Why Your Shyness at a Party Is Actually A Secret Superpower

Harry Nilsson was wrong. One isn’t the loneliest number. It’s three.

Superpower

 

When you’re shy, at a party and standing with two people who are talking to each other as if you’re not there, that’s how it feels.

Going up a league

In the summer of my second year at university, I had my first ever experience at a professional radio station. I hadn’t actually applied – an exceptional man called Lenny Love (real name!) had heard my show on student radio, paged me (remember how it was the 90’s?), then invited me to come and help out. (As my introduction to both radio and stand up comedy, this irrevocably altered the course of my life).

I was part of a 40-strong team working on Radio Forth’s coverage of the Edinburgh Fringe – the largest arts festival in the world. All day, we’d charge about watching shows or manning ticket giveaways. In the evening, we’d have a big production meeting, then sardine into the on-air studio for the main program: a three-hour, late-night spectacular, crammed with features, reviews and – most thrillingly – guest stand up comedians, who’d leave us asthmatic with laughter and almost taken off the air.

Staggered that I was allowed into a real radio station at all – let alone on a show this exciting – I worked my arse off. I reviewed as many shows as there were hours in the day, signed up for all the office shifts I could, and stayed there doing donkey work from when the morning cleaners arrived, until the only people left in the building were me, the overnight DJ and the silent, fierce security guard.

 

A momentous occasion

One night, as I was helping tidy up the studio, an established member of the team asked if I wanted to come for a drink with them. In John Hughes terms, this was like getting an invitation to hang with Ferris Bueller, John Bender and ALL THREE of Molly Ringwald’s characters. Nervously, I said yes, and we all piled into a taxi to the late night, VIPs-only festival bar. bueller

It was awesome. Oh my, it was so, so awesome. In terms of fun and excitement and holy-crow-I-am-in-with-these-people!, it was one of the most memorable nights out of my life. They bought me drinks. They told me secrets about celebrity comedians and festival heroes. I was euphoric. 

The next day in the production meeting, the same dudes I was out with made fond jokes at my expense – in that way that feels like the highest form of flattery, because someone is saying, “I feel comfortable enough with you to mock you and know that you’ll get it. And everyone else will too because we’re obviously friends”. It truly couldn’t have gone better. When, after the show, they asked if I was coming for a drink, I was already flagging down our taxi.

 

It wouldn’t last

Two hours later, I was still in the bar. Lonely, no drink in front of me (which, for some reason, magnifies the loneliness in these situations) and out of money. I’d actually borrowed a tenner off one of the producers, then offered to buy his friend a drink. She said yes, and that was the last of the tenner. She didn’t buy me one back. She also didn’t talk to me.

No one did.

It felt like a photographic negative of the previous night. Every conversation that started, I wasn’t included. Every acquaintance that passed by, I wasn’t introduced. I was completely crushed. And, as a result, contracted into myself. It felt like I was 15 again.

Soon, it wasn’t just that no one was talking to meI was completely silent. After anyone spoke, I’d have an internal scramble to try and come up with something – anything – that I could contribute to the conversation. If I ever managed to, it was only after that topic had long been passed over.

 

So why did I stay?

Here’s the thing: when you’re shy, you are trapped, silently in your head. It’s very, very loud in there. Because of this, your lack of conversation and your inability to contribute feels like a very active thing. It feels physically big – like you’re sitting, holding one of those oversized, stuffed penguins you always long to win at carnivals. You’re entirely convinced that the whole room is thinking,

Look at that girl. Look at her sitting there silently. God, she’s a waste of space. Why does she even bother leaving the house? She’s clearly a dreadful bore.

It amplifies the pain you feel. Not only are you not being included in conversations; you’re probably also despised by everyone.

 

But it’s also this shame that keeps you from removing yourself.

If I leave now, you think, Everyone will know it’s because no one was talking to me. I can’t face that humiliation. I’ll just stay until I get into one good conversation, then I can go.

I can’t remember how that particular night ended. I’m almost certain I didn’t get my “one good conversation”. Just that I eventually slunk home, lava-hot with shame, confused and crestfallen.

You’d think I would have learned my lesson, but I remember about two thirds of that summer comprising of nights like this. I had fun on the other third, which is why I kept trying.

Here’s what I’ve learned since:

If you’re not talking, no one notices that you’re not talking, BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT TALKING.

Let me just stroll you through this:

Everybody around you is in a conversation. So, each person’s focus is on the conversation they’re in.

It’s not on you. It’s not on what are and aren’t saying. It’s on what they are saying, or what they are listening to. You can’t think about someone else when you’re talking. And you can’t listen to someone who isn’t speaking.

This means that, if you leave, no one will think it’s because you’re not being talked to.

On the exceptionally rare occasion that someone has noticed? It’s almost certainly because they’re into you. As my granny used to say when my mum worried about zits, “If they’re that close, they’re looking in your eyes”. If that’s the case, you don’t need to worry about your reputation with them. It’s solid.

 

So, what’s the superpower?

It’s this:

Your shyness at a party is your
magic cloak of invisibility.

(click here to tweet that!)

 

  • Bored by the conversation you’re supposedly in and want to go?
    ENGAGE CLOAK OF INVISIBILITY! Slip away unnoticed!
  • Not having a very nice time but feel like it’s rude to leave?
    ENGAGE CLOAK OF INVISIBILITY! Slip away unnoticed!
     

and one that I tell my clients, ahead of networking events of conferences:

  • Tried to join a group conversation, only to realise that it’s about something personal and you shouldn’t really be there?

        ENGAGE CLOAK OF INVISIBILITY! Slip away unnoticed!

And if you’re really struggling, push aside the Cloak for a moment, invisible man and use a different shyness superpower – the one where you just ask a few questions, and the person you’re talking to walks away thinking that you are FASCINATING (click here for more on that).

 

Over to you 

Have you ever suffered with shyness at a party or event? Maybe you know about the CLOAK OF INVISIBILITY and have engaged it yourself? I’d love to know any thoughts or stories in the comments below.

Thanks,

You rule!

xx (Yes Yes) Marsha

 

PS this week, I told the Yes Yes Marsha Mailer Family about the best TV show I’ve ever seen.

Want to know my best-ever client secret – and get even more advice, tips, plus stories that I won’t put on the internet? Come and join the Yes Yes Family – it’s free! Just pop your details in below:

Photo Credits: Randy Wick, Crafting with Cat Hair and D.Ph via Compfight cc

6 Comments

  • Jason Tremain

    Reply Reply December 13, 2013

    Felt every word. I have been in the same situations with people I know, mates, colleagues, family; shyness is a curse. Thank you for this Marsha. You rule, you really do. x

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha Shandur

      Reply Reply December 13, 2013

      Aw, bless you Jay! I hope you can now use it as a Secret Superpower – or at least have that as comfort in your back pocket, if you ever feel like this again.

      If you haven’t yet, read this post: yesyesmarsha.com/weird-belief/ and the few that come after it. I used to find it a curse, but then I broke out!

      x

  • martin

    Reply Reply December 15, 2013

    Ah, you’ve just brought back happy memories of a similar summer at Radio Forth. Thanks, Marsha!

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha Shandur

      Reply Reply December 15, 2013

      A happy place! (once you get the hang of being shy). Thanks, Martin!

  • Patricia Weber

    Reply Reply December 24, 2013

    Totally related to this Marsha. I have that cloak with me all the time for networking, parties and the like. It’s quite a comforter in that it DOES allow me to bid farewell without anyone noticing. Sigh of relief. As you say, that IS the beauty of it for us more introverted or shy.

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha Shandur

      Reply Reply December 26, 2013

      So glad you can relate! Isn’t it wonderful when you realise you can use it to your advantage?

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