I met Brittany last summer while "hanging out" on Susan Cain's website, Quiet: The Power of Introverts. I noticed her thoughtful and insightful comments on many of the posts, and I decided to check out Brittany's blog, The Shyness Project. Wow! I couldn't believe this was the work of an 18-year-old. She had carefully designed a one-year-project (along the lines of, and inspired by Gretchen Rubin's bestselling, The Happiness Project) to confront what she termed her crippling shyness. I sat there reading every entry with tears rolling down my face. Her experiences were so similar to mine: stomach aches in school, teasing for being shy and quiet, feeling constricted with anxiety. Yet there was one major difference in our stories. What had taken me nearly fifty years to get a handle on, she was already facing with an awe-inspiring, systematic tenacity. Over the past few months, we've corresponded regularly and I've continued to be amazed at her progress. She's made new friends, joined a public speaking group, worked on participating in class, and has tried a variety of new things (such as salsa dancing!) to break out of her comfort zone. Although she's a busy college student, not to mention popular blogger, she was gracious enough to grant me this interview.
Tell us about your Shyness Project and what made you decide to do this.
The Shyness Project was the one-year plan I devised to confront my debilitating shyness. I set a number of goals for myself that I wanted to address throughout the year and held myself accountable by blogging about my efforts publicly. I decided to do this because I didn't want to let fear keep me from doing what I wanted to do in life. I wanted to be able to write a book, teach English abroad, and do all the things I'd always dreamed of. I felt like my shyness and anxiety stood in the way.
What has been the most difficult thing you've done so far?
Joining a public speaking group called Toastmasters was definitely my toughest endeavor. I came really close to backing out on that one after feeling intimidated by all the eloquent and fantastic speakers in the club. I didn't think I would be able to do what they were doing, and I was afraid to go to another meeting. But then I just sort of forced myself to join and convinced my dad to join too, and it turned out to be a really great experience for the both of us. I already feel much more confident in my speaking ability and have realized that I'm not as bad of a speaker as I thought. (A link to Brittany's first speech follows this post.)
What has surprised you most?
I was surprised by how powerful the connections were that I made with some of my blog readers. I didn't expect to make friends through blogging and didn't think the Internet was a place where you could make friends. I learned otherwise. I've met some great people who I'd love to meet in person. I actually feel like I know some of them personally even though we've only communicated through our blogs and on Facebook.
What has been the most fun?
Writing about my efforts has been a lot of fun for me. I've enjoyed taking notes of my experiences and crafting them into blog posts. And I've loved getting comments from people who can relate to me and my experiences. I've heard from people all over the world!
Have you ever felt like quitting?
Oh yes. Even the first day I wanted to quit because I felt so anxious about planning to go out and talk to a stranger! I had to literally take out a piece of paper and write a declaration that I would see this project through no matter what. Then I signed it. I keep that piece of paper to remind me to keep going. But each and every month I've had doubts, and have felt like quitting. It's hard to repeatedly do things that bring me a lot of anxiety and self-doubt. It's also very emotionally taxing to reveal so much of myself on a public blog. It makes you feel very vulnerable. Sometimes I just felt overwhelmed with all I was opening up about.
What else helped you keep going?
My blog readers definitely helped me keep going. I doubt this project would have been possible without them. I received a lot of really kind emails and comments throughout the project, and that really encouraged me. And when I was told by some of them that I inspired them to confront some of their own anxiety and struggles, I was more determined than ever to keep pushing myself. I really developed a sort of blog family, and they became my support group. They kept me accountable because I didn't want to let them down and I didn't want to let myself down either.
The year is winding down. What can we look forward to in November and December?
In November and December you can look forward to reading about my experience addressing my phone phobia. I've always enormously dreaded having to call people and the phone has always been a source of anxiety for me. In addition, I am hoping to learn some more about my faithful blog readers and their own experiences with debilitating shyness and anxiety. I know several of them have intriguing stories of their own of their personal battles.
Do you have any advice for others who might want to start their own shyness project?
I really advise that if you're going to confront your own painful shyness, that you be 100% committed to it and want to do it for your own sake and not anyone else's. Make sure you're focusing on the aspects of your shyness that you feel interfere with your life.
As for finding the strength to persevere with your efforts, passion and self-motivation is key. You have to have a strong desire to change and have to be willing to deal with discomfort in the short-term to be able to reach more comfort in the long-term. You also need to keep a positive attitude and support yourself as you take steps outside your comfort zone. Learning to recognize and change your inner self-talk is crucial.
And I really recommend making your efforts public on a blog. The blog helps you stay committed and keeps you accountable. It also gives you the opportunity to connect with others who can relate to you and support you. I waited several months before I told any of my friends, however, and for me, that worked out fine because I had the blog to keep me accountable. I don't think you have to rush in to telling the people you know about your goals. Just share things at your own pace and when you feel like you are ready. You don't want to overwhelm yourself by adding too much pressure. Making your goals public is truly a powerful tool, and I believe my project wouldn't have been as successful if I hadn't shared my goals.
Can you believe you've come this far?
No, I really can't! Sometimes I look back at entries from this year, and I can't believe I've done all this. I didn't even think I was going to be able to see this idea through, let alone be near the end of it now. It's crazy. I can't believe I didn't quit. I can't believe I'm doing this interview!
Well, I can believe it. Although her one-year Shyness Project is nearing the end, I have a strong suspicion that we've just seen the beginning of what Brittany will accomplish in her life.
To see Brittany's first speech, click here.
To follow Barb's blog on self-compassion, click here.