Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone

How I Overcame Being Painfully Shy

By Jessica Huynh, Storyteller for RU Student Life

I was excruciatingly shy as a kid. As in, there wasn’t a single parent-teacher conference that didn’t start off with, “Jessica is excelling in school, but should participate more in class.” As in, ‘my-parents-had-to-force-me-to-pick-up-the-house-phone-because-I-was-too-scared-to-answer-it’ kind of shy. As in, a family friend saying hello was enough for me to run and hide behind my parents.

I was wholeheartedly, gut-wrenchingly shy. I’m 100% convinced I would have rather bled to death as a child than go up to someone and ask them for help. That’s how shy I was.

As I got older, my shyness continued to manifest itself into various aspects of my life. I cowered at the mere suggestion of attending a social function alone. Public speaking would make me break out in a sweat. In fact, the thought of being left alone with someone I just met elicited severe panic in me. As you can imagine, I didn’t really start dating until much later in life.

I knew my shyness was preventing me from really living, but I had somehow convinced myself my coy nature was merely an extension of my introversion. That made it feel okay… at least for a while. I thought I could brush my shyness under the rug, ignoring what I knew had to be done. Deep down I knew I had to work on my confidence if ever wanted to be successful in my personal, social, and professional life.

So I began making a conscious effort to step outside my comfort zone, placing myself in uncomfortable situations for the purpose of challenging myself. I figured that the more I did it, the less scary it would become. I started doing things that petrified me. I went to events alone. I showed up to parties by myself. I volunteered to publicly speak. I raised my hand in class. I got into debates. I asked people to hang out. I told people how I really felt about them. I applied for positions I really wanted. I did everything I’ve always wanted to do that used to terrify me to the point of paralysis. Even if every inch of me wanted to scream and run in the moment, I powered through.

I went from someone who passively waited for opportunities to happen to me, to being someone who actively went after what I wanted. I decided the first barrier stopping me from getting what I wanted out of life wouldn’t be me. I started being an instigator; someone who can be assertive when the time calls for it. I started beating people to to the punch by introducing myself first — something I would have never dreamed of doing a few years ago.

Funny enough, in the process of overcoming my shyness, I found out who I was.

I found sanctuary in my own skin. I stopped worrying about how others perceived me. I stopped feeling pressured to socialize just because I was in a social setting. I stopped shying away from others when they talked to me. Instead, I started hyping myself up at the prospect of meeting new people. I welcomed the opportunity to make new friends and form genuine connections. There’s a popular quote that goes, “If your dreams don’t scare, they aren’t big enough.” It’s okay to be scared, but that shouldn’t stop you from going after what you want.

While I might never be a classic extrovert, I’ve found a comfortable sweet spot where my occasional shyness doesn’t interfere with my long term goals. If I don’t want to be social one night, it’s not because I’m too nervous to go. If I don’t feel like interacting with people, it’s not because I’m too afraid to do so. I’ve become viciously independent and unapologetic of my presence, something that was foreign to me when I was painfully shy.

Sometimes, you have to be thrown into the unfamiliar before it ever starts feeling familiar. It feels good to say goodbye to being shy.