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Being Shy Isn’t a Bad Thing: Turning My Lifelong Weakness Into a Strength

If you’d asked me to choose one word to describe myself at any time during the past 20 years of my life, I would’ve shrugged my shoulders and said “shy.” To be honest, I would probably still have the same answer today — the difference now is that I’m not ashamed to be shy. I simply am shy, and that’s not a bad thing.

Growing up, I was always quiet and kept mostly to myself and a few close friends. At parent-teacher conferences in elementary school, it was the same report every year: I was a great student but had to talk more. This was never new news to me. I was completely aware of my shyness, but it wasn’t until everyone around me told me to be more outgoing, that I started to resent this trait. Either you’re loud or you’re quiet, and in general, one is much more desirable than the other.

My shyness only increased when I reached middle school. At this point, my anxiety around others was almost unbearable. Meanwhile, I still hated the fact that I was unable to be super friendly like I thought I was supposed to be. This turned into a cycle where I would get paralyzing anxiety and then be mad at myself for how my body was reacting because it wasn’t how I thought I should be reacting. Our culture worships outgoing people, and this expectation further affected me for years to come.

Although I started to find my footing once I began high school, I was still extremely quiet. Even though I had made good friends, was doing well in school, and joined clubs and teams, I still hated that I was shy. I felt like I was doing everything right, yet I still couldn’t seem to “break out of my shell” like every adult in my life had told me would happen eventually.

A defining moment for me was something I’m sure no one else in my life remembers, but it had a significant effect on how I viewed my timid high school self. During my junior year of high school, my mom went to parent-teacher conferences to meet my teachers, and it was no surprise that most of them said the same old line I’ve heard my whole life — “she’s doing great in class, but she needs to participate more.” Then, when my mom told me about her meeting with my favorite English teacher, it was completely different. She told me he had said that I’m clearly shy, but that it’s not a bad thing at all. As I said, this seems like a very minuscule and inconsequential memory, but it meant the world to me to finally be praised rather than shamed for a major part of who I am, especially coming from a teacher I respected so much. As dumb as it sounds, this truly was a turning point in how I thought about myself and my shyness.

Of course, shyness and anxiety can’t go away just because you want them to, but it took me years to finally realize this truth as well as appreciate this part of me that I had hated for so long. I am who I am because I’m on the quieter side, and now I would never want to change that. Sometimes it can still be frustrating being shy, but I love that I always listen to others, empathize with people, have close friendships, and am a calm person. If you’re shy, you should embrace these traits, too.

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Elizabeth Tait

U Mass Amherst '24

Elizabeth is a sophomore at UMass Amherst double majoring in psychology and sociology. In her free time, she loves reading, watching sunrises at the beach, making music playlists, playing tennis, and traveling. She is also passionate about mental health awareness and is involved with Active Minds on campus.
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