As I write this, I am sitting on a plane flying to Juneau. About an hour ago, I fell asleep listening to a series of podcasts by the American Psychological Association. One particular podcast about shyness struck my interest, knowing that I have often been described as a “shy kid” despite being mildly extroverted.
I have never truly understood what “shyness” meant or entailed, but I gathered that the trait was not a positive attribute. The descriptor never failed to distress me whenever someone tacked it to my own personality; in result, I would often try to be louder and more talkative when interacting with other people. In the podcast, Bernardo Carducci argued that “shyness” is like having a mirror in front of you. You are more aware of your personal flaws in social situations and often feel the need to “be perfect” around others, making it difficult to interact.
Hearing this idea made sense to me. Growing up, I never truly considered myself as “shy” because I wanted to go out and talk to other people. Wishing to impress, I felt uncomfortable and under pressure when trying to do so. “Shyness” has more to do with ultra self-criticism and perfectionism, two things that have caused problems for me throughout life. In an increasingly competitive world made more available through social media and the internet, perfection seems like an ideal that some people have achieved — making those who have not gotten it feel incredibly worse.
During the last two weeks of December, I have been down in Portland working on college applications. College applications are infamous for their ability to make high school seniors hate themselves because of their acute ability to point out flaws to the applicant. I am someone who loves perfection and efficiency, but I am also someone who has not met her definition of either things, in part because of her shyness. For example, one of my biggest regrets of high school was not taking more difficult classes. Had I the chance to redo my high school career, my schedule would be heaping with various science and math courses, and I would have taken other classes — like history and English — earlier than I actually had. None of this happened because I was afraid of seeming strange or messing up, and the more I denied what I wanted, the more annoyed I was with myself. Everything ended during my junior year, when I had finally failed at so many things — creating a school newspaper, keeping my grades up, my mental health — that I had to rewire my brain in a way that would not tolerate my growing self-hatred.
During the college application process, I could not help but wonder what my life would be like had I pursued my aspirations without consulting the evil part of my brain. Better, undoubtedly. Yet, I know that I will not be given the chance to completely start over. Ever since junior year, I have thought that instead of mulling over “what could have been,” I can think “what could be” and set a plan to achieve my goals. Filling out applications has a way of trapping us back into our past, as if that is what defines us. I kept thinking about how much time I have wasted, everything I could have done and learned, had I not been criticizing myself. After finishing all of my applications, I found myself crying over a feeling I had not felt in months.
Right before boarding my flight, I bought a necklace at an airport store. The charm is a hot air balloon about 3 centimeters large, and I bought it to remind myself that I can rise above whatever doubt I feel, even if I have to power the balloon myself. I am grateful to have discovered this enormous barrier in my life, no matter how long it took, and now is the time for me to look forward, college applications be damned.
Happy new year, and maybe even a happy new you.
• Tasha Elizarde is a high school senior living in Juneau. She also writes “This Day in Juneau History” for the Juneau Empire.