By Fayette Fox, Jaunty's Writer
Becki Bowers is a Bay Area native who was ready for a change. "I always had a good, small group of friends," says the office manager at a legal consulting firm in Oakland. But she felt anxiety meeting new people and sometimes found it difficult keeping conversations going.
About three years ago she had what she describes as "a conscious shift." She remembers thinking, "'I'm happy with my life, but it wasn't the life I wanted to be having. I'm doing it this year. I'm going to take a leap.' Maybe I was watching too many lifetime movies, who knows," she laughs.
Determined to put herself out there, she tried online dating, and learned about Meetup.com through her dad who was part of a bocce ball group. She started going to The Oakland East Bay Happy Hour Meetup group to meet new people and to learn about the Oakland downtown area. The group was a great fit for her and she appreciated how inclusive it felt. Becki says, "Everyone is welcome and folks are accepting even if you are a non-drinker."
In the group, some folks come back week after week and others are new. She worried about sounding not interesting and wasn't sure how to keep the conversation going. She must have done something right because she became an organizer for the group. But, she explains, "Then the pressure got even higher. I have legitimately high status in the group and I have to talk with people."
She heard about Jaunty through Meetup. She loved the free social intelligence workshop. She did the one-on-one and says, "[It] sounded like the class would be a good thing for me." Her work offers financial support for professional development and they paid for half of the six-week course.
When people heard she was taking a class on social skills, they were surprised she wanted to get better at talking with people, because they thought she was already great. She felt anxiety and they didn't know.
Becki remembers the six-week course being challenging and rewarding. "Eric makes you do these exercises that totally put you out of your comfort zone." She reviewed her notes on BART after class, practiced approaches in a mall at lunchtime, and tried out her new skills in her weekly Meetup group.
She remembers a time she went into a new bar to set up a Meetup. "I talked to the owner and had a drink or two, and started talking with some of the locals who were there." Before Jaunty she wouldn't have talked with the regulars and feels she would have sat by herself in the corner. "I remember feeling really good after that interaction."
Before Jaunty, when Becki talked with people, she had "preconceived expectations" about what she'd "get out of [the] experience." She'd think, "If I have this interaction, what's going to happen?" These days she has a different attitude towards conversations. "I learned from Jaunty not to worry about it and just enjoy the experience. I feel I have this confidence from taking the class if I need to talk with someone. I don't have this anxiety. I know how to have conversations with someone and approach."
Now that Becki is rocking her social skills and has said goodbye to social anxiety, she has become more thoughtful about who she wants to have in her life. "Always surround yourself with people you want to be around," she says. "Don't hang around people who aren't supporting you." She decided to distance herself from a friend who has a lot of drama in their life. "There are a lot of quality people out there who you can spend time with. I'm going to focus on that."
Who would benefit from Jaunty? Becki says, "It's a really great experience if you have any social anxiety or if you want to learn to talk with people more. Everyone can learn from it."
Becki is looking forward to a friend's party next week and is excited to Jaunty people there.
By Eric Waisman, Jaunty's Founder
Kurt Cobain sang, "I wish I was like you, easily amused" in the song "All Apologies". That line always had me thinking about my amusement level vs. others’. In my late teens, Kurt took up half a wall of posters and pictures in my room. I wish he’d been with us longer.
Everyone has different levels of amusement, especially when it comes to humor. I love hanging out with my toddler nephews who seem to always be laughing. People talk about having a high-pain threshold. I used to think I had a high-humor threshold. Growing up, I remember everyone laughing at shit that I didn't find at all funny. I’d get the joke, or the dysfunctionality of it, but it wasn’t funny to me.
So in my twenties, I started going to comedy shows, reading joke books, and performing improv theater. I watched sitcoms, movies, and humorous speeches. I found tons of stuff I loved and that made me not just want to seek out more, but to understand the mechanics of humor. I noticed the way Eddie Murphy smirked after a punchline. Why was that funny to me? When I found comedians I liked, I paid attention to their style and delivery, as well as subject matter.
I’ve been going to comedy shows recently here in SF with my girlfriend mostly because I love laughing out loud, but I’m also learning new nuances in body language and tonality. Of course, getting too technical with humor can kill the joy of it. Here at Jaunty we teach spontaneous, witty humor while keeping it fun and genuine. We’re not fans of canned jokes. We want that unique in-the-moment surprise, that create bonds.
It feels so good being around people who make us laugh. When we play with the world, we have more fun and we attract people who appreciate our playfulness and perspective. Writer and humorist Leo Rosten said, "Humor is the affectionate communication of insight." Creating irony and intrigue with humor are a big part of creating new connections and deepening older ones. With humor, we create a unique experience and move beyond stale, surface conversations. We like to go deeper with humor, hence the term: inside joke.
Laughing feels really good. Millions of years ago, it used to be a sign of "Everything is okay," or "The coast is clear. We’re safe." As in "It wasn’t a crocodile behind that tree, it was just a log!"
Humor is one of my favorite things in the world and I love teaching aspects of it. At Jaunty we believe that everyone can get better at humor. Yep, it’s a learnable skill just like the rest of social intelligence. You can get better at humor, no joke. As Barbara Walters once said, "A good laugh makes any interview, or any conversation, so much better." And as a crafty crocodile once said, "I’m pretending to be a log!"