by Julia Bluhm
I am a shy person. I don’t think I ever really hated anything about myself except for that. Being shy used to make me really mad, because I had this constant rush of thoughts and ideas that flew through my mind, but it was like no one even knew. I felt like people were judging me all the time because I was quiet. Before my work with SPARK, everyone thought I was fragile, dress-wearing shy girl who always followed rules and got perfect grades. And that was it. But anyone who took the time to get to know me could tell you that THERE IS SO MUCH MORE TO ME THAN THAT.
Joining SPARK definitely helped me find more confidence and make my inner thoughts and feelings heard. Before joining, I felt pretty insignificant, and I didn’t really think I could do anything about it. Once I joined SPARK I was constantly in awe of the awesome people I was meeting over the internet and the incredible things they were doing. But I didn’t exactly feel like I belonged in a group of such awesome, loud, outspoken people. Then the Seventeen Magazine campaign took off, and I was unsuspectingly thrown into a position where I was doing interviews and being on TV. I was both thrilled and terrified.
When I flew to NYC and met some of the SPARK team for the first time, I was overwhelmed with an unexpected feeling of belonging. I was completely wrong in thinking I somehow wouldn’t fit in. I remember eating dinner with Shelby Knox, Dana Edell and some of the SPARKteam members, and suddenly it didn’t matter that I didn’t talk a ton, or that I couldn’t make a joke. Nobody cared. I felt like people were actually listening to the things I said (even if they were few), instead of just assuming I had nothing to say. I felt incredibly significant, and that was the best part of the New York City trip. It wasn’t the interviews, or the meetings, or the phone calls that made me realize I was an activist. It was the fact that I was a member of this incredible team where my ideas weren’t just thoughts inside my head that no one cared about… they were seeds that could help change the world. I think every teenager deserves to feel like that no matter how often or how little she talks. Just because you don’t talk much doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to say.
When I returned from New York City, and hit the “play” button to re-enter my regular life. Guess what happened? I was still shy. Just as shy as ever. I didn’t have any more friends than before, and I didn’t talk any more than I had before I left. Something had changed, though: I’d started to care a little bit less about my shyness. All of a sudden I felt like I mattered, and people were coming up to me and saying “I think what you’re doing is really great!” instead of “Hey, why don’t you ever talk?” The fact that I was quiet started to be less of a defining characteristic, and more of an afterthought.
Sadly, that didn’t last. Even just the other day when some kids at school found out about the activism work I do with SPARK, they looked at each other and said: “Wow. You would never know because Julia’s soooo shy.”
I thought about their comment for a little while, because it really didn’t make any sense. Just because you don’t talk much doesn’t mean you aren’t a writer, or you can’t believe in certain things. But these kids had already jumped to the conclusion that since I was shy, I couldn’t possibly be an activist. They thought there simply wasn’t anything more to me than the fact that I was shy.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Julia! If you don’t want people to judge you, then just talk more! Let them know what’s in your head!”
Yeah. I know. I tried that.
At the beginning of this school year, I had my first “new girl” experience. I was starting at a brand new school, and I was super excited for my first day, because I had this fabulous, fool-proof plan that went something like this: “Stop being shy.”
I thought that since I was going to a new school with completely new people, I’d suddenly be able to change my image. I thought I would somehow be able to just “transform” from a quiet, well-behaved ballerina to a loud, outspoken, riot-girl like I was jealous of all my feminist friends for being. Know what happened? I’m still shy!
I ended up making an awesome group of friends who I’m super close to, but (like always) I’m still just as shy around people I don’t know. There are still kids in my math class who ask me the same question I’ve gotten a million times: “Why don’t you ever talk?” I remember once in the 6th grade, a random boy asked me that very question. I was so tired of being asked about my shyness that I just gave him a bitchface and walked away.
So remember this: that shy girl in your English class isn’t passive, or weak, or any less capable of ruling the world than you are. In fact, her life is probably a freaking rollercoaster ride. And maybe if you don’t pass her off as just some shy girl, you will be one of the lucky people who will be able to hear all about it.
And to all my fellow shy people out there, don’t worry. Don’t worry that you’ll never make a friend, or fall in love, or have your voice be heard. You will. It just might take a little patience. Remember that shy people can be activists, too. Once you get involved with an activist group, you’ll find that nobody will care how much you talk, as long as you find ways to contribute.
I know I’m never going to be a super outgoing person, so I’m just trying to accept my shyness with open arms. I can’t change who I am. Sure, I still wish I could be as funny as my friend Izzy when we’re presenting a talk, or as confident and willing to argue as some of my SPARK sisters… But I also know that I have things to offer that nobody else has. You do, too. It might just take a little while to find them.