Building a Better Bloke

Shy guy

Posted in Confidence by Sam de Brito on October 15, 2009

By David Delaney

I am shy, but I don’t look it.

I have had conversations with people where I’ve claimed to be shy and been told “no you’re not.” Admittedly I’m not as shy as I once was, and I’ve regularly done things that are seen as “not shy” behaviour.

But I’ve also read about (and personally known) a lot of performers – musicians, actors, comedians – who are shy. People who get up in front of a crowd and perform are usually judged to be egomaniacs who thrive on attention. It’s true, in some cases, but I’ve found that many of the best performers aren’t like that at all.

Often they’re intensely self-critical. They’re not driven by dreams of glory but by aspirations to adequacy. If a successful performer claims to be shy in real life, there’s a good chance they’re being honest, not modest …

I’ve known a lot of performers from various fields. I’ve been a performer myself, and experienced for myself the disparity between what people believe performers to be and what they really are. It’s a little unsettling to have people assume things about who you are that have no basis in reality. People believe what they see and hear, even if it’s clearly labelled “performance.” They make assumptions based on the performance, without knowing anything about the performer.

What does this have to do with shyness? I can say from experience that one of the benefits of performing is that it breaks the ice. Watching a good performer, you feel like you’ve got to know them a little. You haven’t. If they’re any good, you see what they want you to see; a persona, not the actual person.

But if you’re a performer, people will talk to you as if they already know you, which for a shy person is wonderful. You don’t have to initiate conversations or compete for attention in a social situation, you do your thing and people approach you, already impressed. That’s shy person heaven.

It isn’t all good: you can’t put your name and your face out there in public if you can’t handle the idea that some people will hate you for doing it. For no good reason, and based on the same assumptions about who you are that I mentioned before.

Anyway, even if you can’t get up on a stage and impress people, there’s still a lesson to be learned from the shyness of many performers: if you don’t act shy, no-one will notice that you are. I’m not telling anyone to be the life of the party – for many that is simply not achievable. It’s counter-productive to tell a seriously shy person to get out there and dominate the social situation.

But you can perform. Act like someone who isn’t shy. It’s a difficult trick, and despite my wise advice I’m no expert at it either. But it works, and with practice you can negotiate normal social activities without panic attacks, and while that isn’t a perfect cure for shyness, it beats staying at home watching TV.

Dave Delaney is a freelance writer based in Melbourne.


6 Responses

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  1. Mike said, on October 15, 2009 at 11:22 pm


    Summed me up in a nutshell. I have been a performer for over 15 years, doing a bit of comedy and a lot of band work. If you saw me on stage in no way would I appear shy but I have many weekends where I would only speak to the bar staff.

    By working through my issues and reading self help books, attending seminars (thanks Sam) and just ‘doing it’ I have managed to change my life for the better. New people I meet have no idea what I used to be like and I can be whomever I want to be.

    I use affirmations such as ‘just do it’, ‘today is the first…..’, ‘act it till you become it’, etc. Cliched as hell but a classic is a classic for a reason.

  2. amr said, on October 20, 2009 at 3:41 pm


    Much of what you have written resonates with me, both about shyness and depression. For me the two cannot be separated.

    I have stood up and talked to over 500 people in a lecture theatre but I cannot approach someone in a bar…….

    I intend to pen a submission to Sam soon, time permitting with my thoughts.

    Good work, keep up the writing

  3. Pete said, on October 20, 2009 at 11:06 pm


    You’re right on the money there, I recognise all of it…

    But perhaps the ultimate example the person you’ve described is Freddie Mercury.

    One of the best rock showmen and entertainers of all time, yet one of the most shy individuals in his private life.

    A thought to inspire – if you can identify with what Freddie managed to do, maybe you all can as well. (Hey! I’m working on it, but don’t expect to see me fronting a band doing a sold out world tour any time soon!)

  4. Trueblueoz said, on October 21, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    There is practically no affliction worse for the single man than being shy. So many nice guys who just never get a chance.

  5. Mike said, on October 22, 2009 at 12:27 am

    Why is it easier to be in front of 500 people than one woman?

    Some say it is because on stage your performing and you can step out from your own persona whilst talking to a lone woman you may find that you are not as good as your perception of yourself.

    When talking to a woman treat it as a performance so if you get rejected she is not rejecting ‘you’ just the performer. Many would disagree with this approach as it could be seen as being false or non authentic and fair enough. However, you have to crawl before you can run and once you have more confidence and success you can ‘perform’ less and become more real.

    Using this tactic I have taught myself to love talking to women and constantly test myself but unfortunately I still don’t approach women I don’t know. My next challenge to be conquered!

  6. Arnoldo Niffenegger said, on February 13, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    Kudos, fantastic. I must say that I enjoyed raking this pick. I pointed out it today morning and shortly found that it was engrossing, thus it inspired me to add a mark. I have a feeling people will most likely agree your thought about this issue.

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