We need to talk about the effects of shyness at university

Shyness can ruin the uni experience


"Shyness is nice, and shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life
you'd like to," sings Morrissey on the song 'Ask' by The Smiths. Morrissey, a man I love dearly, a man who whose music I grew up listening to, sad. Morrissey, like that family member who is posting increasingly controversial and ill-informed posts on their Facebook, and it's making you love them just a little less than you used to, but you still love them because they're family. That's Morrissey, I suppose.

He's right though, shyness is nice, sometimes. It can be endearing, it can be a pleasure to get to know someone slowly as they become more comfortable around you, it's nice when someone isn't overly loud in seminars. Sometimes, it's just best to shut up. Keep the noise down in the back of the taxi, it can be a good thing. But nine times out of ten, it can be a curse.

University is meant to be a time of new beginnings and experiences. We're told to get out there and find out who we are, to meet new people, to try new things. Do we like techno, or are we just pretending? What combinations of alcohol make us sick, which do not? Is this milk alright? It looks alright, but it doesn't smell alright. Oh God what is this hell?

Shyness cripples that experience. It doesn't stop it all together, no, but it can hamper your will power and your desire to do the things you want to do deep down. As someone who has just graduated, I look back in hindsight and see all of the things I would've done, or would've done differently, and I know shyness is the major cause of some of those regrets.

On my very first day at uni, the day I moved into my flat and met the people I'd soon be arguing with about bins, I was hit by a wave of shyness. Naturally, of course, it was my first day in a new city, I'd never eaten pesto before, it was a tough time.

They decided to order pizza. I like pizza. This can't be too bad, I thought. Do you know what happened? I ended up eating a pizza with mushrooms on it because I was too scared to say I didn't like mushrooms through fear of ridicule. A pizza with mushrooms on it. Mushrooms. On a pizza.

I look back now, three years on, and I'm still haunted by that experience. What was I so scared about? Telling people I didn't like mushrooms? No one likes fucking mushrooms. What's the worst that could've happened? They'll give me a mushroom-based nickname? Stick a mushroom under my pillow whilst I'm out? Fill my cupboard with all of the mushrooms, just so many mushrooms, so I'm hit with a wave of mushrooms when I open the door? No. They wouldn't have done that, of course they wouldn't. But try telling that to eighteen-year-old Dan. What a fucking idiot.

There were so many nights out I didn't go on because I was too nervous to leave my room. A number of parties missed because I had an irrational fear of being stood in the corner of the room, alone with a whole bottle of Aldi wine. Seminars were missed because I didn't want to speak up and express myself. Shyness can ruin university.

I look back and I know I got better over time. My confidence grew, I came out of my shell, I started doing things I wanted to do but had never had the balls to do before. I'm glad I did, it made me happier than I had ever been.

But I realise this is not the case for everyone. For some, the cycle of missing uni or missing social events or having their wants halted never ends.

When drafting this article, I had originally planned to put out a call for people to talk about how shyness has affected them at uni. But then, if someone had asked me that in first year, or had posted that on Facebook looking for responses, there's absolutely no way I would've responded. It's a catch-22.

To this day, I still find it hard to overcome certain waves of paranoia and insecurity. I have no world changing advice, and this article will never be good enough to help anyone. All I can say is – do what makes you happy. Do what makes you comfortable. And above all, don't eat pizza with mushrooms on it.