From shyness to playing big – how to find your courage

I was a really, really shy kid. I grew up hiding behind my parents, and as I got older, hiding anywhere I could.

After spending years doing tennis practice almost every day, I quit aged ten as soon as I won my first big tournament.

I never put up my hand at school to answer a question, and blushed like a strawberry whenever attention was directed upon me.

Throughout secondary school, I intentionally answered exam questions wrong to avoid being congratulated. At university, phone calls and seminars and presentations filled me with dread.

As a teenager, this was diagnosed as social and generalised anxiety disorders. But it wasn’t just that. I’d been this way – including as someone with Asperger’s (or autism spectrum disorder) – for years.

I just wanted to be invisible.

Fast forward to 2015: I was finishing up my undergrad degree, and I told my parents I was going Interrailing around Europe alone. They wondered what on earth had happened to me.

A few weeks after that trip, I moved to Switzerland, initially to live in a shared house with people from work and later on my own, living the quiet life I really wanted in the middle of nowhere, close to nature and by the mountains.

In 2018, I quit my full-time job in Switzerland with nothing to fall back on and started my own business. In 2019, my self-employed earnings matched my previous salary and, in 2020, doubled it to reach six figures.

Something had changed. A lot of things had changed.

But what were they?

1. Changing environment

When you grow up shy, there will be people around you who expect you to be that way forever. It’s hard to break those expectations and evolve into someone else.

But when you change your environment, you gain the opportunity to choose who you want to be. And you can make that decision over and over again until you find a good fit.

Where and how can you find the freedom to decide who you really want to be?

2. Making uncomfortable decisions

Big transformations are often triggered by big, uncomfortable decisions. For me, these were choosing to travel around Europe on my own. Moving to new countries. Quitting my job to go freelance. Sometimes you know deep down that you just need to leap and keep faith that you’ll land on your feet. Sometimes you won’t. But if you make enough leaps, you will fly.

What big, uncomfortable decisions would you make if you weren’t afraid?

What about if you knew you were supported?

3. Accepting myself just the way I am

The two factors above mean nothing without this. The most miserable years of my life were those when I thought I was broken and not enough. I only found my courage after realising I was worthy just the way I was, without needing to fix anything. Thriving starts with knowing you are enough, exactly as you are.

What one change can you make today to treat yourself with more love and kindness?

4. Working out what I really want

As I found more courage and stopped playing small, I had to think about where I actually wanted to step up to. At first I thought this was the corporate world, and I was accepted for internships and programs with Google and Microsoft before working in the tech and startup world during my university year abroad and later in Switzerland.

However, as time passed and I struggled with my physical and mental health, I realised how far from myself I was getting. I hadn’t felt properly creative for years. I struggle in office environments surrounded by people and distractions and thrive setting my own work schedule and focus.

After I left that job, I had to decide what I really wanted. And for me, that’s freedom, creativity, and sharing value and beauty with the world.

To truly play big, first understand what you actually want your life to look like.

Who will you be in your boldest and most courageous, fulfilled, and vibrant life? What do you want to be, do, have, and share? What impact do you want to have on the world?

After thinking of what you really want, ask yourself: is this what you would choose if you knew that anything was possible?

Dreaming + designing + action. So much is possible.

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