How I Turned Being Shy into a Book and a Business
I was a little mouse – a timid toddler who didn’t want to talk to others. I liked and trusted a few close friends, but didn’t mix well and hated large groups. As a four-year-old I suffered from glue ear; my middle ear was blocked and I struggled to hear. That hardly helped me to make friends. As I grew older, neither did the thick-rimmed glasses, the bad hair and the fact that I was taller than everyone else. I was bullied at secondary school and was by now shy, unhappy and angry. Mum and Dad tried to help but somehow I felt I had disappointed them. Shy. Won’t mix. Won’t speak up.
If I could have a word with my younger self now, I would tell me not to worry. I got through school: nine GCSEs and two A Levels later, I was on to the next stage of my journey. And that’s what counts – the next stage. I would also say, stay true to yourself. There are advantages to being quiet, and it needn’t stop you from getting on in life or doing well at work when you’re older. The memories you have will help you to grow rather than constrain you. The past doesn’t have to dictate the future.
Luckily, I never let my shyness stop me in my career, although there have been ups and downs. I had a quiet confidence and when I was in a place where I felt comfortable, I was able to shine. But when I wasn’t happy, or when more forceful colleagues mistook my shyness for inability, I took it personally. Despite this, I worked my way up the ranks in various international hotel chains, learning about myself along the way, and then moved into HR. I met a lovely man, Peter, got married and travelled the world… but still I worried. Should I try and be more outgoing and sociable? Would that help me go out and really make the most of life?
I found out about personality profiling in 2003; it was something I knew about but had never studied. The idea that we are all so inherently different intrigued me. Based on the Jung philosophy, the system that I studied was DISC. It measures your behaviour and personality style, which are assessed thorough completing a short questionnaire. Although it’s not about putting people into boxes, the system provides an insight into your preferred behavioural style, your strengths and limitations and what motivates you. For me, it was life changing. Not only did I start to know myself and appreciate my strengths and weaknesses, finally I understood why I found it easier to get on with certain people and struggled to develop relationships with others.
I now run a successful company where I spend hours every week running courses, speaking at events, coaching people to find their own voices in their stories. I’ve even written a book!
Let me give you an example. One of my bosses was very direct in her style. At the time, her behaviour was difficult to handle as there was a lack of softness in her approach. She wanted something and she wanted it NOW. With the help of DISC, I realised that if my colleague liked the direct approach, then I could and should be direct with her, too. She preferred this. She didn’t want waffle. She just wanted the facts and preferred people to be straight with her. I wasn’t being rude or aggressive, as I feared, nor was I changing my personality to suit her; I was simply presenting things to her in a way that suited her.
Understanding and adopting these adaptation approaches was a game changer. A new, more confident me retrained as a life coach. I now run a successful company where I spend hours every week running courses, speaking at events, coaching people to find their own voices in their stories. I’ve even written a book! People often ask: What’s happened to the mouse? Well, she’s still here. She’ll always be here on some level, telling me it’s easier to hide and squeak, rather than stand out. And that’s fine. Because quiet, still waters are, and always will be, a core part of me. But I’ve learned the trick is to know when to ignore the mouse, to use the tools and things I have learnt, and when the moment is right to roar as loudly as everyone else!
The Mouse That Roars, Karen Williams’ latest book, is available to buy now. http://www.themousethatroars.com