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When I was very young, my mother used to tell me, I was bright, sociable and very outgoing. I'd walk up (or toddle up) to total strangers, and start a conversation. I could (and would) talk about anything to anybody, any time. My mother used to worry that I'd just go wandering off with a complete stranger, involved in a deep conversation, not caring where I was going.

All that changed as my childhood unrolled. We moved from pillar to post. I would make friends and then, in a few months, lose them as we moved yet again. Everything I owned had to fit into a footlocker; if it didn't fit, it was given away. I attended 21 different elementary schools and by the time I reached junior high school I was shy and insecure.

Not just your ususal shy, either. I was so insecure that if a teacher called on me in class (and you know I always knew the answer) I would start to cry. Instructors left me alone, though they always gave top grades on my report cards.

A couple of teachers coached me through verbal class reports. Where I was coached and prepared, I could force my way through the awful experience of standing up in front of the class. Again, it wasn't that I hadn't done the research and written the report and designed and built the model and knew my subject inside and out; it was that I was so shy.

College years were somewhat easier, as I attended the same university for four years (stability!) and made friends, even though I knew we would separate at the end of our senior year. I could put on the mantle of academic and make reports in classes and read papers. But still, personally, I was very shy.

When John Kennedy proposed the Peace Corps, I jumped at the chance to serve. During training I was quiet and reserved (stop laughing, those of you who know me; it's true!). I flunked out of Peace Corps training for being too timid and withdrawn.

I went home and did some serious thinking. I realized that if I was going to follow my dream of being of service to my fellow human beings and lead a productive life, I was going to have to reach past my fears and engage with others.

I went back for a second try at the Peace Corps and passed with flying colors, voted the "most dynamic and intelligent" of my group.

My Peace Corps years had successful community organization/development projects for my village in India, but perhaps the greatest personal success was that I learned how to engage with other people. I still require periods of solitude, times when I am quiet and recharge the batteries.

And then back into the fray I go.

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