When I was in 13, in 8th grade, I was painfully shy. Being in a new school, with foreigners, was almost more than I could deal with. Foreigners, you say? Yeah. A Nigerian kid in America sees his classmates as foreigners, no matter how “perfect” his accent is.
I hardly talked to anyone. The jokes were foreign. The bee bus and butt head? Was that a TV show? The whole year was cringeworthy to think about now, but back then, it was excruciating. I took the bus home every day and plopped myself in from of the TV, sitting there for hours. There’s no end to the things you learn about a society by watching the TV they make.
The basketball coach tried to get me out of my shell. The 8th grade boys were having a basketball shoot out, and I was to participate, he said. It was one of those winner gets a t-shirt deals. I said no. Not only did I suck at basketball, but the girls would be watching, and I didn’t want to humiliate myself.
The coach told me that if I kept running away, I would never be able to stand up to anything, and that win or lose, I owed it to myself to try. I got arm-twisted into playing.
I was the last to get the basketball that day. I took as many shots as I could in a minute, bricking most of them really badly, air balling a few, and getting a grand total of 3 points, all of them off panicked free throws. I could hear my classmates behind the 3-point line, quietly laughing at me. That’s not a criticism. I quietly laughed at people all the time, and I still do.
It may be true that forcing me onto the court put a bit of steel in my spine. My self-esteem was pretty well destroyed after that, though, and it took a while to build back up. I’m still not sure what coach thought would happen. Being extroverted doesn’t come easy to everyone. When we force introvert kids to ‘interact’ with people, it doesn’t always make them into social butterflies, and can often be anguishing. Remember that the next time you tell someone that success is mostly just showing up.