Confessions of a Shy Guy

3 Feb

The guy in the picture on the mic, that’s my Dad, Pete. You would like my Dad.

I appreciate this is a bold statement to make, you are forgiven for wondering how I could possibly know you’d like him. It’s simple really, everyone likes my Dad, it’s almost impossible not to like him even after only a brief meeting. He’s charismatic, bubbly, funny and generous with both his time and his praise, but my Dad has a deep secret: he suffers from crippling shyness. No one ever believes my Dad when he tells them that he’s shy mainly due to the outward appearance of his personality traits; I’m shy too, but no one ever believes me either, in fact not so long ago a friend said the following when I told him, ‘You’re not shy Paul, you’re a gobshite’. He was right and ultimately wrong.

We all ‘know’ the things that shy people don’t do: they don’t work in Public Relations which is littered by Type A personalities; they don’t speak confidently in front of large groups of people; they don’t, due to fear of conflict, challenge things that they think are wrong ; and they don’t go out of their way to meet new people. I’m shy and I DO and have DONE all these things.

It has been one of the best lessons that my Dad has ever taught me. He made me realise that while I may never overcome my shyness and my self-doubt that I don’t have to let it stop me doing the things I want to do. Watching him, I learnt how to create a public face, as mask if you will, that was all the things that, naturally, I wouldn’t be. At this point some of you may be thinking that this is deceptive and, if you see the world in blacks and whites, I guess it is. It’s a deception that means I get to do the things that I want to do and achieve the things I want to achieve and no one gets hurt, so on the scale of things I’m okay with it being slightly deceptive.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently as I have a couple of friends who are incredibly shy.  They both have the capacity to do great things and the desire to do them, but the likelihood of that happening is decreased unless they overcome their shyness (by whatever means). So I thought I’d write this post as fess up on my own shyness and share some tips I have used and still use:

  • Practice public speaking in front of a mirror. It will be uncomfortable to start with (very few people fully like the person staring back) but it works to overcome anxiety as it shows you what people see when you give a presentation or similar;
  • Don’t let opportunities pass you by. Luck does not exist, this is a fact, it’s a pointless construct human’s have created. People, who we think are lucky, simply take advantage of more of the opportunities that come their way;
  • Force yourself to meet new people, in person, at least once a week and talk to them. You have nothing to lose from this and you might actually gain new friends;
  • Challenge things you disagree with. It’s rare to regret challenging, but unfortunately common to regret not challenging. Always be as polite as you can but fear of a disagreement should not be enough to keep you silent.

My final thought to anyone shy, like me, is this: don’t tell yourself (or let anyone tell you) that there are things you cannot do because you are shy…it’s fundamentally not true, me and my Dad are proof of that, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy all too easily. In most situations the truism of Francis Bacon’s saying (though popularised by Roosevelt’s inaugural address) stands:

The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself. 


Since writing this I’ve been touched and surprised by the amount of people who have contacted to me on Twitter to thank me for writing this post and to say that it could have been written about them. I have been especially surprised by the number of people working in Public Relations, people I’ve spoken to for ages and assumed were vastly more confident than myself, who told me they suffer from exactly the same type of shyness and have also constructed similar public masks to overcome it. Far from being the AB Fab clones that many choose to imagine PRO’s as, there are plenty of type B personalities like myself working in the industry.

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to respond, share their experiences and methods for overcoming shyness, I really appreciate it.


6 Responses to “Confessions of a Shy Guy”

  1. sashataylor February 3, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

    This is a fantastic blog and really heartfelt. I can fully appreciate the person this is aimed at (wonder why!). I will have to try your methods out.


  2. Andy February 5, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    Wise advice to the less confident among us, me included. Keep up the good blogging.


  3. George Julian February 6, 2012 at 9:06 am #

    Hi Paul, great post. Got me thinking about whether everyone is actually inherently shy to a greater or lesser degree!? I was an incredibly shy child at primary school (which people who didn’t know me then always find hard to imagine) and remember thinking on my first day at secondary school that I could be ‘a different person’ if I wanted to be – that combined with my form tutor shortening my name for the first time (I’d always been a Georgina before then, George from that point onwards) – meant I ‘decided’ (at least post-rationalised I think that’s what happened) to be less shy. In my experience so much of someone’s ability to take you seriously/trust what you say is dependent on your own self-belief, so your tips should help people with that. I would make one addition though, which is to remember that whoever you’re talking to is probably (internally) a little bit uncertain/shy too, so don’t think you need to have all the answers/all the confidence. Keep blogging Paul, it’s a great post.


  4. paulcoxon81 February 6, 2012 at 10:12 pm #

    Hi George thanks for the comment and kind sentiment. You make a very good point, wise words indeed. I occasionally can overcompensate for my shyness by attempting to have all the answers or the confidence; it can be quite easy sometimes to forget that it’s okay to feel out of one’s depth and a little shy and to show it.



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