As long as I can remember, I've been shy. I cringed as a young child at encounters other kids laughed off—like when a cranky neighbor yelled at us for accidentally hitting a ball into his yard. I nearly froze with terror in the presence of my first-grade teacher, an imposing woman renowned for her strictness. Hospitalized at age ten for a tonsillectomy, I was too timid to call the night nurse and let her know I needed to go to the bathroom. Since I couldn't get out of the criblike hospital bed, I spent the night marshalling my willpower to avoid wetting the sheets. And as a teen and young adult, my quiet reserve was often misinterpreted as aloofness and snobbery.
For years, I viewed shyness as a disability, something I was born with and couldn't help. I felt my personality "handicap" permitted me to sit back and wait for others to talk to me. It's up to the extroverts of the world to reach out to me, I thought. After all, can't they see I'm shy?
When I went away to college, I attempted to cover up my lack of social confidence by avoiding contact with people I didn't already know. I rarely ventured out of my shell to chat with other students at mealtimes or before and after classes. In the mistaken belief appearance was the key to being accepted, I never left my room without first laboring over my hair and makeup. I wore the trendiest clothes my limited budget would allow. And I never admitted, at least not publicly, to any uncertainties, weaknesses, or failings.1