It's a little crazy to think about the past year. Just last year around this time I was getting ready to go on a mission trip with my church and immediately after that I had Hoosier Girl's State. I didn't know at the time just what an impact those two experiences would have on me.
The mission trip definitely taught me a lot about poverty and homelessness (my group worked at a homeless shelter for families and single women) in an area that was only a state away from where I lived, and thanks to all of the worship services, it was definitely the most intense religious experience I've ever had as well. The next week, I learned a lot about government at Girl's State. But both of those experiences had another large effect on me as well: Thanks to the numerous strangers I was surrounded with and had to communicate with over the course of those two weeks, I was definitely able to take large steps in overcoming my shyness.
Later that summer I attended LeakyCon 2011, which was an incredible experience, but I can't say it helped with my shyness at all. (I was really too shy to approach anyone there, including people I recognized and look up to in the fandom, and that's something I really regret.)
When I started my senior year last fall, I was definitely not suddenly an outgoing person, but I could tell how much more comfortable I felt around people. Sure, I'd been making strides towards that during sophomore and (definitely) junior year as well, but over the course of senior year I realized how much more relaxed I was in class. I didn't talk much, but I wasn't constantly nervous about being put on the spot. When I did speak to someone, I wasn't overcome with terror like I had been at some times in the past. If I had to talk to a teacher about something, they weren't anywhere near as intimidating as I'd found them before, in fact it began to not bother me at all.
One of the best examples of me getting over my shyness is how I approached Haley and Jordan on the first day of school and asked to sit with them at lunch. When I started senior year, I could really only consider Ji a close friend who I really talked to since Summer (and Jessica, who I'd begun getting close to the end of junior year) had moved away after sophomore year. Ji and I didn't have lunch together that semester, so I was left with the terrifying prospect of finding somewhere to sit alone. This was definitely not the first time this had happened, and I spent two semesters of my high school career dreading lunch because I sat at the end of crowded tables full of people I never spoke to.
I knew Haley and Jordan, but had never really spoken to them in my life. I thought they seemed nice and would be okay with me sitting beside them, so I decided to head over there. I think before that summer I would have sat there in silence, but thanks to my sudden bravery, I actually began having a conversation with them that day. The three of us quickly discovered that I probably shared more interests with them than anyone else in the school. Ji is still one of my greatest friends, but she and I just don't have that much in common. Later that day, Haley, Jordan, and I had government together, and we ended up sitting next to each other in there too. Now, having graduated and been friends with Haley and Jordan for about ten months, I consider them two of my best friends. I can't help but wonder how close the three of us would have been if I'd been brave enough to approach them freshmen year or at least sometime before our last year of high school.
(To completely understand how monumental befriending Haley and Jordan was to me, you have to know that they were the first friends I'd completely made on my own since first grade when I befriended my best friend Summer. Summer befriended Ji first and then asked me to show Ji to her next class (she moved here sophomore year) since we were in the same one. I ended up sitting next to Ji in that class and was assigned to sit next to her in English next semester, but I would say we were close until junior year. Summer had moved and that terrified me, so Ji somehow became my new best friend at school. Still, Summer is pretty much the reason Ji and I became friends, and I hadn't really become close friends with anyone else at that point, so I consider becoming friends with Haley and Jordan on my own a huge step for me.)
It wasn't just that though. While I remained quite possibly one of the shyest people in our grade, and the change was something most people definitely didn't see. I could tell that I had become a much more confident person. I still get nervous when I have to speak to strangers, but it's not usually as terrifying as I'd found it before. It takes a lot less time for me to become comfortable with people than it did in the past.
For years I hated my shyness. It made life hard. But I had no idea how to get over it. The shyness is still there, but it's at a much more manageable level, and you have no idea how relieved I am that I seem to finally be improving on it. Hopefully, I'll continue to overcome it more and more. I imagine starting college in the fall will be an experience that, just like the mission trip and Hoosier Girl's State, will help me overcome it even more. I look forward to it.