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I Was Painfully Shy Until I Lost My Wallet

When we struggle with insecurities, we might think we need to fix ourselves. We might say “if I am perfect and I don’t need anyone, people will like me more” but the reality might be the opposite.


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Nihan Kucukural

4 months ago | 7 min read
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How I instantly became “popular”

“Can we please stop the bus? I can’t find my wallet, so we will have to get off and go back to Ankara!”

Mel and I were two university students in a bus full of amateur photographers, driving full speed away from the city. It was after 2 am and pitch black outside.

We had driven for more than two hours, so we had a vague idea about our location: The Middle of Nowhere. When I said we should get off, Mel almost had a heart attack. How were we supposed to go back? With no money? But we didn’t know anybody on the bus! Why were we even there? It was all my fault!

It was my second year away from my little hometown, “living” on my own. In my first year, I hadn’t done much actual living other than watching and envying other students who enjoyed campus life. I felt completely invisible, the same way I felt at high school.

I believed everyone thought I was fat and weird. I could hardly make two or three friends at a time who were just as nerdy as me and spent all my time with them.

I remember feeling so awkward sitting at the university cafe, eating without making eye contact with anyone. I didn’t know how to “be” there. One friend who suffered from the same problem suggested getting a magazine and “pretend” to read it. That’s how bad it was.

The Bus That Changed Everything

I studied urban planning. In our second year, my project partner Mel and I decided to join the amateur photography club.

First, we went to the meet and greet. It was a welcoming crowd, and I found everything about photography so fascinating: learning about taking great photos, developing films in the darkroom, printing photos in the red light, and watching images appear on white cards, etc. Digital photography wasn’t around yet.

The club members invited everyone to the trip they were organizing for the upcoming long weekend. The trip didn’t cost too much since we could use the university busses for free. The plan was to visit old colorful Anatolian towns to take photos and prepare an exhibition later.

But it was more of a social event; everyone would bring cheap wine, get drunk and have fun.

I thought “This is it!” This was going to be my tribe! When Mel said she couldn’t afford to go, I offered to pay for her; I was too afraid to go alone.

As an 18-year-old Turkish girl from a non-religious but still Muslim family, I had never consumed alcohol by then.

Excited, we withdrew lots of cash from the money machine, went to a bottle shop, and bought a few bottles of “dog killer,” meaning the cheapest wine money could buy. We shopped around for a little more and when it approached midnight, we headed for the bus.

When we got on, our earlier excitement turned to fear. We didn’t recognize anybody from the meeting, other than the club’s president who seemed too busy. We found two seats at the back and sat in silence.

I felt stupid for getting so excited about the trip. What was I thinking? Our backpacks were full of wine which was a source of embarrassment. What were we going to do with all those bottles?

Surprise!

About two hours after we hit the road, the president announced that he was about to collect the fees since we were going to stop to fill the tank. So I submerged my arm in my backpack, but I couldn’t feel my wallet.

I checked everything, all the pockets. Then I began to take each item out one by one. Emptied the whole pack, but my wallet was nowhere to be found!

Mel watched me with wide eyes. I was her sponsor; now what? We were both in panic and I was twice as ashamed.

When the president came to us I was desperate and couldn’t think of anything other than getting off. I was like “Throw us to the wolves! We deserve it!”

I wonder how the guy kept his straight face. He said “Come on, don’t worry about the fee. You’ll pay later.”

“But we literally have nothing. What are we going to eat for three days?”

I must add that it is the early 1990s, so no cellphones or internet banking.

“We are thirty people here, we can look after two girls.”

This was terribly embarrassing, I didn’t know what to say. How do you accept that kind of help from people you don’t even know?

The president pointed out the stuff from my backpack and he said “You know the best solution for situations like this? Dog killer.” Then he moved on to the next seat to pick the money and probably tell our story.

Mel and I looked at each other. There really was nothing we could do. We opened our first bottle and tasted it. It was sharp and sour like vinegar. But we didn’t know how it was supposed to taste like, so we went ahead and finished it.

I can hardly remember the rest of that night. There was lots of talking and singing involved. When we stopped at another service station towards the morning, I could hardly stand. Some guy helped me walk to the ladies' room and supported me while I threw up.

In the morning as we sobered up and walked through the muddy roads of an old village, everyone from the group made a point to talk to us. They asked how we lost our stuff, empathized, and told us not to worry about anything.

People all seemed genuinely caring, and I relaxed so much that I had no trouble laughing and joking about our predicament. I didn’t feel embarrassed or awkward at all, and I didn’t try to look good. It felt as if I knew these people forever and I didn’t need to pretend.

For the next three days, we went to beautiful old sites, took photos. Our group did look after us, they shared their food, paid for our hotel room (really cheap). Our friendship developed so naturally, I didn’t have to do anything special. I made thirty friends that weekend, and they are still my friends thirty years later.

After this trip my shyness disappeared. I became more trusting — and so popular that I didn’t even think about it anymore. When I told people how insecure and shy I used to be, they thought I exaggerated.

So what happened in practically a day? Was it just the booze? I don’t think so.

I accepted and embraced my vulnerability.

Alcohol definitely played a role to break the ice. But that wasn’t the whole story, because the effects of that night lasted forever even though I never developed a drinking habit. Rather, something clicked in my psyche.

When you feel inferior or insecure, you might want to put a distance between you and others. You might get rigid. Before the incident, I thought I was worthless. I didn’t want to look needy, so I always guarded myself.

When you surround yourself with that kind of invisible wall, you become invisible too. People don’t notice you or even when they do notice, they think you are “too good for them.” When you genuinely need help, it is easier to accept it.

And guess what, people don’t immediately assume that you are needy when you actually need something. We all need something. People can see that you are a normal human being, just like them. They find it much easier to empathize with you and feel for you.

I stopped living in my head.

Suddenly I had to deal with a bigger problem than my self-consciousness. When I realized I didn’t have my wallet, I was in an actual crisis rather than the one I invented for myself. I was no longer afraid to look fat or uninteresting or inexperienced.

When people offered help, I had real feelings of friendship and gratitude and I could act with these feelings. Before the incident, I somehow believed that I needed to prove that I was perfect. But with this event, I realized that wasn’t the case. In fact, I was accepted so easily because I wasn't perfect.

I now had a story to tell.

I didn’t have to think about what to tell people anymore. People were already asking me how I might have lost my wallet, where we went, if we needed something, etc. So I told them everything naturally.

Many of the people had similar experiences before, they knew how it felt to lose something important. When we shared these, one story led to another and we found out we had similar backgrounds, enjoyed similar things, etc.

After that, making friends at the university was much easier than at high school for me.

I found my tribe.

By choosing an activity I genuinely found interesting in the first place, I found people who were like me.

In my small town, there weren’t too many people like me. I couldn’t relate to most students in my high school even though I tried, and they couldn’t relate to me. The people at the photography club were so much like me.

Suddenly my atheism, my interest in western classical music and arts stopped being weird quirks and became “normal,” or “interesting.” People were genuinely curious about me, rather than finding me boring.

I had used the Ben Franklin effect.

I didn’t know about Benjamin Franklin’s hack about gaining supporters back then, but it still worked.

The idea is that when people do favors for someone, they make themselves believe that they actually like them. At the end of the trip, I was surprised to see that everyone in the group liked me. They hadn’t seen me as a burden at all. They were happy that I needed them, and that they could be helpful.

Final Thoughts

When we struggle with insecurities, we might think we need to fix ourselves. We might say “if I am perfect and I don’t need anyone, people will like me more” but the reality might be the opposite. Sometimes, being needed gives people good feelings. Helping others genuinely makes people happy.

Admitting that you need help, being open to receiving from others is also a skill. I am not suggesting you be a “taker,” because giving makes you happy too. A fulfilling life involves both giving and taking in a balance.

Once in a while, I still find myself insecure and shy, but as long as I direct my energy to something I care about, and focus on solving an outside problem, my self-consciousness disappears.

I can collaborate with others, give and receive help, build relationships much more easily.

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Nihan Kucukural

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Turkish copywriter and screenwriter, lover of stories, living in New Zealand


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