How 'I CAN' girls can overcome shyness and stage fright--and why they should
Rimm, S.
Excerpt from See Jane Win for Girls: A Smart Girls Guide to Success
Free Spirit Publishing
2003

This article by Sylvia Rimm is aimed at girls. In it she offers pointers on how to get over shyness and stage fright. Examples of very successful women who described themselves as ordinary girls are given throughout the article.

Have you ever looked at a successful woman and wondered how she got there? (And could I ever be like her?) I surveyed over 1,000 successful women and asked them to describe how they felt, what they did when they were girls, and how those experiences helped them to become the grown-ups they are today. Using what we learned from this study, my daughters and I wrote two books for adults, See Jane Win and How Jane Won. Now I bring some of the stories, lessons, and memories of these wonderful women directly to kids in See Jane Win for Girls. When you discover how they grew up to be successful women, you can learn how you can, too, by becoming an I CAN girl now. You might be surprised to learn that, despite their adult accomplishments, many of the women I surveyed thought of themselves as just ordinary girls, maybe even boring. Yet they all developed confidence, inner strength and a strong desire to learn--even if they were a little bit frightened to take a chance or thought they were too shy to try.

For example, Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman ever appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, is one of many successful women who overcame her childhood shyness. Thanks to practice, and the encouragement of a dramatic arts teacher, she now speaks up all the time! "Under my teacher's direction, I learned to get up in front of people and say things," says Justice O'Connor. "It is something that has helped me the rest of my life."

Shy girls often start to speak up when they find a cause they believe in. That's what happened to Susan Widham, former president of the Beech-Nut Nutrition Corporation.

When Susan first started working for Beech-Nut, the company wasn't doing well. As a young mom with a baby at home, Susan believed in the importance of healthy baby food. One day she saw her boss at the supermarket. Despite her shyness, Susan stopped him in the aisle and offered her ideas for Beech-Nut's baby food line. Before she knew it, Susan was working in the baby food department. The line became successful... and Susan soon became Beech-Nut's first female president!

Many of the See Jane Win women participated in student government, theater, speech contests, or debate teams when they were growing up--especially those who wound up with careers in law, politics, or media. This helped them build their confidence and practice their speaking skills while they were kids.

Take television news anchor Jane Pauley, for example. When she didn't make her high school's cheerleading squad, she was discouraged. Then the school's debate coach convinced her to try out for the debate team. "A major milestone for me was winning a speaking tournament at Ball State University. Before that, I didn't know the feeling of being number one. I really liked it," she remembers. In fact, Jane Pauley became such a strong debater that kids on opposing teams dreaded competing against her. The confidence she gained from these experiences steered her toward a career in TV.

Do you see yourself in the spotlight someday? Massachusetts district attorney Martha Coakley realized in middle school that she had a real talent for speaking out, but other women didn't feel comfortable sharing their opinions in a group until they were older. Tamara Minick-Scokalo, a marketing director for Proctor & Gamble, had no problem giving a speech, singing, or even playing the lead in the school play as a teenager. But when she didn't have words to memorize in advance, she'd freeze. At times she'd get so scared trying to talk up in a group that she'd faint! But the more she practiced, the better she became.

You can teach yourself to overcome shyness and stage fright. Here's the trick: Be more interested in what you're speaking about than in what other people think of you--or what they think of what you say. If you focus on what they're thinking, how can you pay attention to the ideas you're expressing? And if you worry too much about whether what you're saying is right or wrong, you can hardly concentrate on the words you're using to say what's on your mind!

In some ways, not speaking up is like hiding yourself from others. Maybe you're always thinking ahead to what you're going to say and then are too afraid to say it. But don't do this type of disappearing act! You may feel safer not talking, but hiding won't make people like you better. They can't get to know you that way! Be yourself and just trust that others will accept you for who you are. And if they don't, let that be their problem, not yours.

Even if you'll always be a quiet person, you can develop the social confidence to speak up when you have a reason to. It sure beats appearing to agree with something you don't agree with, or going along with something you think is wrong! Once you start talking, the worst that can happen is that someone will disagree or try to correct you. That isn't so terrible. It happens to everyone at times—even the most outgoing kids in class. So, go ahead: Let your I CAN girl voice be heard!

Dr. Sylvia Rimm (Cleveland, Ohio) is the best-selling author of See Jane Win and How Jane Won, as well as parenting favorites Why Bright Kids Get Poor Grades and How to Parent So Children Will Learn. She is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland and a clinical professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. The author of a syndicated newspaper column on parenting, she has appeared in Redbook and People magazines, on Oprah and 20/20, and as host of Family Talk with Sylvia Rimm. She is also a frequent parenting expert on the Today show.

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