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June 01, 2017

As a child I suffered from severe shyness. Yes, that is totally a thing. Here, I share my survival tips for the first time ever.

Written by Sharlene Madawna Bristow, Illustrated by Laynie Bristow

“Scientists have found the gene for shyness. They would have found it years ago, but it was hiding behind a couple of other genes” Jonathan Katz

Think back with me.Think back to elementary school, junior high school, high school. Somewhere along the way, I bet you came across that awkward, shy kid. That kid whose eyes were glued to the floor, just as your child’s eyes are now glued to the iPad, tablet, smart phone, laptop. You get the idea.
That shy kid could’ve been me. Maybe you and I went to school together. Maybe we shared a homeroom. Maybe we hung out together on the playground in eighth grade at Palo Verde in Tulare, California (never heard of it? follow the smell of cow manure, baking in the blistering heat of the valley sun).
I was afraid to use my voice back then, but I am no longer afraid. I grew up in a typical white American household. Daddy drank too much and Mama had low self-esteem; something Daddy probably worked hard to instill in her. Seeing as how my memories are all a blur, it is hard to pinpoint exactly how my older sister and I both came to be crippled with shyness so severe, one classmate later said he only heard one word I begrudgingly spoke each day, “Here”. I have a few theories about this, but it is safe to say that our over-sized plastic framed glasses, our over-sized, (sometimes matching) clothes with Looney Toons characters on them, our over-sized hairdos, our over-sized freckles or our rhyming names (Darlene and Sharlene; no we are not twins!), did not help matters at all.

School was a lonely experience. I did manage to earn the privilege of standing with some of the hispanic girls now and then. Boy, that was a good time! They’d chat in Spanish while I daydreamed about being less lame. Eventually, as with any friend I made over the years, they’d grow weary of my blank stare and move on to children who were less mute of nature.
Today I hope to share a few survival tips for anyone else who may suffer from this awful affliction. Unfortunately, it isn’t something many people talk about. These tips can be adjusted to fit the workplace, as well.

If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of being a poofy-haired loner, it helps to always walk as though you are on a mission.
If you are walking slow, people will notice how alone you are and feel pity for you. Now, some of you may be thinking, “Hell yes, I love a good pity party”, but maybe you have yet to learn what I learned in grade school; pity is pitiful and quite frankly embarrassing. Keep your head held high and walk briskly, as if you have an important meeting to attend. Don’t know where your destination lies? If possible walk around the building and take a rest in the back. If there are kids (or coworkers, for you older loners with poofy hair), behind the building, simply keep your pace. They do not know how long you’ve been walking aimlessly. Once you’ve nearly come full circle, take another break. Turn around after hiding for a while and head back. They will assume the meeting is over.

None of the cool kids go to the library on their recess, so they aren’t likely to see you and judge you for your dire loneliness and your enormous fluffy mane.
Find the latest edition of Seventeen and reread that one article you haven’t yet memorized in full. Maybe just flip through the pages slowly so it appears that you are reading, while you fantasize about how Jordan Knight is gonna fall in love with you and all the kids will be envious of how popular you are.
If you are adjusting these techniques for work, just bring the magazine from home. If you chuckle to yourself occasionally, everyone will assume you really enjoy the magazine and that is why you are reading it, not because you are afraid that if you speak everyone’s jaws will hit the floor and they will all talk about “that time Sharlene talked”, for the rest of your career there.


Hey, Napoleon Dynamite was hitting the nail right on its frizzy head with that scene where he played tetherball all by himself. I was a Napoleon, I suppose. I hated when kids were hogging my favorite single person sport. I hated it worse when someone wanted to play it with me. It was my safe place.

If you are seen playing a solo game of tetherball, naturally it will be assumed that you are simply refining your sweet tetherball skills. No one is gonna think a pro tetherball player like you is friendless! You are having fun and you look wicked cool at the same time. It’s a win-win.
No tetherball? Try wall ball.


If you can afford to splurge, buy a notebook. Bring it with you everywhere. This one worked well for me at Community College. Write notes to your imaginary friends or your real friends (aka your sister or second cousins). Try putting the end of the pen in your mouth or tap it against the paper whilst twisting up the corner of your mouth in fanciful contemplation. You look so smart and important.

If I’ve missed anything, feel free to comment. Share with someone who looks shy and confused. Looking confident promotes confidence. They will surely thank you, on the inside, but you’ll know and they’ll know, so…