How to shake your shyness

I have no objections to admitting that I was a very shy child.  Early on, I struggled to make friends and talk to strangers (even though I used to pretend that I only avoided those conversations because my mom told me never to talk to strangers).  Looking back, I now think of it as genuine introversion with a splash of social anxiety.

Even though I feel like I can talk to many types of people now, sometimes I feel like shyness still keeps me back  from fully expressing myself. Sometimes my thoughts appear externally choppy, even though they’re internally fluid.

Shyness doesn’t mean you won’t be successful.  But, in my opinion, shaking the shyness sure does make it easier.

This isn’t to say that introversion is necessarily a drawback.  I think it’s actually an asset sometimes–for example, during the semester, I usually spend long hours studying at the library.  If I felt like I needed a lot of human interaction during that time, I might have more trouble with productivity.

However, sometimes shyness can be the factor that hinders you from connecting with people who can really enrich and benefit your life.

So here’s my trick to conquering shyness: forget you have it.  I admit that that statement sounds borderline condescending if left alone–but let me explain.  The way I experience shyness, it’s like an emotional cage.  You try to break from the cage, but your fears and anxieties keep you locked in an invisible prison.  If you pretend that you aren’t shy, you can eventually diminish that timidness because you see that there’s actually nothing to fear.  I like to think of it as half acting, half faking it until you make it.  It’ll feel awkward at first–like you’re playing a part–but with time, your genuine disposition might amalgamate to accommodate a more socially secure self.

This doesn’t always work, and it takes a little bit of getting used to.  However, if this is something you struggle with and wish to change, it’s definitely worth the effort! 🙂



Why interning somewhere different is a great experience

I’m 1 time zone from family, 1,300 miles from home, 1,500 miles from my academic home. And, surprisingly, the distance hasn’t affected me how I thought it would.

As cliché as I feel saying it, I’ve always wanted to travel.  Maybe that’s evident through my love of foreign languages, or the fact that, of all of the research programs I applied to this summer, only 2 of them sit on the east coast.  I think I also wanted to explore an area of the US where I’d never previously been before, complete with everything from a unique climate to a characteristic landscape.  Texas correctly fit the criteria; if I didn’t have a map, I wouldn’t guess it was on the same continent as Pennsylvania.

I remember the day I flew here from home. I wasn’t afraid of being away from home, but I was afraid of not knowing how to solve dilemmas by myself that I knew my parents would know answers to.  Once I realized that I could take care of myself completely by myself, however, that’s when things became fun.

I think living far from home is a worthwhile experience for interns because it’s a short term assignment that gives one the opportunity to practice self reliance and independence.  It also allows you to explore somewhere you wouldn’t otherwise have much reason to travel to; if it wasn’t for work, I likely wouldn’t have had a reason to come to College Station this summer.

I think this is also a great experience because I like to think of it as allowing you to test out the area with little commitment.  If you liked where you interned, you can always return later and more permanently for school or work.  If you decide that it isn’t the place for you, there’s no need to fret– it’s a short term assignment, and the remaining weeks will end before you can blink twice.  I like how, with interning, there’s little pressure to fall in love with the location.

Ultimately, from my experience so far, I highly recommend that, given the opportunity, students intern somewhere different and where they might not typically visit–a different city, a different state, a different time zone, a different country, a different continent–however far you wish to travel.



Why some naïvety will drive your success

Society values maturity.  From my experience as a student, I find it’s seen as a valuable asset in academic settings because it’s often correlated with exceptional grades, summer internship plans, campus jobs, and top graduate school offers by the end of a student’s senior year.  I agree that maturity is valuable, especially if you’re in a setting where the trait is more difficult to find.  I think mature people make good leaders.  But I think a certain level of immaturity is essential for success too.

So it’s completely clear, I’m using the Merriam-Webster definition of naïvety, “deficient in worldly wisdom or informed judgement.”  Immaturity is also listed as a synonym, so I will think of the two concepts as similar and alter between the two throughout this thought.

I think of it like this: maturity represents informed judgement and a greater sense of understanding surrounding a situation.  That’s why I think mature people make good leaders: they can predict and easily understand the consequences behind their actions and how these will affect all of the involved parties.  Basically, mature people maintain an advanced understanding of cause and effect and plan accordingly.  They also maintain a certain level of life experience or can relate similarities of past life experiences to a given situation for guidance.

These abilities produce success, and I understand why they’re valued.  And, if I’m being honest, I believe that, in the balance of maturity and naïvety, one might maximize the first quality for optimum success.

Given this, I find that a certain degree of immaturity is important.

Part of being mature is understanding risks versus rewards.  Pretend you’re given the chance to move to an unknown location for a possible job opportunity with a prestigious company.  If someone sees the risks in this situation, such they might scare themselves out of the opportunity and shy away from it, dismissing it as implausible or a waste of time.  However, people with less experience and more innocence might snatch the opportunity because they don’t understand the implications of not being offered the job.  And, if they get the position, they’ve immediately elevated their careers, simply because they took the chance.

That’s why immaturity benefits us as young individuals–it gets us to take risks.  You hear of young musicians, comedians, and actors who packed up their pre-millenial Sedans in small-town Iowa to move to Los Angeles in search of stardom.  I believe that there’s a certain innocence that accompanies risking what is for what could be, particularly when given immeasurable odds.

I feel like, on average, younger people are more prone to feeling invincible–nothing can hurt them, and they bounce back immediately.  Thus, if we know we can recover, the risks associated with our out-there decisions can be more easily downplayed.

I think that when we’re young, we’re finding out what we’re capable of, and we’re testing our boundaries in every aspect of our lives.  Sure, we’ll make mistakes, but it’s that youth that’s driving us to reach out optimal potential–that success that everyone craves.



Why can’t a leader also be a follower?

Institutions and organizations have long touted the necessity for student and youth leadership.  These opportunities for advancement commence in early high school–positions in student government, honor societies, national organizations, clubs and sports teams encourage the initiative to take command of the situation and lead the pretend army to victory.

And, from what I’ve noticed, once you get to college, those opportunities multiply. Quickly.  Resident Assistants, Organizational Ambassadors, and Directors and Executives of nationally-run societies, whether it be SWE or Pi Alpha Alpha, offer enrichment and the ability to refine necessary skills for both career and personal endeavors.

I believe that anyone can be a leader.  Contrary to what I thought in the past, I don’t think that the ability to govern a group of people is specific to a certain personality type, gender, age, or field of work.  Everyone can be a leader–the style and quality of refined skills, however, is where they might differ.

I believe that anyone can be a follower.  Yes, some may challenge the leader if they disagree with what s/he believes, but even that disagreement illustrates a certain level of interest in the leader’s words.  I’m not talking about blind faith in a leader, either–I’m referring to educated, rational support of a figure.

I believe that followers make good leaders.  Leaders who understand the psychology of their backing parties are at a severe advantage in terms of gaining support and appreciation.  I think of it like this: former swimmers could make excellent swim coaches because they first-handedly understand the repercussions of the coach’s actions.  To be able to comprehend what makes a good leader is what a follower can use to propel him/her towards said status.

But here’s where I get stuck–I’m not sure that we as a society emphasize enough that it’s also important for a leader to know when to follow.  This is certainly not to say that leaders are incapable of following a leader of their superior; for example, an RA reports to his/her Coordinator, who might report to the Assistant Director, who might report to the Senior Director (and the chain of command builds from there).  I believe that sometimes, students are encouraged to lead their peers to the point where they’re hesitant to follow them.  It’s as if everyone has to always be the one to come up with the new, best idea– it’s never as highly touted when we just agree with a good idea… we have to come up with it ourselves.  Why do we sometimes feel the need to have to be the only one to start a movement, and why is just following it insufficient?

I think that leadership seminars should emphasize that, without followers, there would be no leaders.  I don’t think you always have to be the one to come up with the next great idea– I think recognizing the value in said idea is equally important.  I believe leaders should recognize that it’s okay to follow, and it isn’t demoting.  The way I see it, leadership promotes advancement and innovation, and following promotes togetherness and unity.



Fail, try again

You lay your orange mechanical pencil on the dark, laminate desk.  You hand the test to the proctor, insinuating the conclusion of your Finals Week.  You walk out of the office, going over the problems again in your head as you cross the opaque, green tile floors of the lobby, making sure you correctly double interpolated for entropy.  One full question.  That’s what you think you missed at most.

Grades begin to appear on your account throughout the next few days.  You hesitantly close your eyes with each mouse click–weary to whether you’ll expect or appreciate the one of five letters you’ve been assigned for the semester.  The first four are good.  You can work with them.

You sit on the soft, crimson leather couch on Mother’s Day, curious as to whether your last grade has illuminated itself from the darkness of the paper grade book.  You’re not worried, however.  I definitely did really well on that final, you think to yourself as you log into your account.

You didn’t as well as you’d hoped.

“What do I do now,” you murmur, stunned, as you become paralyzed with worry and that sinking, what-happens-now feeling.

You spend the rest of the week in shock and despair.  You did everything you could to avoid this moment.  You reviewed practice problems.  You flash-carded and memorized every equation.  You wrote the derivation for the Clausius-Clapeyron Equation at least 15 times.  You prepared enough to pass the last tests, and you replay the entire, 3 hour test in your mind, wonder if your derivations were really that bad.

You’re lost.  Everyone tells you to go easy on yourself.  But you have to be able to compete with your classmates–the way you see it, as a student, you’re only identified by two numbers–your Student ID number and your GPA.

But you come up with a plan.  You recollect to accommodate the hiccup. You reiterate to yourself that you’re still here.  You could’ve switched majors during the past two years, but you didn’t.  You stayed.  And you’re going to stay.  And you’re going to succeed.  And this doesn’t matter.  And this is just a test of how determined you are, of how flexible you are.

Sometimes you will fail.  Concepts don’t click as easily for you as they do with others.  And you get a little worried, intermittently wondering if you’re in the right place.  But you realize that only means that you don’t think like your peers–and that’s a good thing. If everyone’s strengths identically matched, where would the difference in perspective come from?  You don’t solve problems the same way–sometimes your approaches don’t work, but, hey, they can’t work every time.

When you fail, you try again.  These clauses should be synonymous.  “Fail, try again” should be automatic. All that a less-than-par grade shows is that you don’t fully understand a couple of concepts. It doesn’t define your life.  It doesn’t define what you do from here on.  You learn, and you grow, and you develop a new-and-improved course of action.  And it’ll be better than your previous one.  And you’ll be ultimately wiser because of it. And you’ll be okay.