This week my special guest on the Shy and Mighty podcast, is Melissa Cliffe, of a Meaningful Midlife, and founder of the Appearance Project, where she is exploring the role appearance and attractiveness plays in women’s lives, particularly as we age.
“I am a psychotherapist with a busy private practice and I specialise in working with midlife women.
Since childhood I’ve been described as quiet, I feel anxious in larger groups and struggle to get my voice in.
In large groups I tend to be quieter, it takes me a while to get to know people, I hold back at first – although I have learned to overcome some of this. I’ve held back, avoided and turned down opportunities because of nerves, I didn’t want to risk judgement, I often avoid the phone. One of the hardest things for me is thinking clearly when I feel on the spot, risking putting myself out there, I can feel uncomfortable if I am the centre of attention too long.
Fortunately psychotherapy allows me to hide as much of the work is in a room with one or two other people so I’ve learned a lot whilst working in my comfort zone.
There are positives though. I watch and observe and learn, it makes me prepare more thoroughly for situations when I am more visible, it gives me time to judge a person or situation better. I ask questions and listen to people, people can open up to me because I don’t seem threatening or intimidating.
I prepare more, I manage my energy better as too much social contact exhausts me, I accept that I am more of a quiet thinker than someone outgoing and that is fine; I have watched and learned from people who are more outgoing.
My advice for fellow shy people? Accept it, don’t fight it, loud and outgoing isn’t necessarily better, it is just different. Value what you have to offer. Take small steps out of your comfort zone and you might be pleasantly surprised at what can happen.
There’s something cultural in the Western world as well, that really favours people who are very extroverted. And if you’re quieter and if you’re not putting yourself out there all the time, you’re often overlooked. I can remember having school reports which said, ‘Melissa is very shy.’
Sometimes I was shy, but sometimes I was just being quiet. And I think people can sometimes misunderstand. And there’s often an assumption that you need to change.
if you’re a shy or quiet person, you might need that time to reflect, to step back from what’s going on and actually figure out what do I actually think about this or what do I have to say about this? And actually if you have the time to do that, you may come back with something that’s a bit more interesting and more considered than just talking all the time, for the sake of it!
There’s research that shows that, we’re often drawn towards charismatic people, but charismatic leaders aren’t necessarily the best leaders.
I think we really do need to see that, shy people have a lot to offer, a huge amount. I mean, otherwise you’re only listening to kind of one section your people. We need shy people; people who think deeply and are looking for solutions and alternative ways of doing things.”