It was the spring of 1984. I attended my first National Speakers Association meeting.
I was destined to become a professional member, to serve two terms on the Board of Directors of the San Francisco Chapter, and to speak (not main stage) at a National Convention.
San Francisco Chapter meetings were very popular then, hosting somewhere between 250 and 300 guests. The day I went, Susan RoAne (author of How to Work a Room) was speaking. Challenging her audience, she challenged, “Show me your hand if, upon hearing there are 500 people you’ve never met available to talk with you in a room down the hall, you’d be thrilled to go there to meet them.” Almost everyone raised their hand. I did not. I concluded I was with the wrong group. I was shy, after all, and did not enjoy meeting people, particularly in groups.
Shy was how I described myself to others. Hoping to fade into the woodwork, I stood uncomfortably on the edges of rooms while my husband told jokes and interacted. I was afraid of making mistakes, saying the wrong thing, and believed I was uninteresting to others. I’d prefer to stay home, after all, going to such events only as a dutiful and supportive wife.
I stayed shy for many years. Then, I joined the Spiritualist Church in my area, where the minister was a psychic who delivered individual messages from the pulpit. He offered me a message, reminding me that I was shy.
“You know what shyness is?” he asked me. I felt confused and had no answer. “It’s an extreme form of self-absorption!” he said gleefully. “You’re busy wondering what they’re thinking of you. Here’s the deal. They are not thinking about you! You know why? Because they’re busy thinking about themselves!”
That’s putting it all into perspective! For all the years I felt justified in being a wallflower because I was shy, and this religious leader was telling me I was, instead, self-absorbed. I stayed shocked for many days thereafter.
A dyed-in-the-wool personal growth person, I started observing myself more closely whenever I began to feel shy. Since I was a psychotherapist helping others, I observed and explored this quality in them, too. The man was right: every time I felt shy, I was thinking about what others were thinking of me. They were judging or ignoring me. It was all about me! Others were not at all thinking about me. But were they really primarily thinking about themselves?
Turns out, they were. As I accepted that truth, I began to formulate a new way of being and interacting with others.
All humans, I had learned, need energy, which they get in the form of attention. In my classes, I had demonstrated to participants that people will give themselves attention if they are removed from a group and asked to sit on the sidelines. They start to think about whether their group is talking about them, what it is about them that created the separation, and a host of other issues. How could this be used to help me deal with shyness?
My conclusion: Since all people want energy, and get it primarily in the form of attention, then it might be that all I had to do was pay attention to them, and I’d have no room for my own shyness!
In my 30’s, I tested this hypothesis one night at a party where I only knew about two people besides the host. The house was jammed, to the extent that when some people moved from the living room into the kitchen, or from the kitchen to the den, all the people in that room moved there, too! I decided to select at least one man who looked interesting to me and just pay attention to him. I did not plan to talk with them, just notice them.
One man caught my eye as he came through the front door. I smiled at him when he looked up. Later, I saw he had been herded into the living room, this time looking at him without smiling. When he was in the kitchen, and I had been shoved into the den, I smiled at him once more. Through the seven rooms of the house, I kept catching his eye and just paying attention to him, smiling only twice.
Toward the end of the evening, the crowd began to thin. The man came over to talk with me. “I’ve been watching you all night,” he said to me. “I spied you the minute I walked in. Then I saw you in the kitchen, the den, the playroom, and the garage.” By now, I was smiling. “I’d like to get to know you better,” he was saying.
By the end of the evening, I had received, not one, but three invitations to leave the party and go home with the gentlemen to whom I had paid attention. I refused the invitation, but left feeling quite triumphant! I had discovered a powerful key to giving up shyness. Just pay attention to others!
I began to do this with everyone I met, whether individually or in a group. I learned to pay attention by commenting positively on an item of their clothing, a behavior I observed, a statement made. It became clear that people loved to receive attention and wanted to talk with me any time I gave it.
I returned to the National Speakers Association, spoke with Susan RoAne, and told her I was now ready to happily and enthusiastically go into the room filled with 500 strangers!
Ten years later, I added an ingredient: I made a contract to love myself and make love my guiding life principle, no matter what.
Now no one in my life believes that I was once shy. Being more outgoing is easy: love yourself and others, and show genuine interest in them.
There’s more I learned about emotions: visit www.emotionalmasteryforlife.com.
Talk with you soon!
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Ilene Dillon, MSW, has dedicated her life to helping people resolve personal challenges once and for all, then design life to be what they want it to be. A Transformation Specialist, she has worked 50 years as a psychotherapist and 15 years as a coach. She is a global speaker, Amazon International Best-selling author (The Wellness Universe Guide to Complete Self-Care, Volumes 1 and 2), podcast guest, and plans to give her first TEDx speech (on Anger) later this year. Ilene is also the author of Emotions in Motion: Mastering Life’s Built-in Navigation System and End Manipulation: Stop Being Jerked Around by Toxic, Energy-draining People. With her little dog, Pi, Ilene lives and travels full-time throughout North America in her RV, writing, teaching, and speaking along the way.