Overcome Shyness: How to Voice Your Opinions

"Because when I turn seven, I'm going to turn into a giant wolf."
-A six-year-old New Yorker to her classmate.

Let yourself be seen.
This smudge of a girl spoke with such sincerity—teeth-grinding, claws out—that had I not known better, I would have believed her too.

Gaining a voice is something that we all struggle with. For a lucky few, all it takes is leaving the womb. The vast majority of us, however, must decide to speak up and value our opinions.

As you get to know me, you may doubt that I ever feared my voice. Among close friends and family, I lean toward the outgoing side of the spectrum. I hold firm opinions, assert myself in discussions, and often organize social or professional events. My childhood memories are colored by the rambunctious antics of a kid with ADHD. For instance, during a trip to Ikea my friend’s parents had to pull to the side of the road because they were laughing too hard to drive straight. The cause of this detour was, of course, my full body impression of All That’s “Everyday French with Pierre Escargo.”

At school, however, I often observed my peers long before befriending them or engaging in class discussions. Perhaps my insecurities about speaking out was why I found the written word so appealing. With a pencil in hand and time at my leisure, I could muse and edit my thoughts in private.

The summer before high school I made a decision to speak up. Fueled by teacher's comments that I was "quiet in class" and my parents' encouragement, I decided that I needed to have a voice. I remember the morning that I walked into my 9th grade homeroom. Reciting one mantra or another to myself, I took a seat at the front of the room and waited for our advisors to let us introduce ourselves. “Tell everyone your name, how long you’ve been at Dalton, and what you did over the summer.”

I went first. Not because I was called on, but because I had decided to become a leader.

Over the years I've learned that your ability to express yourself is as inconstant as your confidence. In certain settings or groups of people, you feel empowered, free to be your goofy, intelligent self. In others, you hug your knees to your chest in a vain effort to evaporate. It’s important to remember that your opinions are valuable. They benefit others by offering alternative perspectives. And we ADHD’rs know that our point of views can be wackier or more sensitive than most (depending on our mood, of course).

But speaking out takes practice…
  • As a fourteen-year-old, I started by speaking louder than normal. Somehow, this increased volume helped tune out the audience around me.
  • In class, I sat up front, nearest the teacher. Yes, call me "teacher's pet" if you will, but an orchestra seat helped me to pay attention. It limited distractions and encouraged my voice by creating the illusion of speaking exclusively to the teacher (without fifteen other pairs of eyes on me). 

What else helped?
  • Really knowing my material. When it came to schoolwork, I would flag pages in English books or write notes in the margins so that I had something to offer the class. If I was genuinely curious about the material, voicing my comments or questions came all the easier.
How did you gain your voice? Or what scares you most about speaking up?

Do you prefer to listen rather than speak out? Perhaps you’re simply an introvert. And that’s a wonderful thing! Susan Cain’s upcoming audiobook Quiet by Random House Audio speaks to the introvert in all of us.