Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been a shy person. I joined the drama club in middle school expressly to bolster my public speaking and interpersonal skills (not just because it seemed like a lot of fun–which it was!). Luckily my experience as actor, director, and theater club president during high school dispelled any fear of public speaking and unexpectedly honed my leadership skills. But my shyness remains and is now proving to be a challenge in my new field of veterinary medicine.
Shyness is a mix of feelings of apprehension, discomfort, and awkwardness, felt when in close proximity to strangers or distant acquaintances. And it’s both easy and tempting to dismiss feelings of shyness as the irrevocable personality trait of introversion (where one focuses on internal thoughts to recharge his or her mental batteries), rather than to recognize shyness as an indicator of low self-esteem. Admitting my challenges with self-esteem is pretty personal, but I’m open to sharing it with readers because for me, this is a struggle I deal with every day. Some days I win and other days I don’t. If there’s any other pre-vet or vet students out there struggling with shyness, I want to show them that yes, you can become a successful vet. Because that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
But enough with the heavy talk. How does shyness impact my life as a veterinary student? Well, at least in the academic arena, not much. I’m not bothered by raising my hand during lecture or contributing during group discussions. You might see evidence of my shyness as I bury myself in a book during breaks rather than stroll around the room to chat, but I’m quite happy to delve into an interesting, ongoing conversation or chat with neighbors.
Where I really see my shyness create problems is when I’m in the clinic, interacting with clients. I have to work extra hard to remember names and pleasantries, which can sometimes be chased out of my head by nerves. I have to put in extra effort to build rapport, by chatting with owners about holiday plans or crazy weather events. A recent euthanasia particularly made me uncomfortable, as I had never met the clients or patient before and so had no existing rapport, and I consider myself a poor comforter even in the best of circumstances. But just because I feel self-conscious around strangers doesn’t mean that I can’t be professional and compassionate; I just have to breathe and focus on the present. I’m not sure I’ll ever find a way to completely dispel my shyness, but with enough practice I’m hoping to find ways to work around it.