I Don't Entertain Because I'm Shy

I often get painful emails from readers who reach out to me, including a most recent one that came from a very shy person asking for help. I went to my husband, who grew up a very shy person, to see if he could help me. I wanted to reach back out to this amazing person, who reluctantly opened her heart asking me for help.

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We all have things we struggle with, including myself, and today’s subject is very real, for a lot of people. She wrote to me: I don’t entertain because I’m shy.

In steps my husband.

My husband, Paul, just handed in a manuscript for a book that will be coming out next year, in which he sheds light on fear. Reading through this section made me realize that he would be the perfect guest for my post today, to share his insights.

Shyness is real.

Welcome, Paul:

Here’s another example from my life that I hope appears weird because weird and inordinate fear go hand-in-hand. What I’m about to reveal may not be your problem, but it does reveal a common theme with fear, as well as some solutions.

I noticed early on in our marriage that my wife Sandy loves to entertain. Little did I know that she would launch a very popular blog, reluctantentertainer.com, which brings back the lost art and gift of hospitality. She helps people across the world move out of isolation and into relationships and community. And it almost didn’t happen because of my “nice guy” tendencies.

Sandy doesn’t just like having people over. She glows when she entertains. It’s her sweet spot. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but even I realized early on that this was her bliss, and if a spouse opposes the healthy bliss of the other, bad things happen.

But I hated entertaining because—you guessed it—fear: What if the conversation stalls? What will I say? What if dinner gets delayed? What will I do then? I was stuck in the no-win world of What If thinking, instead of the healthy So What Let’s Handle It approach.

Inordinate fear is a poser, which we don’t know until confronted. It’s hiding the truth about you, your better relations to others, and a more loving relationship with God, usually through some lie that is obvious to others but not you. In this case, that lie was the supposed inability to keep a conversation going. This probably seems silly to read, but it was very true to me at the time. It was an example of a deeper truth about FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real. This belief wasn’t true, but the truth hadn’t become actual, real yet. What was needed was truth through proof.

I wasn’t very good at it, but I had seen others who were, so that gave me hope and vision. So one day I picked up a book about creative conversation starters. It taught me a few techniques that almost always involve questions (“You said you’re a banker. Where?”), plus provided some stock questions to ask people. I even created a cheat sheet—one word that I wrote on my wrist that reminded me of a larger question. I would put three such words on my wrist. I like to work in threes. I use the same technique today during news interviews.

I don’t think much now about entertaining large groups because I have a track record of success. Not complete success, but enough. Perfection when it comes to relationships is not only unnecessary, it’s a dangerous illusion. Confidence builds upon confidence just as fear feeds upon fear. Remarkably, I would go on to have a talk show and become a public speaker. The old worries are in the past, and in fact they make me chuckle now. But they were very real then, until I confronted them with assertive behavior.

Through action, which was preceded by greater wisdom, truth became actual. I leaned in and took the battle to the problem instead of letting the problem have the first punch. Much like bullies, we need to be a few steps ahead of our fear, with wise and courageous behavior. But more importantly, we need love as well, because love is the moving power of life. My wife’s love for me urged me forward toward greater hospitality, which is a form of life for others, so much so that renowned theologian Henri Nouwen contended that hospitality is the greatest of all virtues. Greater life for me created greater life for others.

What I just described here may not be your fear, but what I have described as the way through it should be applicable to your specific fear battle.

And in this case, more than liberation, but communion with my wife through partnering in her bliss. I’m no longer “a stick in the mud,” but an active participant in something profoundly meaningful to her and life-giving to others, because at this point in your vocation, God only knows how many people she has helped bring the love-and-life gift of hospitality to.

I Don't Entertainer Because I'm Shy

Thank you, Paul. I hope this post helps a zillion shy people out there. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions, and please, share your reluctant “coming out” stories with us!

Do you wrestle with shyness, and if so, how have you overcome it?