Today's post is a guest article from Emmi Meyer, an 18 year old high school senior who breaks her silence to help us open our minds to another side of a single story.
I know what shy is, and I am not shy. At least not anymore. Growing up that’s all I was. It is what people told me I was. It was what I didn’t want to be. The dictionary defines shy as these words: bashful, easily embarrassed, timid, restrained, and reserved. Shy is thought of as a permanent personality trait. It is something you are and will continue to be. Knowing as a little girl what gained the most attention, I avoided it. I monitored my behavior with a microscope and punished myself for getting out of the box I held myself in. At times the box was safe and kept me from embarrassment but most of the time my box was a prison and the unrealistic standards I held myself to added to my anxiety.
Being shy meant more than that dictionary definition in my life. I watched people dancing in weddings and I longed to do the same. It was so simple. Get out there and dance. However, whenever the moment came to break the shell, a paralyzing feeling washed over me. I could not break out, no matter how much I wanted to. I would hear my name called, panic, and feel my face flush. I would stop myself from telling jokes because I knew the attention it would bring. It was not who I wanted to be. I would even play scenes in my mind of what my life could be like. What if my name was called and I smiled instead of blushed? What would really happen if I told a joke out loud? What would it look like if I went out there and danced? I imagined myself doing these simple tasks as an unattainable dream. I knew these dreams in my head meant the way I live in isn’t who I am. Being shy isn’t who you are, it’s what you keep yourself from becoming.
Recognizing the barriers that kept me from living life fully made an impact. They became more and more obvious and uncomfortable. This anxiety that weighed my life down was now an identifiable enemy. While reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I soon recognized what actually made me the way I am. Fear. Jonathan Safran Foer wrote in his novel, “Shyness is when you turn your head away from something you want.” Shyness isn’t a personality trait, it is a fear. It is fear of what mistakes could be made while the attention is on you. If something isn’t perfect, everyone will know. The actions I refused to do are what I really wanted. When I learned being scared was the only thing between me and what I wanted, my mindset changed. Having an irrational fear wasn’t enough to keep me from my dreams of what I could be. Now I have begun the journey of overcoming a fear instead of living in it.
I want parents to see their quiet children and instill a sense of courage to combat the temptation of cowardice. The best thing my parents did for me was teach me to translate. My parents got me to write, draw, and finally say what was in my head. They had patience and didn’t allow me to give up. I took the swarm of thoughts and communicated through a once muted mouth. This allowed me to function in normal society and become less frustrated with the world. The one thing I would ask parents and peers to do is resist the quick label. Don’t tell someone they are shy without knowing what they want to be. Don’t call one kid the outgoing one and the other introverted. It adds to the fear of freedom. Look past who they portray and remember there is something beautifully different inside. Encourage the mistakes so when mistakes come, they are welcome. Quiet is a personality trait and shyness is a tormenting mental cage. For those living in that cage, there is a wonderful world out here waiting for you full of dancing at weddings, telling jokes, and smiling. You simply just have to start exploring.
To learn more about the critical misunderstandings a single story can bring, watch novelist Chimamanda Adichie's 18 minute TED Talk.