When weeds take root and grow

Image: Mihail Ribkin

I remember the moment I became an official ‘shy person’. I was in the back seat of my grandparents’ car as they drove me along the long, hot, straight, flat stretch of highway that shoots through the anus of California’s central valley from Tulare to Modesto called California State Route 99.

I was bored shitless. So bored. Matter of fact, I’m getting bored right now, thinking of it. So, needless to say, I was in my own world, thinking of whatever 12-ish-year-olds think about when they’re daydreaming for hours on end.

“Why don’t you talk?” my Grandpa asked from the driver’s seat, a couple hours down the road. I immediately snapped out of my daze.

“I know, he’s so shy,” said my Grandma, who was sitting shotgun.

Not that they meant to do any harm, but this exchange took place during a stage of my life where I was building my identity on the shaky foundation of gushing hormones and insecurities — fertile ground for huge-ass psychological weeds to take root and grow, even if they were planted unintentionally.

Well, that one sunk in. I remember sitting there, going… Yeah. They’re totally right. I’m just a ‘shy kid’.

I remember, before that, I felt like a pretty lively kid. I was a bit of a clown around the house and in the company of people I knew. But, being an only child, there were times (okay, a lot of times) when I was up in my head. I had to be. My imagination took the place of my sibling, and we played all the time.

From the outside world, this could have easily been construed as ‘shy’, I suppose. Totally makes sense. And so it was.

Years and years went by and this weed grew bigger and thicker and more invasive. The thought turned into a belief which turned into my reality. I became the ‘shy kid’ a label I’d accepted. I clearly remember several occasions when I went into full-on shy mode, becoming socially paralyzed, thinking, shit, Jonas — snap out of it, man. You KNOW you want to have fun here. WTF, dude?

But I couldn’t get over that persona which had embedded itself in my mind. It wasn’t until recently in my life that I realized, no matter how big that weed is, it’s still just a weed. Just a firmly-planted thought. One that could be changed and uprooted with enough mental fortitude.

I’m not saying that being an introvert/shy person is a bad thing, in its own right. It is what it is. But it becomes a problem when it inhibits us from experiencing our world in the way we want to experience it. When it becomes a limitation. When the weed chokes off the health of the ecosystem.

I believe a lot of people who lean more on the creative side have been labeled ‘shy’ or ‘introverted’ from outside authorities. Famed designer James Victore spells it out in this article (which got me reflecting on my own experience here).

Self-awareness is key. If you lean more to the introverted side, cool. Be comfy with that. But sometimes, you gotta show up in a strong way to people. You owe it to your work and to those you serve.

This takes leaping out of our comfort zones. It means getting up and stuttering, blushing, and cotton-mouthing through it until it becomes more comfortable.

We hold too much back over selfish, self-imposed beliefs. Maybe it’s time to pull some weeds.

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