By Andrea Kay
No matter how much I explain to Anna the importance of talking to people about her career change, she always has an excuse for not contacting someone who could help her. She puts off going to meetings where she would surely meet other professionals. It comes down to a gene she possesses — a shyness gene.
Yes, there is such a thing, says Walter Smitson, professor of psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center. And if you think you've got it, you're not alone.
Approximately 40 percent of the population consider themselves shy, says Bernardo Carducci, director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast. Just knowing that, he says, can help you get over your fear of talking to others.
For those of us who don't give a second thought to walking up to a stranger and introducing ourselves, the fear can be hard to understand. Basically, shy people are highly self-conscious and self-critical, says Carducci. They think everyone is watching and judging their every move and word and so they think " 'the less I do or say, the less people will have to judge me.' "
Shy people are concerned with making undesired impressions on others, says Mark Leary, chairman of the department of psychology at Wake Forest University. Even though everyone feels some social anxiety, shy people experience it "in an inhibited fashion more frequently or intensely." They also beat themselves up for not feeling confident.
To work through it, it helps to accept what is simply part of your nature.
"Many 'shys' spend lots of time wishing they were the life of the party. They think they can will their shyness away or that they should somehow have outgrown it by now," says Sandra Gordon, co-author with Dr. Bonnie Jacobson of "The Shy Single" (Rodale Press). But it's an inherent social fearfulness related to temperament.
If you are one of the many whose insides do somersaults when it comes to approaching someone and introducing yourself, first accept that you can't change your DNA, says Gordon, but keep in mind that you can learn to manage it. Here are some tips:
It pays, though, to be prepared in case you are rebuffed, says Jacobson. Imagine yourself walking over to a small group and being ignored, then saying to yourself: "Good, I got that over with. Next!"
Just as being shy is part of who you are, connecting with others is a part of a successful career. It may not come naturally to flitter comfortably around a room of people, but you have just as much to offer and gain as the outgoing types that make up the rest of the population.