This week I discovered that I am a strange combination of shy and so opinionated I can’t keep my thoughts to myself! As a small child, I was very frightened of talking to people. I didn’t make friends easily and, because of the places we lived, I had little opportunity to learn how to interact with others. I enjoyed my own company, so I never felt this was a problem. My mother didn’t allow me to take the 6-penny bus ride into town on my own until I was thirteen, by which time I was convinced it was a dangerous place and was terrified I might get lost and have to speak to someone!
I hadn’t gained much more confidence by the time I left home at 17 but I had begun to put a few strategies in place to deal with that knot in the stomach every time a conversation loomed. I remember, some years later, when my daughter was 3 years old. My husband’s work had taken us to a new town. I didn’t know anybody and hadn’t even met my neighbours to speak to – strategy no. 1 – stay out of the way so no one speaks to you!
The playgroup met in the Old Independent Church up the road. I needed to enrol my 3 year-old. How many times I walked up to that enormous oak door and raised my hand to knock, then walked away again. It took weeks before I could bring myself to knock and introduce myself. Once there, still without saying too much to anyone, I would stay and help put the tables away and before long I was asked if I would go on the committee.
A couple of years later we moved again. Soon, the village playgroup needed a supervisor and guess who stepped up to do it! Strategy no.2 – volunteer to be at the front! and only engage in ‘factual’ conversations. That is, only talk to people on things you know about, avoid anything ‘deep’ and never discuss feelings or needs, only opinions.
Over the years I have hidden the shyness inside me even from myself. I think I am a pretty good listener in any one-to-one situation but starting a conversation with people I don’t know very well is still hard and phone calls are a re-run of knocking on that Church door. Lots of uncomfortable silences. I still have plenty of opinions and I like to share them, whether or not you want to hear them! I love to share things I’ve learned and I have taught many different age-groups over the years, in voluntary capacities.
So what happened this week to remind me how unconfident I am? Well, I joined a course on starting and growing a business. It was my responsibility to set up the course and no one else wanted to facilitate the meetings, so I’m doing it. Growing stress suggested even this was less than comfortable. Then, in the first class, we were given the Paper Clip Challenge. You may have come across it. You take a paper clip and trade it with someone, then trade what you received for something else, and so on. Oh my, Church door all over again! The boundary rail of my ‘comfort zone’ is so far away, I feel as though I might drown.
I have lovely neighbours and we get on well but the thought of knocking on their door to invite them to trade me something was keeping me awake at nights. It took 3 days and some very sincere prayers to pluck up courage. One answer to a prayer was a plan. When my husband agreed to trade me a pepper plant I figured I could trade it next door for some eggs from their hens.
Gingerly I made my way round and managed to explain what help I needed. The result was lots of interest and advice, a very supportive and useful conversation, oh, and 6 hen’s eggs! How enjoyable that was. I should talk to my neighbours more often! Since then I’ve turned 4 eggs into a cake and traded it with the neighbour the other side of me, traded the other 2 eggs for some rhubarb from next-door-but-one and started the process with a third neighbour across the road. Every time there was that knot in the stomach. I even woke at 4.30 a.m. thinking about what I needed to do. But I’ve done it!
Yesterday my daughter shared some things a 10 year-old had said in an address at Church about humility. One thought-provoking thing was that you need self-confidence to be humble. I’ve never connected the two before but I think she’s right. When you lack confidence, you hide behind things you know you’re knowledgeable about, especially things you know more about than the people you’re talking to. It doesn’t speak of humility when you’re trying to prove that you are someone worth conversing with, instead of simply showing an interest in those you are with. So I would add to self-confidence, self-esteem. I think they are are more closely connected than we realise.
I’m grateful for my wonderful neighbours and the good advice they’ve shared with me. I’m also thankful to the gentleman who purchased one of my framed prints at the Gainsborough’s House Print Workshop exhibition last week. When I heard that he had looked all round and chosen mine as his favourite, both my self-esteem and my confidence grew. I hope the experiences I’m having on this course will help me develop both and I hope that will make me a nicer person to know. At least, perhaps I’ll like myself better! and who knows, maybe I’ll find better ways of getting my art ‘out there’ and influencing more people’s lives for good.