Are you shy? Or is it nervous? (I am leaving lonely for another day).
There are those who are victim to their shyness. They don’t meet people, can’t speak if they do, reduce life to minimum social interaction. Such a degree of shyness is truly disabling. However I have come across people whose shyness has been broken by a particular interest or crisis, in the course of which they forgot themselves and were thus able to function quite differently if only for a bit, or more happily, to slowly change their behaviour.
I find people who have overcome shyness oddly moving. You can sense their emotions shifting like something underwater. Sometimes too, such people come to a more realised place by loving another or through sheer adversity putting them in the forcing house of survival.
There was just such a woman in the greengrocers whom I watched and spoke gently to for ages till one day she turned upon me a truly glorious smile of acceptance over the potatoes. She had been very happy with a man who had left her, struggled to bring up her child and was despised by her well-heeled family with whom she did not fit in. She could just about face the job she did to which she clung, and she and her son managed.
I am not shy. But I am nervous, can worry for Britain and frequently do. Being nervous never stopped me from doing anything. There is the five seconds before you go to air where you think “Oh, why did I open my big mouth?” And afterwards I can’t get my breath, have to push the heart back to where it belongs, out of my throat, or have legs that won’t hold me.
One of the perennial questions bracketing both of the above is confidence- how to be confident. And there are those people who by an emotional sleight of hand seem so and they get so by doing whatever it is. When they succeed visibly in our world we call them stars. Like Dolly Parton hitting the stage at Glastonbury.Apart from the fact that I really rate her and always have since I saw her verbally step over Parkinson years ago or staring at her unmissable bosom, it was particularly interesting to see her hard on the heels of one of those books about why women don’t have the success in business they might be due, a book which coined the phrase “executive presence” and then goes on to tell you how to dress and be to get it
Well, here we go: I hated what Dolly wore, don’t like the wig (she’s worn better). And I weep for the stuff she has done to her face. But you will never see a better example of “executive presence”. She wrote the songs, she hired the musicians, she rehearsed the show, she can still sing, she placed it, and wow! Who cares about all that other stuff?
There are two ways to make it, whatever “it”is.. One is the way that everybody else does, a bit like assuming protective colouring. You just look like everybody else. In your heart you know you’re special. And then there is the other way. I’d have thought after years of men and women who look less than perfect, some of whom frankly look like hell especially when they tried pursuing the sweet bird of youth, we’d have realised that you can rationalise any kind of appearance into working for you if you have the gifts.
You can make looking odd or strange or misplaced or wearing the wrong things actively work for you. The successful and powerful businesswomen I’ve noticed fronting Dragon’s Den don’t wear anything resembling “serious” clothes. Nearer to the Parton spectrum. But it hasn’t stopped them. Ability is ability, and hard work is hard work. And if you have the gifts, you can deliver. And different personalities require – and get – different exchange.
I like to think that, in spite of that wellworn patter about the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee, Miz Parton was genuinely touched to hear a whopping great audience from across the pond belting out the lyrics of “9to5”. Who wouldn’t be? Shrewder than most, I bet she can still tell mild from bitter, in her own mouth as well as most other people’s and trusts her own judgement, whether in the clothes she wears or the music she writes… That’s confidence.
Your point about appearances is apposite Anna. Forgive me I’m stating the obvious first: I think there has been a sexist gender divide in matters of shyness,albeit one consisting of stereotypes- of the female experience whose albatross is being judged on appearance and holding back out of decorum, versus the male habit of extroversion- the bequest of that is the dodgy machismo of gang culture where social awkwardness is hidden in,literally, anti-social behaviour.Now we have among 30 somethings a sort of mousy androgyny interspersed with the studenty and scatological. In London I’ve read opinion articles extolling the joys of retreating to ones cocoon after commuting and labouring, which detracts from affordable pubs,restaurants and entertainment and the opportunity to enjoy unself-consciously. I had hoped that the one positive benefit of the recession would be a levelling of the social climate but that has shied away like the idea of Big Society. There are great conceptual ideas like the Happiness Project and Talking to Strangers, yet the relaxation and anti-shyness climate is probably easiest to find in odd corners of,say, the Edgware Road where ethnic culture expresses itself without what passes for sophistication-and concommitant stress- and is this more sophisticated altogether . Village London is intact in surprising places of all economic denominations, bits of Finsbury Park to Barnes. Further out , an evening stroll round the less dodgy parts of Reading will reveal all manner of chatty clubs and gatherings in front rooms and corner cafes. So I wonder if what’s needed is more humane ,less organised yet safe public space, like the greengrocers where you gently talked Anna- a lovely initiative.
I find that since becoming a carer for my 88 year old Father I have lost a lot of my shyness which has been a life long battle,I’am 51 now and I think it is because I am too busy making sure Dad is looked after instead of being selfish and thinking of myself all the time.
Enjoyed hearing you on the radio last week,just wish you were on every week!