How to Work Through Your Own Shyness

How I learned to reframe my way of thinking to overcome my own shyness

David Hundley
6 min readJan 7

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This might come as a surprise to you, but I’m actually a relatively shy person. As recently as ten years ago, I would have labeled myself as critically shy. Throughout both grade school and undergrad, I struggled to gain and maintain friendships, and to be completely transparent, it’s because I have simultaneously had to work through a very critical self image of myself. As a result, I have long lived in fear of what people would think of me, which has led to this strategy of pulling back in the form of shyness.

At the same time, I have always had a strong level of empathy for people in my position. I can remember very distinctly being as young as 7 years old and choosing to be partners in the classroom with some individual who nobody wanted to be partners with, and it was because I didn’t want that person to feel the pain that I felt. To an unfortunate extent, these actions were to my own detriment. I still had a few friends that I could have partnered with in these instances, but my choice to pick the loner cast me as a loner. I don’t necessarily want to exaggerate and say I had the worst time in grade school, but socially speaking, it certainly could have been better. I know I made the right decisions at the time, but I don’t look back on those times fondly.

Fast forward to today. Despite the blogs and live streams and other things, I’ve grown accustomed to be alone that I would still say it’s now become my preferred way of living. I think many reading this would be surprised to hear me say this. I basically have no personal friends aside from my family members and coworkers, and I’m totally fine with that. My “cup runneth over” in that regard. I actually get a bit of social anxiety in certain circumstances, and I’ll address that more down below.

I eventually realized that my crippling shyness was a detriment to aspects of my life that I wanted to see flourish. Specifically, I recognized my shyness as being an inhibitor to furthering my career. I watched as some of my more successful peers made strides in areas that I also wanted to make progress in, and the unifying factor amongst them was the ability to interface with our other peers appropriately. In other words, these people were good at building their own social network, and their social networks led to a lot of opportunities for them that I wasn’t necessarily privy to as a shy individual.

How things changed for me was actually kind of an accident.

Around 2014, I recognized that one way I definitively knew I could grow my skills was by pursuing certifications. If you go look at my LinkedIn page, you’ll notice I’ve got certifications out the wazoo. 😂 Two of these certifications include the Certified Scrum Master (CSM) and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO). Each of these were one-weekend classes that I took at the local community college with a number of other people. This isn’t necessarily a plug for those certifications (although they were fine courses), but the instructor did a great job of having the participants in the class break into smaller groups of about 7–8 people to participate in a wide breadth of team building projects. Most of the students in the class were Indian people, and from my work experience, I’ve grown a deep fondness for Indian people on a personal level. They are some of the kindest folks out there, always inviting me to join in on Diwali celebrations and eating samosas whenever they’d bring them into the office. 😃

As we all struggled through these team building activities together, I found myself catching onto concepts a little more quickly. Because I was already primed to know that these Indian people — despite being strangers — would be very kind to me regardless of any situation, it made it a lot easier for me to get past my momentary shyness to help out my fellow team members. They were very receptive and appreciative of what I had to share, which in turn made me inclined to want to share more.

What I learned from them is this virtuous cycle of reciprocity. They were happy to receive my feedback because it was a benefit to them, and I was happy to share more because they were so forthright with their gratitude. And why does this virtuous cycle always work?

Because people always want to be helped.

This is true for all people in all domains. This was just as true for the nerdy grade school kids I’d partner with in grade school to the Indian professionals in these Scrum courses. Of course, the sort of help each of these groups wanted is radically different, but the principle remains the same.

By adopting this reframe, my career began to shift very dramatically. I still did the stuff like the certifications, but I also made a very direct effort to understand where people needed help and sought to fill those gaps. It’s very much a mindset I still adopt today, both within the walls of my office and outside in the form of machine learning blogs and live streams.

So perhaps a good question to ask yourself is, how can I become a better helper? Well, I’ve sort of already alluded to it across this post so far: it’s education. By educating yourself in any domain — personal or professional — you incline yourself toward helping others on a larger scale and greater breadth of topics. I naturally discovered this by accident, but I hope establishing this connection between education and helping can also help you to overcome your own shyness.

Now, toward the top of the post, I mentioned that I still do encounter social anxiety, and this is largely because there will be scenarios in which you will have lesser knowledge in a domain. For example, my wife — a natural extrovert — found out that a local brewery is going to have a Disney trivia night a few weeks from now. She invited several couples that she is more closely associated with and has also asked me to join, despite the fact that Disney trivia definitely isn’t my strong suit. Am I nervous about it? You bet. (And I can tell you now I’m not going to become a Disney expert in the next few weeks. 😂)

Does this mean I’m screwed?

Of course not. While the context of this event is a Disney trivia night, the ultimate goal is for friends to get together to have a good time. I can help people have that good time in ways that aren’t necessarily through this narrow Disney lens. Even if you don’t have a strong domain knowledge, you can still find ways to be helpful toward others on a general, human level. I know enough about these folks that I can ask about how their families are doing or how work is going. I don’t expect myself to be the center of attention, and that’s fine by me. This is still a significant improvement on the crippling shyness I would have experienced a decade ago.

Bringing things full circle, the reason I now have no problem writing a blog post like this is because I know it’s going to help somebody out there. I’m not sure I could have written this post ten years ago, but if I know somebody is truly going to benefit from this, it makes it very easy for me to overcome my own shyness. Because hey, I would want you to do the same! If you have a piece of knowledge rolling around in your head that would really benefit me but that you’ve been struggling to share because of your own shyness, here is me telling you directly that I would love to hear that.

And with that, we’ll close out this post here! I can’t share this enough, your kind words mean far more than you could ever realize. It’s what motivates me to keep wanting to write more posts like this and in the machine learning domain. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’ll see you in the next post. 😃

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David Hundley

Principal machine learning engineer at a Fortune 50 company, 5x AWS certified, 2x HashiCorp certified, 1x GCP certified, M.A. in Org Leadership, PMP, ChFC, CSM