I am no extrovert, but I am not shy. I have no problem relating to strangers or expressing myself in a group or speaking to an audience.
However, when I was a teenager I was painfully shy in any situation outside my comfort zone – anytime I wasn’t with family, friends or classmates or in the classroom. I would blush so much, and my face and ears would get so hot that I think I could glow in the dark. I could not speak a coherent sentence. I could not look at a person – my eyes would be riveted on the floor or ground. I have no idea why I was like that. I had absolutely no lack of self confidence otherwise. I eagerly spoke up in class. I was practically a ‘motor mouth’ with my friends.
The first few weeks at university were especially traumatic for me. Everyone was a stranger. We freshmen were required to wear silly little beanies everywhere on campus which identified us as such. We were required to say hello to anyone we met. We were required to memorize the school’s alma mater and fight song and be prepared to sing them when requested. At least I only had to face this in the daytime, because I didn’t live on campus. There was a secret group of sophomores who, wearing hoods, terrorized freshmen in the dormitories at night.
Now I laugh about it. It was such a minor thing. But in those first few weeks I was constantly teetering on the brink of a nervous breakdown. I felt safe only in class and in a crowd. I remember times being caught walking alone on a sidewalk on campus suddenly noticing someone approaching me from the other direction and I would start to freak out – – I would be frantically trying to recall the words to the songs, desperately hoping the request wouldn’t be made, trying to build my courage just to say “Hi”, wishing I could disappear. Somehow I was always able to squeak out a tiny ‘hi’, and nobody ever asked me to sing.
At some point after those first few weeks it occurred to me that it was that damn beanie that was causing all my distress. It was like an epiphany! It suddenly hit me that on a campus with thousands of students nobody would know that I was a freshman if I weren’t wearing an advertisement on my head. So, the beanie went into a dresser drawer and I then had only to concern myself with trying to get over my shyness.