When defending myself, I used to feel like a lychee fruit missing its skin, exposed, as though there was nothing of substance beneath the surface. Experience has taught me, however, that an inability to express myself will always hold me back.
I found a quick solution to my problem several years ago. Living in a small town, I noticed a T-shirt that read “Show Yourself” hanging in a store window. A thought occurred to me: if I had trouble speaking up for myself, maybe this T-shirt could break the ice and facilitate my ability to speak. I found this shirt’s message encouraging. I was compelled to buy it in hopes that by wearing a graphic shirt, I could let its words speak on my behalf. But I was too shy to ask the store employee for assistance. I grabbed the first shirt off the rack, disregarding its size.
This purchase began my addiction of finding and buying statement T-shirts, relieving me of any responsibility to speak up for myself. After a while, I transferred to a new school where the students were more liberal and diverse; consequently, I was more encouraged to express myself in this safe and tolerant environment where my fears naturally diminished. I began my path towards improved communications and self-expression by taking a public speaking class where I was forced to speak in front of others at length. My presentations in class went well; with the combination of inspirational t-shirts and much practice, I gradually gained confidence. After a few trials of wearing my graphic T-shirts as a lucky charm, I was able to fearlessly and confidently give long speeches before an audience.
I hadn’t realized, however, that public speaking is just a one-way form of communication; therefore, when I decided to push myself further by doing interviews for the school paper, problems arose. I continued wearing my graphic shirts, but I still struggled to suppress my nervousness and awkwardness while babbling long sentences during the interviews. I tried to communicate and engage with my interviewee fluidly while thinking that saying more meant I was improving my communication skills. At the end of my first interview, the student asked me, “Why does your shirt say, ‘Show Yourself?’”
Once again, I was at a loss for words. Of course, my intention had been to communicate and express myself better, but I had merely been throwing the shirt on for luck instead of actually considering what it really meant to show myself. I replied that the shirt reminded me to communicate openly with others; the interviewer was not convinced. Though I had been showing myself more, I was engaging in either one-way communication or accommodating myself to specific situations or audiences. I now know that I was not truly “showing myself.” I was still introverted and begging for the approval of others by changing how I acted around them.
In order to overcome this obstacle, I watched a TED talk by Celeste Headlee entitled 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation in which she explained that “A good conversation is like a miniskirt; short enough to retain interest, but long enough to cover the subject.” It hit me that my ability to communicate is not measured by verbosity but rather by conveying my message concisely and confidently.
I realize that “showing myself” does not simply mean standing and speaking in front of others but rather unapologetically being myself when my peers engage with me. It means not being timid or embarrassed when showing others who I really am, and not hesitating when speaking my truth. The shirt is the shell of the lychee, and my voice is the substance within. The next time someone asks me what my T-shirt means, I won’t hide behind its buzzwords. I can give them a real, honest answer. I have found my voice and am no longer afraid to speak up.