Overcoming Shyness

Hi Guys, CJ here. The Captain of the ship (the SS Harper) is having the day off today so you’ve been lumbered with the First Mate. Er, Mistress. Er, you know what I mean. Anyway, it is she with the estrogen and soft bits, not he with the testosterone and hard bits.

A Welcome Side Effect

At the risk of stating the obvious (always a talent of mine), many of us hang out at him-dot-com because there is at least one thing we would like to change about ourselves. Maybe we want to become a leaner, stronger, fitter and sexier version of us. Perhaps our goal is to become more inspired, motivated and focused. Maybe we’re just in search of some happiness. Who isn’t? Maybe we have already achieved the trappings of ‘success’ but we had expected it to feel a little more, well, successful so we are seeking some Harperesque philosophy and direction. Or maybe we just want to perve on some biceps. Not that I would ever do that, of course ;)

Although I first began reading him-dot-com because my arse was growing at such an alarming rate that it threatened to tip the earth off its axis, it (this site) has also helped me to overcome a part of myself that I have always hated. It feels so stupid saying it. Babyish even. Silly. Pathetic. But it’s totally true.

You see. I’ve always been a little bit, um, shy. Ok, very shy.

It seems so ridiculous. Like being afraid of butterflies or puppies. I could spend years in expensive therapy trying to discover which past event, experience or person, if any, created and/or contributed to my shyness. Maybe the other babies made fun of my big ears in the maternity ward. Maybe I wet my pants in preschool. Maybe in a previous life I was the first Trojan to say ‘Now that’s a cool wooden horse. Let’s open the gate and bring it inside’.

Thankfully, we don’t always need to know the origin or cause of our not-always-particularly-rational thoughts, reactions and behaviours to be able to consciously and methodically reprogram them. The uncoordinated non-runner can be trained to run a marathon. The overweight, compulsive eater can learn how to become a lean, fit natural eater. The shy adult can become a game-show host not-so-shy adult. And as you-know-who says: our past doesn’t need to become our future.

So What’s Your Problem?

Of course, there is a very wide range of ‘normal’ in terms of individuals’ levels of social confidence. Not every child can be an all-singing, all-dancing star of tomorrow. And, let’s be honest, the only people who actually like those precocious little darlings are their parents and their drama coaches. The rest of us, especially their peers, would like to tell them exactly what they can do with their fourteenth rendition of Little Orphan Annie. Or maybe that’s just me.

What issues?

You are.

Shyness becomes a problem when it prevents us from participating when we want to. We may desperately want to join in the fun but we invariably fall into the role of spectator rather than player. Shyness can also make some events and situations incredibly stressful. Speaking up at a meeting, giving a presentation, greeting a new client, being introduced to our new boyfriend’s family, attending activities at our child’s school may be interesting and exciting for most people but for the shy person such events can be hell on a stick.

Shyness can also make our world very small. If we don’t have the confidence to embrace opportunities to meet new people then we may miss out on some great new relationships. If we find ourselves making excuses to avoid introductions then our shyness is letting us down – whether we are eight or fifty-eight.

Sadly, shyness can also be easily misinterpreted as snobbishness. Or arrogance. Or even stupidity (in the case of some shy students). We may be standing by ourselves, desperately wishing that someone would approach us, make the first move and bring us into their circle but they won’t because our whole manner (physiology, energy, appearance) screams ‘leave me alone!’. We are insecure and terrified but people think we’re unfriendly and aloof. It’s not a nice way to be. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

Life on the Sidelines

We can all remember defining moments during our childhood. One of mine was in Year Two. I had recently transferred from another school and I was sitting in class trying to be as invisible as possible. The teacher was becoming more and more frustrated because ‘no-one? Come on! NO-ONE?’ knew the answer to the mathematics question written on the blackboard. It was a ‘fractions’ question. I had just learned fractions at my previous school and I knew the answer. I knew it as surely as I knew my own name. She was becoming really angry and was threatening to keep us all in at recess if no-one could give her the correct answer. This was my big chance. I could save us all! I could be a hero! But I didn’t. I kept silent and she eventually gave up in disgust (clearly we were the dumbest seven-year-olds in the country). My shyness had betrayed me again. I hated myself for being so gutless.

My Year Two triumph set the tone for most of my school career. Reading-around-the-class made me feel as miserable as a fat kid at a swimming carnival (sorry, Craig). Although I was relaxed within my group of friends, I hated being the centre of attention and I hated meeting new people. When I was forced into an uncomfortable situation (such as work experience) I was a red-faced, trembling, monosyllabic, perspiring mess. Which is just so dang attractive, of course.

Nothing Changes If Nothing Changes

Unlike asthma, acne or bedwetting (not that I experienced all of those, thankfully, I’m not a complete freakshow), shyness is not always something that children simply ‘grow out of’. From my experience (which will not be the same as everyone’s – of course), it is only when the shy person reaches the point of ‘enough is enough’ that they will change. Because, as he at him-dot-com says, in order to change we must (1) be prepared to get uncomfortable and (2) arrive at that point where there’s enough emotional leverage (pain, discomfort). I had to deliberately and consciously place myself in situations where I would be forced to overcome my fears. It wasn’t always pretty; there was a lot of nervous sweat involved and at one stage I almost vomited giving a speech at my sister’s wedding (sorry if you’re eating), but I can honestly say that it was worth it.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger (Once You Stop Shaking)

Of course, I’m not a psychologist, a motivational speaker or an expert in human behaviour (especially given that I dropped Psychology 101 when I discovered how much mathematics was involved) and my approach certainly won’t suit everyone. However, as a chick who has been periodically tortured by shyness, I thought I might share some tips and strategies that have proven to be effective for me: 

  • Fake it until you make it. You don’t have to be Whoopi Goldberg but at least be friendly. Make the first move, introduce yourself, take a chance (you’ll survive) and begin a conversation. Choose to be the person who makes other people feel comfortable and included. And whatever you do, don’t over-think this, or you’ll do nothing and possibly die from over-thinker-itis and analysis paralysis.
     
  • Embrace (or at least tolerate) situations that make you feel uncomfortable. Maybe not we’ll-be-needing-a-mop-and-bucket kind of terrified, but at least a little bit outside your comfort zone. Perhaps see how you cope with asking a question at a meeting and then build up to offering to be MC at your cousin Cheryl’s wedding.
     
  • If shyness is causing you to be unhappy then refuse to accept it as being ‘just a part of who you are’. After all, things only have the power, impact and meaning (in our world) that we allow them to have (as someone is always telling us). Yes, you may be genetically predisposed to shyness (is that possible?) but, like a slow metabolism, you can strategically manage it to reduce its impact on your life. 
     
  • Have some patience. Especially if you have been shy for most of your life, it may take a while for the ‘symptoms’ to abate. Be assured, though, that if you keep challenging yourself, one day you will discover that you actually enjoyed an event that may have previously been your idea of social torture. That is a pretty cool moment. Trust me.

So…

Clearly this is not the final word on this topic. It’s just a (very cute) toe in the water. All I’m doing today is opening the door on what is a very relevant and personal matter – for many of us. Have you, or someone you know, been able to overcome (or effectively manage) shyness? If so, how did you do it and what can you teach the rest of us? 

Here’s an idea: for some of you, leaving a comment today might be therapeutic (in terms of dealing with your shyness). Just a thought.

As always, I look forward to hearing (okay, reading) your thoughts.

CJ xox

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael March 23, 2010 at 7:56 pm

I’m too shy to answer your post this week.

;)

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Geoff March 23, 2010 at 9:10 pm

As an mostly introverted guy myself I think this is an excellent article.
Geoff.

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Steph March 23, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Thank you for this article. As someone that is extremely shy it gives me hope.

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Jill March 23, 2010 at 9:26 pm

I am a shy person. I would not normally comment on this website but your writing provided me with my first opportunity.
Thanx

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Think Differently March 23, 2010 at 9:45 pm

[...] Overcoming Shyness [...]

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Nell March 23, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Hi CJ,

I have the opposite issue in that I don’t think I have a shy bone in my body! I’m sure some people see me coming and think ‘oh no, not her again!’

Maybe you can give me some of your shyness and I’ll give you some of my outgoingness (making words up now! ;) ) and we’ll have perfect moderation!

Just a thought – take care
Nell xxxx

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Carlos March 23, 2010 at 9:56 pm

Shyness happens because we are focused on ourself. Try to redirect your focus onto others! Concentrate on how you can give more than you can get? Be helpful, considerate, thoughtful and friendly and you won’t need to be shy.

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Miranda March 23, 2010 at 10:53 pm

I think articles like these really give us insight into our misunderstanding of selfish looking people. I had never even considered that they may be shy.
Thank you CJ.

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Sara March 23, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Although I consider myself a shy person, most of my friends find this surprising. I have learned that you need to fake it till you make it. The hardest part is to get up the courage to appear convincing when you are shitting yourself.

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Get Organized Now March 23, 2010 at 11:24 pm

[...] Overcoming Shyness [...]

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Anonymous March 23, 2010 at 11:36 pm

Thanks for your article! I thought I was the only person that hated going to social events because I might have to speak to someone I didn’t know.
United We Stand

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Lauren March 24, 2010 at 12:02 am

Shyness! What a fabulous topic! Most of the time I am quite outgoing but there are specific situations when I am very shy. Your article explains exactly how I feel from time to time.

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Em March 24, 2010 at 4:34 am

Thanks a lot for this post. Normally, I would never leave a comment like this. I’ve been visiting the site for around 2 months now, and it’s helped me tons. My shyness has controlled me for a loooong time. I haven’t even gone back to school like I want to because I’m petrified of taking a required speech class. But, hopefully, this comment will be step one. Thanks!

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CJ March 24, 2010 at 7:44 am

Good morning guys,

Enjoy your week, shy Michael ;)

Welcome Geoff, Steph and Jill. Now that you’ve broken the ice, we’d love to hear much more from you at him-dot-com. We don’t bite. Well, mostly. As long as you don’t stand between the Big Guy and a baked cheesecake you should be fairly safe.

Hi beautiful Nell. You’re gorgeous just the way you are.

Great advice, Carlos. Thank you.

You’re very welcome, Miranda. (lovely name, too)

Hi Sara. You’re clearly doing a very good job of the fake-it-until-you-make-it strategy. You go, girl!

We’d love to hear from more of you shybies (a word). You have so much to offer if you let yourself share it. Go on. You know you want to.

Hugs in advance for you.

CJ xox

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Mandy March 24, 2010 at 8:32 am

People that know me well … think it is hilarious when I tell them that I am so shy and introverted … and I too have had a friend tell me that their very first impression of me was that I was arrogant … I was gutted to hear that!!! … but as someone that can speak non stop for hours without taking a breath to someone I am comfortable with … put me with someone I have just met or a room full of people … even people I already know … and all words leave my brain and I got nothin’!!! … I do lots of the fakin’ it … I am one of those annoyingly smiley happy people that has to say good morning or hello when I see someone … and met more times than not with absolutely zero response … but ah well … maybe they are shy too ;-)

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Ian March 24, 2010 at 9:32 am

Hi

I think shyness is a part of all of us depending on the situation.
CJ us extroverted people still get nervous in public speaker or certain situations that shy people do. (Just don’t tell anyone!)
I put the challenge out there to extroverted people, next time your in an event, situation that you recognise a shy person then go and talk to them, invite them to speak, bring them into your group.
Some of you will rub off on them and some of them will rub off on you..

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Mich March 24, 2010 at 9:54 am

Morning CJ, Craig,

Hhhmmm interesting topic this morning and oh so true. Many thoughts from my past came up but as I read this line, something clicked, a recent event (well a few years ago now, wow that went quick) I put myself in a situation and it that explains it, a bit more clarity is always good.
Thanks !!!!

(2) arrive at that point where there’s enough emotional leverage (pain, discomfort). I had to deliberately and consciously place myself in situations where I would be forced to overcome my fears.

Cheers
Mich

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Spirit in Gear March 24, 2010 at 9:59 am

[...] Overcoming Shyness [...]

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Kyles March 24, 2010 at 10:01 am

The thought of public speaking makes me absolutely sick.. i think they should get children doing this in class from an early age to get them comfortable with it!

And I agree with the arrogance thing, i’ve had that comment as well, but it is actually a lack of confidence/shyness around new people or people i’m not yet comfortable with.. with my few friends that i am comfortable with i never have to rethink or monitor what i’m saying.. it’s hard to get to that point though

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Natalie March 24, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Like some of you have written, I am a complete extrovert with my family and close friends, yet completely and utterly shy with people i don’t know well or people i don’t know at all. It is truly like i am two different people. In the workplace especially, i am very shy and at the moment it is the only thing holding me back from taking a leap towards some long held career goals of mine. I hate it. I hate being shy and it makes me so angry. Angry at myself. I can be in a situation wanting so badly to show people the real me, yet i can barely utter a word… and i know i have come across as snobby but if only people knew how far from the truth that is. Anyway, i thought it silly of me not to comment and take this opportunity to not be so “shy”… Sometimes i really feel like a prisoner in my own body… wanting to speak out so badly!! Great post CJ.

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Paula March 24, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Hi CJ – thanks for this article. I have never commented here before but this is so close to home I felt I had to for the reason you suggested. I have always known I was shy but over the years doing the same thing and seeing the same people I forgot about it! It was brought to the fore last year at RYL when I sat at the back of the lecture all weekend petrified that I would be asked to speak. Initially I was going to talk but as the time went on it got worse and worse and worse – almost to the point that I wanted to jump in the car and run away. Even writing this now is bringing tears to my eyes because it is bringing back these feelings of feeling like a stupid insecure baby.

I attended RYL for my weight problem – or so I thought. This issue of shyness raised it’s ugly head after many years – what was I thinking attending RYL that put me out of my comfort zone and made me confront my worst fears? Even CH called me by the name “Shy, Paula”. Hmm – that was difficult to hear but oh so right. Up to now I haven’t been able to comment on it because it was so embarrassing.

I have made some small steps since then to overcome my “little” problem. Just making small talk with people in the supermarket and holding craft days where I am the leader. All still in the comfort zone but I always put a smile on my face and do try to fake it. I need to get over myself and not analyze why I think nobody would be interested in anything I have to say! My daughter is the total opposite – thank goodness she didn’t inherit my insecurties.

I am not shy in small groups but put me in a room when all eyes are on the speaker…. Wonder why this is the case? Used to be the same in classrooms at school too – knew the answer but unless the teacher actually asked me specifically forget it!

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Madeleine March 24, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Good article, but I think you were too harsh to refer to bedwetting, asthma and acne with the term ‘Freak show’. As a shy person who tries everyday not to be, If I had expereinced one of these conditions it would increase my introversion to know someone considered these freakish. Perhaps shyness comes from feeling others are judging us. If you judge others you will think they are juding you. your comment made a judgement about people with these conditions.

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Lisa from USA March 24, 2010 at 12:49 pm

hi CJ,
You summed up the terror so well.
As a former shy girl I would like to say to anyone reading this who has the same struggle:
It’s really true that you can pretend you’re not shy. Picture yourself as a non-shy version of yourself, with perfect posture, a self-assured tone of voice, making eye contact with strangers.
Practice acting that way, and the beautiful thing is one day it will just occur to you…you’ve been taking self-confidence for granted.
luck and love from Lisa

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Chloe March 24, 2010 at 2:30 pm

I can totally relate to this topic! Sometimes I’m so shy I hate myself.

Oh sorry I should introduce myself, my name is Chloe and I’ve been a regular reader of your (and Craig’s) articles but have never left a comment because.. you guessed it… I’m too shy!

What I try to do is by affirmation (or whatever you call it). After a gathering or party that I enjoyed I would tell myself, ‘hey it wasn’t so bad! If I didn’t attend just because I was too shy to then I would’ve missed all the fun!’

Not much to contribute here because I’m still in the process of overcoming my own shyness issue.

Great article CJ thanks so much!

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Anonymous March 24, 2010 at 2:58 pm

CJ- I’d be interested on reading a post on bedwetting. Do you think that bedwetting and shyness are connected as i suffered from both growing up. Could never wake up from those damn ‘searching for a toilet but people keep getting in my way’ dreams.

I’ve missed many good opportunities in life due to paralysing shyness. Being a roly poly kinda gal didn’t help either. Yes i do believe that you do grow out of some of that shyness which didn’t happen to me until i finished school. It’s hard to overcome shyness when your a bullied fat kid. You wouldn’t dare try to draw any more attention to yourself by standing up for yourself cause you’ll end up bashed and that would just be humiliating. Too shy to fight back. Shy people can’t handle any kind of embarrassment or humiliation cause that’s our biggest fear. Like being caught with toilet paper hanging out of your pants at work which recently happen to me. Fortunately this shy girl is learning to develop a sense of humour. For a few seconds i was mortified to the point were i thought i would pass out cause my head started spinning when it was pointed out to me but then i decided to pretend i was acting. I was playing some ditzy girl with great shoes in some dumb hollywood comedy (Jennifer Aniston’s last 20 movies). So i went into the stationery room, pulled the offending strip out, threw it in the waste bin (picked up a highlighter & post it notes while i was there) and got on with my work and tried not to think about it. And everytime i did think about it i’d talk it out with myself ‘so i had toilet paper sticking out of my pants, big deal like it’s never happened before. If this is the worst thing that happens you’ll live’. I tried to force myself to laugh about it then i’d cry a little, then laugh a little…eventually i got over it and really who cares now. The only person who noticed was the person who told me and she probably got a good laugh out of it which is a good thing right, to make someone laugh.

Some of us will always be shy no matter how hard we work at getting over it. So i’m trying to figure out a way to use my shyness to benefit me. So i decided once i lose some of the weight i’m gonna use my shyness to get men. I’m gonna become like those women from a Jane Austen novel. I’m gonna be the shy girl with fluttering eyelashes, downturned eyes with blushing boosies and cheeks that will make the small men feel big and the big men feel even bigger. Hell i don’t know i figure it’s worth a shot. And if you think no man will go for that.. yeah right. Shy blushing cheeked girl waiting to break out…It’s the shy one’s that are dangerous, kinky ones.

Sometimes i think i’m too shy to die. You’d think that moment of dying shyness will go out the window when it comes time to tell people how you feel before you go. Or will it? I think i’d probably feel too embarrassed to even die. My mother left her home country to get married cause she was too shy and embarrassed to have her mother see her get married. Gee i wonder where i get it from.

Anon

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Craig March 24, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Hi CJ – great post and very interesting topic.

Well done to all you brave people and first-time commentors who have struggled with shyness. You are welcome and appreciated here. No hooks, no catches and no agendas.

Don’t be a stranger. :)

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Megan March 24, 2010 at 5:47 pm

I am a shy person, currently making my break from my shy self. For me so far it has been about changing my thoughts when i am in social scenes, believeing that others would like to talk to me, I would like to listen and learn from them and staying in the moment. breathing a lot helps me do that, and then my head doesn’t have the space to come in and tell me, you know that person doesn’t like you OR you are making a fool of your self OR the 100 other comments it has to work with… letting go of my thoughts, breathing and staying focused on the present, wonderful :)

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Sheela March 24, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Hi Craig,
You are doing fantastic job.Congrats!!!
One thing today I learnt is–people who look ‘leave me alone’kind of might be Shy as well !!!
Well avoiding to give a speech/public speaking is more out of FEAR than Shyness[I Feel]. Sweating, trembling,suddenly head becomes heavy and ear becomes hot–what symtoms are these?
Pl Shed some light!!!

Thanx and All The Best,
Sheela.

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CJ March 24, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Hi everyone,

Thank you so much for your stories and feedback today. I can’t believe how many of us shybies there are. It’s like peering into the back row of an auditorium and discovering a whole row of faces who have been silently listening and learning all along. You are definitely in the right place visiting him-dot-com. As the Big Guy said, “You are welcome and appreciated here.”

Well done for having the courage to comment; today each of you made a decision to no longer be a spectator. If you choose to, this could be your first step in knocking down that shyness barrier that stands between you and lots of the good stuff in life. Because it’s not much fun being shy, is it?

Thanks also for the advice and understanding from our extroverts and ex-shybies. Much appreciated.

If you don’t mind, we might revisit this topic again soon. As I have said, I’m no expert, but perhaps together we will be able to come up with some more strategies for chipping away at that shyness barrier.

Lots of hugs to you all,

CJ xox

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Lisa Q March 25, 2010 at 9:59 am

My shyness is a pain in the butt! I have tried and continue to try the fake it until you make it strategy because I know it works, I put myself in situations where I am forced to introduce myself and be social when I don’t want to be, when my heart is racing and my stomach is on knots. But I have not changed, it hasn’t become any easier, sometimes I would just be happier if I could stay at home, not answer the phone, not have to do the shopping etc. I even have debates with myself about which is the ‘real’ me, the shy person or the one who must look pretty ‘normal’ to the outside world.

One a different note, on parent teacher nights, way back in the dark ages, my parents were always told that I needed to speak up more in class, always, every time… A few years ago my mum told me that she didn’t ever take much notice because I was obviously doing just fine the way I was. I now have 2 quiet boys, quiet and well behaved, not shy like me, and parent teacher nights are the same. From the other night “In our next math lesson I would like L to ask me one question, it can be about anything he likes, and then I want four more questions by the end of term”. Oh for goodness sake! L is in top set maths, has loads of friends, loves school, is quietly confident in himself… and the teacher’s main concern is that he ask some meaningless questions. Yes, I can see why he is doing it, sort of, but ARRGGHHHHHH!!!

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Tina March 25, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Hi CJ,
I know I’m very late but I still wanted to comment on this one because I have been horrendously shy for as long as I can remember… and that’s a very long time ! I believe that my shyness may originally have been related to my extreme short sightedness that was discovered when I started school at age 4. I cowered away from everyone and everything because I couldn’t see who or what I was looking at !
Out of many, many embarrassing situations (including my first hubby’s mother thinking I was a horribly rude person for several years because I was too shy to speak to her) one that has always haunted me was having friends over one evening for a card night. We’d sat down at the table when the fellas decided they needed to go and buy beer, and left M and myself sitting there opposite each other, neither saying a word until they returned !
Another really bad experience (they got worse as I got older) was going into a shop to buy something (a real shop where you get served at the counter) and being so terrified that I completely forgot what I went in there for and had to walk out empty handed.
It wasn’t until I was almost 40 that I read an article in the local paper about a self help group called GROW, and hallelujah… there were people there who were just like me (according to the article). It took me four weeks to get up the courage to dial the phone number, and even then I could barely speak. The lady who ran the group was lovely, very friendly and welcoming, but I still took a few more weeks to go along to a meeting.
I parked my car across the road in the supermarket car park and sat there for a while, telling myself all sorts of reasons why I didn’t really need to go, but finally I crossed the road, walked up the front path, up the steps…….. aaaaaallllmost through the door….. and turned to run away. Except they saw me…. I was trapped !!! People were saying “come in, sit down”… and I was going into panic mode !
Anyway, I did sit down… probably since I froze… but didn’t say anything other than my name, when I was asked. I wasn’t sure I would go back again but I did. It still took me several weeks before I spoke though. By then, I had listened to everyone else (there were about 8 “regulars”) and realised that I was NOT the only person on the planet who had this “awful affliction”.
I attended weekly meetings for a couple of years, until one day I decided I could go it alone. So for the very last time, I walked into the room with more confidence than I’d ever had in my life, told everyone that I was more grateful than they could ever know, wished them all well and said goodbye. The group coordinator thanked me for coming that one last time to say goodbye… most people just didn’t bother coming back !
I won’t say that I’m not shy any more… I am… but now I can manage it. I learned one very important lesson from GROW… I am as good / important / worthwhile as anyone else on this blue ball !!!
{{HUG}}
Tina

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Helen April 9, 2010 at 4:12 am

Thanks CJ.

As with a lot of people, shyness is a pain in butt in Helensville. For as far back as I can remember I’ve been afraid of my own shadow. Opting out of school and youth club trips at the last minute, hiding behind my mum at practically every family gathering until my late teens, getting almost the lowest mark possible for my english oral exam, hiding in the corner desperately wanting to join in with stuff and to be able to talk with others etc. Even now I struggle.

I was a salsa class last night – not able to join in as I’m working on evicting plantar fasciitis but going anyway because it is a social thing as well. It was one of those times when my friends couldn’t make it. Apart from the barmaid (who is mega bubbly and talks to everyone) and the class instructor it was really challenging for me to find anything to say to anyone.

This millstone needs to take a hike. Helen has plans and the don’t include not knowing what or how to speak with clients when she is working for herself.

Helen
Farnborough, Uk

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