I was a very shy child. On the first day of school I sat across from Elizabeth as we waited to be taken to our assigned class. Her eyes were round with terror and her mouth formed an ‘O’ like she wanted to cry out, but there was no sound. I felt like Elizabeth. That year was tough.
The other children cautiously approached my desk and touch me, then they quickly turned and ran with their arm extended and finger pointed, -shrieking, “I’ve got cooties and I’m going to get you !” The class quickly exploded into riotous children playing chase and touching each other. Dennis, my best friend, proudly volunteered to take turns being the cootie. The game seemed friendlier after that.
Some people are shy. It’s not well accepted.
My family lived in a two room bare shack in a rural wooded area and my parents marriage was failing with lots of drama and violence. I had to make straight A’s or be beaten. I was afraid to move. There was nothing predictable in my life. We had wonderful neighbors who included us in their community, but we lacked basic things.
In school we learned math. The answer was always the same and it was like a puzzel. I loved the way it felt to know the answer and especially discovering there was a reason these things fit together so neatly. Math was my safe passage into civilization.
In 1974 women were being trained in job traditionally held by men. I was still, very shy but sure about my technical abilities. It was a challenge because women were viewed as taking a job away from a man with a family. Even though I was a single mother, -it was wrong. One woman told me a man in her department had anchored a chain to the axle of her car, which caused damaged when she tried to drive away. The customers complained women were not very well trained and they didn’t want us. I was still very shy and my manager would hold up his fist and pretend to strike my face when I walked in the room. He wanted to see if I would flinch, -he was well-liked; the secretary said he was just like a father to her. Then IBM began downsizing and I had the opportunity to train for a new job or get a pink slip.
I was sent to a week long class in North Carolina. My manager was surprised I passed and my male peer did not. Then I was sent to a month-long class in Atlanta. A lot of people failed that class, including managers with college degrees, but the women in the class did not. I was sent to Dallas for another class, my roomate had a computer science degree. My new manager said he would only offer jobs to the top 10% of the class. After I was offered a job my manager called him and my new manager hated me after that, so, I refused the job. Things changed after that. I had interviews all over the country. The women I worked with gave me good suggestions, -be a mainframe programmer. So that’s what I did.
I went to New York and took another month class in programming. I was getting pretty good at this. Next I took a class in mainframe internals. The two years of classes all over the country was hard on my son, but we got through and he eventually graduated from Yale. I survived 32 years of downsizing by working long hours and being a critical resource. It was never a job that made you feel smart, or improved your self esteem. My coworkers thought I was weird because I liked to solve problems. I was a high school dropout who didn’t belong in professional ranks.
I always imagined myself knitting. I had an internal mantra, -Be patient, be percise, follow the pattern.
I received two formal awards and never worked on a project that failed. I also went to college; after I retired I got an associates degree in science. One advantage of being a shy person is being your own cheering section, -Yay me!
Elizabeth, the other frightened girl in first grade, got a PhD in statistics.
Susan Cain, wrote the book ‘Quiet, the power of introverts.’ I wish educators would encourage shy children to explore math and sciences. Shyness is not a disease, it a way of survival that has strength. Technical fields have a great deal to offer people who find social settings stressful.