That was all I had to say, accompanied with a dollar bill in an outstretched hand. Two words. A simple exchange. Yet I could not do it.
I wasn’t always shy. I remember riding on my dad’s shoulders as a toddler, waving and saying, “Hi” to everyone I passed. I remember visiting the cockpit in the airplane and flirting with the pilot in that way that little kids have. I was three.
But soon after, shyness washed over me and cloaked me in fear. I would hide behind my mom’s leg even while in the company of known people. I would protest about talking to my grandparents on the phone as though I was delivering some great speech to thousands of followers. Instead of making conversation, I would simply recite the alphabet since it calmed my nerves.
The shyness slowly grew until it reached an apex in my eighth year. It was bad. One afternoon, I asked my mom to call my best friend to see if she could spend the night.
She said no. Not my friend, but my mom. It was the best thing she could have done. She knew that if she enabled the behavior, I would be paralyzed through life; hamstringed by my fears. It was a tough lesson for me to learn. That afternoon, my eight-year-old body was on the floor, crying and screaming in protest. I was way too old for a temper tantrum, but that didn’t halt my attempts at creating a record-breaking fit.
The fears were imagined. All I had to do was pick up the phone, dial a number I had memorized, and say to my friend’s parents or brother, “Hi. this is Lisa. May I speak to – .” So simple. I knew the family. It was only a few words. It was such an easy request and one that could only receive a positive response. It was so simple, yet I made it into something insurmountable.
I don’t remember if I ever summoned the courage to call that day. But I eventually did. I learned how to work through that irrational shyness and speak up for myself. I realized that I could choose to let the fear overwhelm me or I could turn the tables and overwhelm the fear instead.
As adults, we don’t have mom following behind us, forcing us to face those difficult lessons. We have to be our own parent, holding ourselves accountable and refraining from enabling dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors. Your issue may not be shyness. Perhaps you allow yourself to be lazy or engage in excessive procrastination. Maybe you make excuses that prevent you from growing. Or, possibly you permit anger to drive you. Regardless of your personal struggle, think of how you would respond if you were your own parent. Would you allow the behavior to continue? Or, would you stop enabling the actions, thus encouraging a new way of being?
As for the vanilla exchange? It had a happy ending. I decided I wanted some ice cream from a booth at the Kerrville Folk Festival where I had my choice of two flavors pre-served in plastic cups: vanilla or chocolate. When I asked my mom to buy me the ice cream, she responded by giving me the money but she required that I complete the transaction alone. After an entire day sweltering in the intense Texas sun, I finally approached the booth, quietly uttered my two words, held out my sweaty dollar bill and walked away with a cup of creamy and delicious ice cream.
I gained more than just a cold treat that day. I learned that I couldn’t expect others to come to my rescue. I learned that I needed to practice being assertive in order to have my needs (okay, wants in this case) met. I realized that my shyness was irrational and that others were not even aware of it. I gained confidence in my ability to face my fears. I am thankful for those lessons every time I face a classroom full of kids, speak in front of adults, engage in conversations with strangers and make media appearances. If it wasn’t for a mom who refused to buy the vanilla ice cream, I might still be hiding behind her leg.