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I had a conversation tonight with someone about shyness.

When I was a teenager, I was painfully shy.  I know, hard to believe if you know me now.

Now, I will willingly take a stage, take a microphone, stand up in front of people, stand in the spotlight.

I know that it started after I got out of school.

I was astonishingly unpopular in school.  No movie dates or school dances or proms.

What probably won’t surprise anyone is that I was on the annual staff, about my only activity.

Then I got out of school and through a few coincidences and one of those horrible social programs, I got a job I’d never have gotten any other way, that lead me down a lot of paths.

I got a job through CETA, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act.  It was one of those programs that Reaganomics thought had no value, although it was actually a continuation of the WPA.

Anyway, I got a job working for an arts alliance in the itty tiny town I grew up in.  I ran the office, typed up everything in the days when things were typed, scheduled classes, wrote grants, and generally did whatever needed to be done.

It was a great job for someone who didn’t have a lot of experience doing those things, and the woman who hired me, Colleen, actually had a lot of influence on me.

She was enough older than I was that it was easy for her to be a mentor, but not so much older that we didn’t have a lot in common.

I spent a LOT of time at her house as we got to know each other, and less at my own, and that was, no doubt, a real benefit to me, too.

Colleen was NOT shy.  She was six feet tall in her stocking feet and, in the parlance of the day, she owned it.  She stood tall, she didn’t slouch, she wore heels, and her husband was about 5’8″.

I learned a lot from Colleen, the most important thing being that you missed out on a LOT by being shy.  A lot.

I really didn’t want that to be the case.

I think I came to the realization that mild discomfort on my part was not a good enough reason to miss out on the things that I wanted to experience.

So I stopped.

I know, I know, if you’re shy, you’re saying, but how do you do that, how do you not stand there paralyzed and just get over it?

I don’t know, on one hand, on the other hand, I know exactly.  You simply do it.

You put one foot in front of the other and keep walking.

Shyness is really about being obsessed with yourself.

I know, I know, not the most popular view, particularly if you’re the one who’s shy.  However, shyness is about being sure that everyone is watching YOU.

They’re paying attention to themselves.

That’s the secret.

No one is paying THAT much attention to you, because they’re all obsessed with themselves.

The other thing I do know is that the best way to stop focusing on yourself is to focus on someone else.

I think, too, that having a job makes it easier.

As NOT shy as I usually am, I can be at loose ends if I don’t have a role.

Give me a job, though, and I’m good.

It’s one of the best things about volunteering, because you have a job and that pushes you to focus on other people, on a task, and that’s helpful, I think.

Give me a job and I’m happy.

Put me on a stage and I’m even better.