I was painfully shy as a child. Painful as in I remember that it actually hurt my body when a grownup said hello to me. The thought of saying hello back or worse answering the very difficult question of “how are you? or “how old are you? made me want to crawl up in a ball and hide forever. I chose the best option available to me which was usually to shrug my shoulders and slowly walk behind my mother’s skirt. It was a tennis skirt, but it felt like a safe hiding place for me.
Flash forward several decades later to the night my son told my husband that he thought my mouth might fall off from talking so much to everyone and anyone as the rest of my family tried to escort me out of the room and away from the dinner party I couldn’t seem to get enough of.
People who didn’t know me as a child can’t believe how shy I was back then. They think I’m joking or at least exaggerating. I’m not. They ask me about this. When did this happen? How did this happen?
Here’s the deal. I changed. Somewhere in between being freakishly scared to say hello to a person who knew and loved me and in many instances was related to me, and then in engaging in several hour long conversations with complete strangers, I changed — completely. I grew. I learned. Something clicked in me.
I am not an anomaly, not in the least. People change — all the time, and I for one am fascinated by this. I love to witness these transformations in people. I think we need to recognize them more. I don’t think we should keep people in a box of who we once knew them to be or who we think they are supposed to be.
I’ve seen so many caterpillars turn into butterflies. I’ve also seen butterflies turn back into caterpillars. I’m using figurative language here. I haven’t actually seen either of these things happen.
I’ve witnessed many introverted shy kids turn into super chatty extroverted adults like me. I’m friends with many of these formerly shy kids turned grownup extroverts.
When I see a super shy child these days, I don’t try and get her to “come out of her shell” right there in front of me. I don’t want to pain her because I remember how much it used to hurt. Instead, I smile and think to myself that she won’t always be that shy. Or maybe she will be, but she will be more comfortable in her own introverted skin as an adult, and she will figure out another way to change into her own proverbial butterfly.
I’ve known people who’ve made real world altering changes in their lives. I’ve seen people overcome hard to fathom obstacles or difficult demons from their past. I’ve seen others make tiny changes in their lives that have yielded larger than they could have imagined results.
We are in some ways the people we always were, but I don’t like it when I hear others say that people really don’t change — that they can’t. I simply don’t believe that. You can change if you want to, if you have the tools do it and if you work hard at it.
The jury’s still out on whether I would have been better off as a painfully shy person for my whole life or a constantly conversation making Chatty Cathy. Time will tell.