Nadia Finer, 41, spent her life in the shadows, until she started owning her shyness. And she’s gone on to make a career out of it
‘The day shyness took over my life, I had a French conversation lesson at school. I was a quiet 14-year-old, and we were told to record ourselves speaking, then listen back to our clunky attempts at a French accent. But when I hit play on the cassette player (remember those?), all I heard was a little kid talking. I figured I must have pressed the wrong button. Then it hit me – that was my voice. From then on, I vowed to hide myself away, so that nobody would notice me and my weird little voice. I grew older but my voice remained the same, so my shyness continued. Socially, I struggled to do simple things, such as chat to neighbours, mingle at parties – even order a coffee. At work, I avoided speaking up and pushing myself forward. As a result, I’ve been intimidated and bullied in business. But at the ripe old age of 41, inspired by Shakespeare’s “Though she be but little, she is fierce”, I realised enough was enough.
Rather than hide away from my shyness, from people, from opportunities and from life in general, I launched shyandmighty.com, an online coaching hub to help shy people move forward in work and life. In the process, I figured out how I could work with my shyness, not against it. In some countries, such as Japan and Sweden, shy people are valued and considered modest, introspective, approachable and empathetic. I agree: we are deep thinkers with a rich inner world, which can help us solve difficult problems and come up with creative ideas. While we suck at small talk, we’re great at forming deep and meaningful relationships. Plus, the fact that we prefer to prepare, observe and listen means that when we do finally speak up, we have something important to say. It’s only in countries where the culture revolves around individual success and competition that shyness is seen as a problem.I finally realised that being my shy, softly spoken self is not a bad thing. I – and other shy people – don’t need fixing! I embraced my insecurities, pushed through my fears, tapped into hidden strengths, started speaking up and standing out.
As a champion for shy people, I’ve become a business coach and an international speaker, and I host the Shy And Mighty podcast. I’ve also just landed a book deal! Best of all? I get to do it in my own, quiet, way. Research has shown that businesses – and society in general – need a mixture of personalities and perspectives to function effectively. If everyone was dominant, we’d all just be talking over each other. So, remember this: your shyness doesn’t require a personality transplant. But if it’s keeping you small, it’s time to start taking steps towards a more mighty you.’
Journalist Coco Khan, 32, knows that being bored is a powerful force that can get her the things she really wants in life
‘When I was a teenager, everything was boring. The house. The local area. Mum, for suggesting I do chores to pass the time (“The devil makes work for idle hands,” she’d declare, while thrusting a mop my way). And my maths homework, constantly asking me to find what “x” or “y” was, when we all knew that x+y = boring. Back then, boredom surrounded me; it was an intense feeling, like an itch I urgently needed to scratch. The only place I wasn’t bored was on my computer, where Instant Messenger and my friends were. On the internet, there was newness. Perhaps not new people, but new plans – to go to a gig or meet at the cinema – and sharing new sides of ourselves with each other, expressing ourselves as the independent adults we were on the cusp of becoming. I know now that the feeling of boredom was a sign: I was changing, and I needed something else in my life, to start standing on my own two feet. It was the intensity of the boredom that compelled me to act: I started reading books that weren’t on the curriculum, which set me on a lifelong path of writing.
As I got older, boredom continued to be a helpful force, acting as an early warning for unhappiness. At work it showed me I needed a new job, and it was boredom in the bedroom that told me I wasn’t happy in my relationship. The problem is, these days we’re so stimulated by tech and a working culture that never lets us switch off, that it’s near-impossible to sit with the boredom long enough to hear what it’s telling us. How do you relax? Maybe, like me, you like a hot bath: candles, bubbles and a laptop propped on a closed loo seat, watching guilty-pleasure shows. But no matter how daft the show, it’s still entertainment and stimulation. Even in our most relaxed moments, our minds are buzzing away.
I won’t pretend that I’m always comfortable being bored. I still feel the pang of guilt when I find boredom creeping in, as though I’ve done something wrong by momentarily not being productive. But I’m learning not to reach for my phone, and to let my mind wander and hear my thoughts instead. It’s why I’ve come to love and appreciate boredom. I now see it as a natural precursor to change; difficult in the moment, but actually really important. Kind of like a friend making a much-needed intervention, telling you the uncomfortable truths you needed to hear. If we’d only listen.’
Rebecca Reid, 30, is a journalist and author who found that being rude (aka assertive!) was the key to finally putting herself first
‘I discovered the power of being rude while I was participating in a TV debate. The man I was sharing the slot with wouldn’t let me get a word in edgeways. So I put my finger to my lips and shushed him, until he let me speak. It became a very brief national news story. I got shushed wherever I went. People even dubbed me “Rebecca Rude”. Initially, I was mortified. I’ve always prided myself on having nice manners. But as I saw myself being described as rude over and over again, I realised my phobia of being rude might actually be the root of many of my problems. I’ve spent my whole life saying yes when I mean no, putting other people’s wants ahead of mine, and never getting the last biscuit. So, I decided to embrace the power of positive rudeness. Not the kind of rude where you tell someone their dress is too tight or their cooking is rubbish, but the kind that’s often called assertiveness when it comes from a man.
I’m definitely not the only woman who has struggled with being “rude”. A survey I created while writing my book, The Power Of Rude, found that 88% of women have regularly changed their behaviour to avoid being seen that way. So I put myself through a “rude boot camp” and began keeping note of what I did (and didn’t do) because I was afraid of what people would think. The list was two sides of A4. I’d let people talk over me in meetings, said yes to plans I didn’t want to keep, eaten some really bad homemade cookies, and agreed to let a friend bring her awful boyfriend to a girls’ night. In isolation, none of these things is a big deal, but they add up to a life where you put yourself last. Next, I challenged myself to do one ‘rude’ thing every day, and took the best position in the room during a fitness class. I said I wanted pizza when my husband wanted curry. I told people I hadn’t finished talking when I was interrupted in work meetings, and I asked a friend to replace a top she’d borrowed and ruined. Before I knew it, I was turning down an expensive hen-do and asking for a pay rise.
These days, while I still struggle with my rude-phobia and often catch myself leaning towards people-pleasing politeness, ditching my fear of rudeness has enriched me. I have more disposable income, more control over my time, more respect from the people I work with, and a more transparent relationship with my friends and family. A pretty impressive result, if I do say so myself.’
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