Lessons learned from facing shyness

It is okay to be shy, but you should not allow yourself to become lonely.




President Barry Corey, Freelance Writer

(This story was originally published in print on Nov. 29, 2018)

Last week in the Biola Collegium, a student asked me to tell her something about myself most people do not know. I told her I was an introvert. If I had more time or had more foresight, I would have also told her I was a shy college student.

As a college freshman, my parents drove me to the airport in Boston and put me on a plane to the Midwest where I would begin college, 18 and reserved. Though I was ready to start college, I was honest enough to acknowledge—at least to myself—that being in a new college of 1,800 strangers halfway across the country would not be easy for me. I was right. It was not.

Sparing you the details, three semesters after starting college I was still wondering if I belonged. I sat, sometimes alone, in the cafeteria while groups of students who had the gift of effervescence made conversation seem so simple. For me it was not. They did not notice me noticing them.

Weekends were especially awkward. As Fridays approached, I would hope to find guys on my floor who, like me, were looking for kindred lonesome spirits.

Then one day it changed.

Brian played football and was an emerging thought leader in our sophomore class. If I recall, he was also something like class president. An enviable trifecta—intercollegiate sports, student government, dean’s list. At a basketball game one Saturday night, Brian was sitting beside me and asked if I would like to go with him and other students to a birthday party off campus. My palms began to sweat, though I disguised my restlessness by sitting on my hands. What if nobody talked to me? What if I say something awkward? What if this and what if that?

I muttered something about having a paper due or some lame commitment that made the “no thanks” easier. Lies. Not long after the game ended I walked once more the long lonely sidewalk from the basketball arena to the residence hall, wondering what I would do that night.

Halfway to my dormitory, I had a metamorphic moment. I was done escaping into safety. I would go to that party. I would find Brian. I would take him up on his offer to drive me. 180 degrees, I about-faced and beelined to the parking lot to join Brian and his friends for the birthday party.

Where’s the Volkswagen? I knew what his car looked like.

Ready to change my course of life, I spotted him pulling out of a parking spot. It wasn’t too late. Nervous but determined, I walked to his car and knocked on the window. Rolling it down, Brian asked me what was up. I responded, “I think I will go to the party after all.”

He turned around in the car and motioned to the three crammed in the backseat, “Sorry, Barry, the car is full.” I thought I’d throw up.

But someone in the back seat shot back, “Hey, we’ll make room for you.” I thought I’d cry. They made room. I went to the party and laughed a lot that night. What’s more, I made others laugh. They thought I was funny, not lonely.

Two lessons I still remember from that night. First, I had to turn myself around on that sidewalk and pry myself out of the bubble I had been in. Second, I needed people who would notice me stretching beyond my comfort parameters and say, “Barry, we’ll make room for you.” Maybe some of my experience in this will speak today to some of yours, you who are shy like I was or you who need to say to that risk-taker, “Come with us. There is room.”

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