For a long time I’ve had difficulty saying what I want. When I was a teenager, I wouldn’t tell anyone when I had a crush on someone. I remember my younger sister would tell anyone who would listen that she had a crush on the boy in the McDonald’s commercial, and I was jealous of her boldness, but still wouldn’t tell a soul about my crushes.
My best friend in elementary school always had a boyfriend, and I never did. I didn’t date in high school either. I felt ashamed. I thought there was something wrong with me and that nobody liked me.
I thought that if I told my friends about my crush and then the person didn’t like me back, I would be seen as a failure. So it was better to keep my mouth shut but at some point, I realised things had to change.
Here’s the Shy Person’s Guide to Making Your Dreams a Reality:
1. Notice who you envy, and why.
Sometimes when we’re shy we don’t even know what we want, because we may have felt too insecure to establish and set goals for ourselves. So the first step to going for what you want is figuring out exactly what that is.
And, surprisingly, envy can actually be really helpful for this.
Which famous people do you envy? Which of your friends? Is it your sister? A colleague? A cousin?
Once you have a list of a few people, ask yourself what you admire about their lives. Is it where they live? Their partner? Their job? Their confidence?
Now, it’s important to remember that just because you envy someone’s life, that doesn’t mean you want exactly what they have.
It’s also important to look beyond the surface when identifying people you envy. Sometimes we envy people who seem to garner a lot of respect and admiration—celebrities, for example. But as Kate Spade’s recent suicide showed, fame and success don’t guarantee happiness.
The point is to get clear on what might fulfill you, and why. So make notes and start to notice the common themes in those people you envy. As you do this, you’ll start to see the kind of life you really want.
2. Allow yourself to daydream.
Now that you have some clues about what you want, allow yourself to dream about it. If you have a journal, write about it. If you’re more visual, make a collage or do a drawing. Or, alternatively, go for a walk and let your mind daydream about it.
This might sounds totally silly, but I actually made a PowerPoint about what I wanted my business to look like years ago. It wasn’t a public presentation and I only shared it with two or three close friends. But I stumbled upon it the other day and was amazed by how much of what I envisioned had come through.
So use whatever medium works best for you to envision your dream life!
3. Talk about your dreams.
Once you’ve gotten clearer about what they are, tell a good friend or your partner about your dreams. I like to start these kinds of conversations by saying something like, “I’m nervous to tell you about this, and I’m not ready to have any feedback on it yet, but what I really want is…”
Start small. Just tell one tiny part of your dream. See how it feels. See how your friend reacts. If it feels good, tell them a little bit more.
The last thing you want when you’re nurturing a new dream is for someone to stomp all over it. So if the friend doesn’t react in a supportive way, don’t say anything else. Find someone else who will be gentle and supportive of your dream.
Once you’ve practiced talking about it and got some support from friends or family members, it’s time to take it to the next level. Start to bring it up more often.
I know for us shy-types this can be really difficult, but take it one step, one person, one conversation at a time. And remember, there’s nothing more inspiring at a lunch with friends or family event than to hear about what someone’s really passionate about.
As you begin to talk about these things more, it will help you to take small steps toward making your dream a reality. You’ll begin to build your confidence and you might even make connections that’ll help you to get there.
4. Talk about your strengths.
What are you really good at? What do people always ask you for help with? If you’re anything like me, it’s easy to talk about your darkness, your procrastination, your bad habits, but it’s probably hard for you to talk about what you’re good at.
So start by journaling about this and then practice telling close friends or family members.
Does it make you want to vomit? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
I’ve started doing this recently, and one thing that really helps me is to tell the person that I’m practicing talking about my strengths. I start by saying something like, “I’m really good at talking about my challenges and have realized that I’m really bad at talking about my strengths. I want to practice, so I’m going to practice saying one good thing about me. Are you okay with that?”
Once I have my friend’s support, it becomes much easier to say something. And even if I fumble with my words—which, believe me, I do—they’re usually really supportive because they know I’m doing something that’s difficult for me.
And I promise it’ll get easier with practice. So start by saying one strength to one friend and build from there.
5. Don’t just talk—take action!
As you tell people about your goals and strengths, they might introduce you to people who can help you, offer their support, or share helpful resources.
And even if they don’t, there are small actions you can begin to take. If your dream is to be a painter, buy some paints and do your first painting. If your dream is to live by the beach, book a weekend getaway to one of the beach towns you’re considering and check it out.
Whatever your dream is, you can take a baby step toward making it a reality, and those steps will lead you to where you want to go.
And yes, it’ll sometimes be terrifying. I know that it’s not easy to do. So take one small risk at a time and slowly, step-by-step, you’ll move in a new direction.
The more you’re able to share about your dreams and strengths, the easier it’s going to be for you to get what you want. And even if you don’t get exactly what you think you want, you’ll probably be far more fulfilled just by being on a path that excites you.
Even as a shy person, you deserve to have a full and beautiful life. So start taking small steps today to get you there.