittany and Susan!

    Obviously we live in an extravert-dominated world. Interesting though that research indicates that actually 51% of the US population are introverts! (Isabel Briggs Myers, 1998)

    Apparently by not speaking up we quiet introverts have allowed the other species to rule the world, or haven’t we?

    As an executive coach I am frequently asked to help managers improve their “communication skills.” Most of the time it turns out that these executives are introverts who have outstanding professional skills, they deliver great results – but they don’t talk about it. What a surprise.

    I strongly believe that people benefit much more from building on their strengths rather than trying to overcome their weaknesses. Thus, I appreciate your insight “I love how my introversion has allowed me to have strong empathy, to be a deep thinker, and to genuinely connect with others.” Surely everyone is at their best when they can be their authentic selves.

    The dilemma for all these introvert managers in an extrovert corporate world is that if they don’t tell others how great they are, they should not be surprised if someone else gets the next promotion.

    Here’s a funny anecdote: In order to prepare for a workshop I met with three members of the executive committee of the company. One was an introvert, and the other two dominated the discussion all the time. Trained in the MBTI personality tool, I actively involved the quiet one in the discussion. And guess what: each time he said something, he really had something to say.
    One month later, we had the workshop, and as usual I handed out evaluation forms at the end of the workshop. Can you imagine what the introvert executive recommended for improvement? “Be more outgoing!”

    Greetings from an introverted fellow Toastmaster (-:

  17. Jean Bailey Robor on 09.02.2013 at 07:38 (Reply)

    Thanks, Brittany, for sharing! I’ve been shy most of my life, contrary to what people who meet me now think. Toastmasters opened up a whole new world for me. The confidence and skills I’ve gained have taken me to places I never could have dreamed before. Your story resonates with me. Wishing for you the best of success!

  18. http://yahoo.com on 11.02.2013 at 04:06 (Reply)

    “The Courage of a Quiet Teen – By Susan Cain” was indeed actually engaging and instructive!
    Within the present day universe that is hard to do.
    With thanks, Jeanne

  19. Steeny Lou on 11.02.2013 at 17:48 (Reply)

    I have never liked the label of “shy”. It was used on me in my childhood. I think I am just cautious, and definitely introverted. (I love your book, by the way, Susan, which I am currently reading after having purchased it in the past week).

    1. Conrad on 11.02.2013 at 23:01 (Reply)

      There is such a thing as shyness. However, it’s not the same as being reserved or introverted. What is important is that Brittany knew that her shyness was a form of fear or anxiety, and she was courageous enough to recognize it and want to overcome it.

      Being introverted or of a reserved nature is not fear based. Being cautious or prudent is quite different than being fearful or withdrawn due to anxiety. This distinction is an important one.

      1. Steeny Lou on 11.02.2013 at 23:46 (Reply)

        “Reserved”. That is a word that was used on me in my school report cards. I like that better than “shy”.

        With my seven children, I have always been careful not to allow labels to be applied to them.

        When people have said, “Aw, are you shy?”, I would quickly say, in a voice my children could hear, “No, no, they aren’t.”

        And depending on whatever prompted the speaker to make such a comment, I would take it from there for offering other explanations, keeping it positive for the sake of my child.

        Works for me and my family, anyway.

  20. Catherine Miller on 26.02.2013 at 18:26 (Reply)

    Brittany, How brave of you! Thank your for sharing your story. It’s such an encouragement to quiet teens who are trying to find who they are while battling the harsh effects that labeling can bring. I will definitely share your thoughts with my fellow quiet people. Good luck to you in the future.

  21. Christine on 21.08.2013 at 14:48 (Reply)

    I don’t think being shy should be considered bad, just as being introverted is not bad. If a child is afraid to approach people or be outgoing, so what? They just need time to adapt to their surroundings. When I was a kid, I always tried to get a feel of people I was with before I decided to open up around them. It’s smart. It’s a good idea to think before you act upon or say something. But I was also shy as well.
    Nothing wrong with those qualities. :)

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