When I was in kindergarten, I acted as though raising my hand in class were an abominable crime. Comparing myself to other students, I felt that my opinions were dull and pointless. I was shy. My teacher assumed that I was uninterested in learning. My parents worried that I was not ready for school. All the while, I learned in silence with a burning fire inside of me, desperately wanting to count up to ten and sing the alphabet song aloud. I had a fiery ambition that was not yet unleashed. Years later, I now believe that the slightest gesture of encouragement can trigger a miraculous transformation.
Towards the end of the school year, my teacher, Mrs. Fedor, asked the class, “What color do you get when you mix red with white?” Under my breath, I murmured, “pink.” Mrs. Fedor saw my lips move and I caught her tender glance. Her eyes smiled at me. The next moment, my arm stretched upward to answer a question. My body tingled with a newfound confidence that has blossomed ever since.
I believe that in order to “come out of your shell,” you need to be gently encouraged, not aggressively cracked open. After all, a shell is fragile. Once a timid kindergartner, I am now a personal advocate of my opinions and dreams. As a junior in high school, I am student council president and an active member of the debate team. When a teacher asks the class a question, my hand eagerly waves in the air.
Although I have conquered shyness, I will never forget that Mrs. Fedor’s twinkling eyes gave me strength. Her impact has inspired me to encourage others who are timid like I once was. During my lunch period at school, I spotted a girl who sat with a book as her only companion. Her clothes were baggy, and her hair unkempt; one sock was striped and the other solid. I asked, cheerily, “Hi, what’s your name?” — no response. I shrugged my shoulders and nibbled on a chicken tender. Her nose was still buried in her book. I pulled out a math handout, glanced up at her, caught her eye, and smiled. For the entire week, I sat alongside the nameless girl with the unmatched socks. When she noticed that I continued to eat lunch with her, she felt more comfortable around me. Soon, we were talking about music, sports and the unappetizing cafeteria food. Since then, we have become friends and enjoy our occasional lunchroom chats.
When I first met the girl who sat alone during lunch, I saw a reflection of my past. I saw a coy, six-year-old girl who knew that red mixed with white makes pink. It is difficult to break free from the shackles of shyness. But, I believe, I know that all people have opinions and want to share what they feel. Most of the time, all it takes to peel away someone’s fear is a sign of genuine interest: a twinkle in your eye, a smile on your face. Great transformations flower from small, but meaningful, acts.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.