I used to be so shy. I wasn’t able to call my friends’ parents by their first names. I mumbled. I freaked out in front of large crowds. I cried a lot. I thought the friends I’d stumbled into at school would be my only friends forever, and even then they didn’t really like me.
And just LOOK AT ME NOW. I have, like, eight friends! I do things on camera in front of thousands of people! Okay, I still can’t call my friends’ parents by their first names but that is SCARY. They’re grown-ups.
How did I do it? How did I, the world’s most shyest person, become relatively sort of almost outgoing?
Three things, my friend:
These are all pretty specific things that I did, but I’m fairly sure that there are lessons I learned in each one that can apply to ~*anyone*~ so let’s go!
When I was about 13, I wanted to join the Combined Cadet Force at the boys’ school down the road. My headmistress said no, which, I mean, skirting the fact that that’s a SUPER SEXIST THING TO DO TO YOUNG GIRLS, was also kinda sucky because all we had was Guides and Guides was basically a glorified after-school club where all you did was draw and play games. We didn’t learn much.
I wanted to learn how to march! And yell! And shoot guns!
So I did. I joined the Army Cadet Force, which is the same thing but extra-curricular (and they let girls in, MISS O’CONNOR). Every few weekends, we’d go on two-day expeditions and have to sleep out in the woods with a bunch of strangers. The longer I spent in Cadets, the more friends I made (because of the aforementioned sleeping in the woods part) and the better I got at standing in front of groups of people and COMMANDING RESPECT.
I’m not saying you should all join the army here, but if there’s one lesson to take away, it’s this:
Respect others and they will respect you.
Treat everyone like they are worth your time and act like you want to help them be the best person they can be. I was in command of a wee group of people three or four years younger than me, and I genuinely wanted to make our team the Very Best Team At Everything. You can be a leader while also treating your subordinates as peers, but even when you’re a subordinate to someone – like a boss, or someone you look up to – just treat them like a normal person, like a friend, and then YOU WILL BE FRIENDS PROBABLY.
What did I do next? Well! I wanted a job, and I saw this one job that paid pretty well (£7 an hour! That’s loads! Er, for a student, anyway.) It was door-to-door fundraising. Now, I don’t know if I can wholeheartedly recommend doing that, because while I enjoyed it a fair bit, it’s a really taxing job – walking from 12pm to 9pm knocking on around 150 doors, attempting to get at least 2 people to agree to donate money to charity on a regular basis.
PEOPLE DON’T WANT TO DO THAT.
But what you do get is a wealth of experience in talking to people. Sure, most of what you’re saying is a pre-written pitch – Hey, sorry to bother you! My name’s Kate, do you have a couple of minutes to spare? I’d love to talk to you about Macmillan Cancer Relief – but you have to organically respond to what the people behind the door are saying. You have to listen a lot, and respond kindly and encouragingly. Doing this was what taught me how to small talk with people, and small talk is HARD.
Uh oh it’s lesson time:
Be encouraging. Ask questions. Talk about them!
People like talking about themselves! And yes, I know, so do you. That’s okay, you’ll get to do that some time – but I like to think that every new person I meet has at least one cool fact or secret, and it’s your QUEST to find out about it! That’s how you end up meeting people who tour the world with Bon Jovi, or the secret Prime Minister of The Moon, or… well, sometimes you end up meeting people whose secrets are like “Hitler did nothing wrong” because I once met a guy like that, but that was, like, one guy out of hundreds.
And then I went to university, and set myself this one VERY IMPORTANT but also SLIGHTLY STUPID goal:
Say yes to everything.
This is a good thing, sometimes. It means you aren’t sitting alone in your room, paralysed by social anxiety. It means you have craaaazy experiences – foam party? YES! Jazz band? YES! Salsa lessons? HAHA OKAY.
And then you make beautiful new weird friends. And when people say “how did you meet?” you can flick your hair casually and be all like “oh y’know we went to a midnight pizza-baking and pole-dancing seminar. No biggie.”
But also take care of yourself, because OH MY GOD saying yes to everything is not always good. Networking is suuuuper important for both new friends and new work/life opportunities but networking when you’re grumpy and tired is BAD FOR EVERYTHING.
So what’s the lesson here?
Say yes to SOME THINGS. Be brave. Chase opportunity.
If someone wants to do a foam party, DO THAT FOAM PARTY. Don’t ignore every Facebook event. And if it’s someone’s birthday, or they seem sad on Twitter, or you just really like their outfit in that one selfie – TALK TO THEM YAAAAY. What’s the worst that could happen?
[Disclaimer: Kate is still quite shy sometimes and does not go to every party but she would like to think she has some friends now and maybe that makes her relatively trustworthy on this matter.]