my hands are shaking from excitement as I’m writing this. Finished a videoconference call with a client from Germany in the morning and she pulled the trigger for this post.
She was diagnosed with pathological shyness in the past, as she was unable develop or keep normal relationships. She lived with this diagnosis her entire teenage life and is currently in the final year of her undergraduate studies. She sought my help because she asked for a coaching conversation with someone unknown, unbiased, who is keen on student population, their concerns and problems and would help her find a way forward.
As we talked, it turned out she is thinking about moving out of her country and continuing her studies on the masters level somewhere abroad. She was struggling with her indecisiveness, her fear that she would be unable to cope with unknown people and situations, as well as feeling frightened what would happen in case she doesn’t succeed. It was pretty much a story that takes place quite often with young people at that age. Then something beautiful happened and I’m copying a section from our conversation (with her approval). Let’s call her Anna and I leave it up to you to decide whether this girl is truly pathologically shy:
Anna: … you know, it’s like first you have to go to school. Then you have to go to university. You have to perform with top scores, otherwise you won’t feel like you’re worth anything. Be the top of your class. Lend notes to your colleagues. Go to parties you don’t like. Get a boyfriend. Have sex because it’s embarrassing if you don’t at the age of 20. Then think about your masters. Get into the top schools, because this is how you’ll get an offer in a company. I’m trapped, I don’t think I can manage all that. And I can’t tell anybody, these thoughts are not good thoughts to have. It’s embarrassing.
Biba: what would the situation you could manage look like?
Anna: I couldn’t. I never could manage. You know I was diagnosed with being antisocial. I can’t cope because of that.
Biba: and if you somehow could? Suppose you could imagine a situation where you could manage, how might that look like?
Anna (long pause): I don’t know if I get your question. It’s a fact I can’t manage.
Biba: and if you could, how would you know you are managing?
Anna: this would be a totally different situation then!
Anna (again long pause): first of all I wouldn’t be where I am right now. I wouldn’t be the person I am.
Biba: what might you be?
Anna: I would be simply … enough being me, being as I am. I would do what I like to do. At the moment I don’t really think there’s much I actually like to do. I’ve even forgotten what is it that I really like!
Biba: and what do you like?
Anna: I like to read. I like to cook. I hate numbers [note: she was enrolled in a course that contained a lot of numbers]. I hate staying up late, just because my roomate does. I actually don’t even want to go to masters.
Biba: so you’re very clear about what you don’t want.
Anna: it’s quite a surprise really. I think I hate my entire life! This is not me! I’m not shy, I just don’t like to talk to people! I don’t want to be a good quiet girl anymore either!
Biba: so if you could define it brand new …?
Anna: I would love to, but I can’t … [long pause] I can’t do it because the picture that I like doesn’t fit with what I’m supposed to do right now. And it’s already too late. You know, I don’t mean to hurt anybody or cause anybody problems, nor my parents, teachers, nobody. I was always told to be a good girl and so I was. Trying to please everybody. And I thought they would like me for doing so. But it seems like I can never be enough, just being me. I will never be enough. So I have to do the masters to achieve something. Then get a decent job to earn enough money to be independent. That’s what I would like.
Biba: that’s what you would like, is this how your preferred situation might look like that you could manage?
Anna: no! That’s my current reality and it’s overwhelming! It’s like I’m choking here.
Biba: okay. So if we keep it where you are now, you get the masters, get the job that pays your bills, where do you hope this would lead to?
Anna: I don’t know. I might wake up one day and say my life was … meaningless. Even though I might achieve everything that is expected from me to achieve … Why do we do that, why do I do that, is this normal?
Biba: I think we all try to more or less fit within the rules of our society. What do you think?
Anna: Not sure. It seems like everybody I know is pretty happy with that. They like where they are and where they go. And I’m torn inside.
Biba: I meet many people that are unhappy with that.
Anna: You know what? I actually think there are no rules in life. We invented them just because everybody does it. It doesn’t mean that everybody SHOULD do it.
Biba: it doesn’t, no.
Anna: but I am afraid to do anything about it. I could probably still turn it around when I was younger. You know, before I enrolled to this stupid class. It’s too late for me now, I can’t reverse it.
Biba: imagine we would have your 15 year old and your 30 year old arguing about who is more right to be too late, what sort of arguments might they both use to convince you?
Anna: they would both have pretty strong arguments!
Biba: so what might be their strongest anti-arguments to convince you that it is the perfect time to start over?
Anna: well I could as well be 60. I could just kill myself then.
Biba: you could as well be 23 [she was currently 22].
Anna: I know. I don’t want to waste another year. I want something better, this time for me. But it scares me, you know, it really scares me, because if I do it, I won’t have any support. Nobody knows me like that, nobody is interested in what do I want. Nobody will like who I really am.
Biba: good, it is supposed to be scary! It means it is worth it.
She was perfectly right. There are no rules in life. Sure, you are born, you go to school, you find a decent job when you are 25, you find a partner, have kids by 30, get a dog by 35, buy a house and a family car, go on vacation, pay for children’s schooling, go into menopause, possibly divorce, maybe get grandchildren, retire by 65 and hopefully, have someone to grow old with. Life has a certain natural cycle, we all get older and so far no one has survived yet. But the rules of when you should do what and how were invented because the majority does it that way, not because it should be done that way. You are supposed to eat breakfast. Exercise. Not take drugs. Learn how to drive. Sleep at night. Be faithful. Be on time. Make money. Consume a lot. Park on marked places. All these are the rules that were invented and some of them indeed make most of our lives easier to manage. It is easier if you sleep at night and if you try to follow the principles of a healthy diet. But you don’t HAVE TO do it, if you found something different that works for you. Especially if you found something that is more beneficial for you and others around you.
You don’t have to force yourself to wake up early in the morning if you are more of a night type. You don’t have to get married if you don’t believe in marriage. You don’t have to do the masters or go to university just because everybody does it. You don’t have to eat bananas because they are rich in potassium, if you hate it. You don’t have to run if you prefer swimming. Also don’t have to watch the news if it doesn’t interest you. You don’t have to participate in conversations that you find meaningless or boring.
There are no rules. There are only roles and even the roles change. If you are a parent, you are in a role of a caregiver. Once your children are adults, they might become caregivers and your role will change. If you are a spouse, you are in a role of giving and receiving love and affection. If you are 60, your body probably isn’t the same as it was when you were 20. That doesn’t mean it has to hurt or that you are unable to have regular walks if you like to.
Everything is fluid. Everything constantly changes. You don’t have to be obedient in life just because you were told you should be when you were little. It might help though in certain contexts, but there is no one out there, to whom you should kneel because they are superior. Nobody is better or worse than you are. Nobody is allowed to take the leading part of your life, as this is YOUR part and YOUR life, and it’s ending one minute at a time. So don’t take the part of a victim and don’t bend down. It is your responsibility to discover what you like, what fits you and find your passion to share and express yourself in this world.
Sure, not everybody will like you because of that and you might disappoint quite some number of people. But those who will like you for who you are and how you are, will support you. Someone I love deeply said once to me that he’s been stupid nearly all of his life. And he doesn’t mind being stupid with me as well. There is nearly 9 billion people on this planet. You will find people that share similar interests and who are happy to be your kind of stupid. Even if it’s just a few, these few can support you in your authentic happiness that comes from within your true self when you find your integrity to dare being you.
DARE to be who you are and who want to be! You have nothing to loose, you might only get rid of certain clutter you don’t need in life. There are no rules, only roles, and roles change. Constantly.