Vulnerability Part I

Don’t mix business with shyness — better known as don’t act weird!

Morrissey once sang, “Shyness is nice, and shyness can stop you, from doing all the things in life you want to”. As I sang along (all alone) in my car, I wondered whether my shyness is nice at all. I’d say it’s been more like a ball-and-chain, stopping me from attaining goals, especially when it comes to business. Today’s start-up entrepreneur cannot afford to be shy, so I’m on a mission for ways to tackle (or suppress) it forever.

I’m always shocked to find out that people are surprised that I consider myself cripplingly shy. To me it is as clear as day, lugging along with it a suite of perceptible symptoms such as the frozen-in-the-headlights look, the stammer of what are supposed to be English words, and the shameless blushing that can’t be covered up by any amount of makeup. No amount of practice makes the small-talk associated with business type encounters less painful. Try as I may, networking and client meetings elicit an internal horror that I’ll say or do something awkward. And as you can imagine, struggling to not appear awkward can often produce the opposite effect.

So, in a society where conceit is considered the new confidence, what does this vulnerability say about me to clients and prospective partners? Is it perceived as weakness? Probably. A lack of confidence in my product? Undoubtedly so. So what to do?

To quash this, I thought I’d inspect the true cause of this ailment. Where does it come from?

One doesn’t need a Psychology degree to see that shyness is the twisted sister of the Maniacal Ego. The same ego that has allowed me to dream romantically big, to have grand(-iose?) ambition and has bestowed upon me a fierce tenacity to go after what I want, has also disabled me with its ever-present alert-signals being pumped through my veins whenever I encounter a room of strangers [imagine awkward experience here]. I don’t know whether to gawk or guffaw at people who can walk up to a group of strangers with a handshake, smile and one-liner.

So, how to address the compulsion to retreat? Since the problem is routed in the ego - a fear around what others think of me, someone recently suggested the following exercise; “Next time someone asks you for something — anything, even if you understand them, turn to them and say ‘Sorry, I don’t understand what you’re saying to me’ with a completely blank face. Even if they’re asking you the time of day!”. The fact that this exercise scares the pants off me is probably a sign that she’s onto something. Coming across as impossibly stupid to strangers is (almost) more terrifying than bungee jumping. Why do I care what strangers think? Good question. I guess that’s the next item of my personality to inspect.

Strangely enough, I discovered that other friends of mine have no problem with the above scenario. In fact, many of them thought it would be hilarious to leave a stranger completely perplexed by a stupidity act. So perhaps this could be one step towards deleting this debilitating shyness of mine. Hmm…I’ll have to think that one over. For now I’ll stick to singing with Morrissey, alone in my car.

Two songs about shyness;