By Joe Hill, Jaunty graduate
There is something special about moving to a new place. Everything that you've done in the past becomes irrelevant. Cliché says, "You can be whoever you want to be; no one knows you." What happens, though, when you try to be someone else but continue the same behavior? Nothing.
I moved to San Francisco in April of 2015. In the year prior, I lost 100 pounds and taught myself about men's style. I'd created a website to help other men become remarkable in their own health and fitness. I was determined that, as I left my old life to begin anew in body, spirit and career, I was going to be different.
I realized quickly, though, that I didn't know how to be anyone else. My entire life, I'd thrived on the affirmation of others. I needed everyone's approval. I was fat and sloppy and relied on the "funny guy routine" to get other people to like me. It never mattered what I wanted; my job was to become a chameleon to my surroundings because that's how I obtained the approval of others.
It was my goal to change. It's an interesting place to be ready to change but not to know how. As the Buddhist proverb would have it, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." Enter Jaunty.
I'd lived in California for four days when I went to a free Jaunty workshop, and five when I met Eric Waisman for a one-on-one. I was eager to dive in and dive I did.
The six-week course was valuable. The treasure of Jaunty is that you leave each class with the courage, knowledge, and drive to begin to change. I would begin the homework with just enough gallantry to make one small change, then another.
There was a specific change that I struggled to make about halfway through the class. I didn't know it then, but this one change, this single experience, would open the floodgates of progress and put me in a place where my life was completely changed. That struggle was familiar to many of us and is known commonly as "approach anxiety"; Seeing an attractive person and feeling unable to start talking to them.
While working with Jaunty coach Craig Gibbons in a one-on-one session, I saw her: the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.
"Go," Craig encouraged me.
"Go now," he commanded.
I was stunned. To Craig, this was normal and within the bounds of where my progress should have lied. To me, however, she was an angel with no interest in talking to me. I became overwhelmed and stunned.
"Go make her day," he said in a final effort. Light bulb. I finally understood that it wasn't about me. She was going to be excited about this. He was right. I approached and as soon as I began speaking, the anxiety subsided. Her soft features were countermanded by the smile that stretched across her face. She was glowing. It was in this moment that I realized that I have the capacity to be the person who goes after what I want in every area of my life.
In a new city where I accepted the challenge and wasn't sure what to expect from Jaunty, I left the course with a new skill-set, new confidence, and new friends. All of that is mute in comparison to my new mindset. At the end of the course we were asked, "What is your biggest takeaway?"
I said, "I am allowed to have the edge. I am allowed to have what I want. I am allowed to have the girl, the job, the friends; I am allowed."
By Elenzia Thompson, Jaunty graduate
How does this happen? How does a socially anxious woman go from hiding in her protective shell, to venturing out, taking risks and allowing herself to be vulnerable to the thing that torments her the most?
"You're unapproachable." "Why are you so quiet?" "You're a snob." "What's wrong, are you angry?" These are a few of the statements I heard from others, at work, social functions, parties, bars and night clubs. Hearing people's assumptions about me became the reason I cowered and closed myself off from the world.
Surely, there was a valid explanation for my aloofness. I kept myself in prison because I allowed the opinions of others to determine my self worth. This definitely wasn't an empowering way to live. Although I feared how people would perceive me, I actually craved human closeness and social interaction. After battling with myself for a number of years, I determined that I didn't want to be in prison for life. I needed to do something different.
I joined a car club after buying a muscle car. I got involved in martial arts. I was featured in a comic anthology. I discovered Meetups. But I struggled to keep conversations flowing, and engaging strangers, especially with men that I had found attractive. I definitely gave myself credit for taking risks, finding new things that interested me, and getting out of my shell to meet new people. But I soon discovered that my fear and social skill deficits, continued to hold me back. I started reading about social anxiety and found Jaunty.
When I signed up for the free workshop, I didn't know what to expect. I knew it was very important to me to get over my fear of rejection when introducing myself to strangers. I knew that I wanted to improve my eye contact and conversational agility, believing it would bolster my confidence. I knew that I wanted to make new friends. Ultimately, I no longer wanted fear to color every social interaction I encountered. When I finished the workshop, I had made significant progress, reducing my social anxiety, and met awesome people who shared similar struggles to my own.
A few months after completing the six-week course, I'm definitely more confident. I introduce myself to strangers, give compliments, ask questions, have strong eye contact, and hold down conversations with ease.
Still, life has its way of throwing social challenges my way and things don't always go like I'd hope. Over the summer, I went on a Meetup hike with a large group of strangers. I made an effort to introduce myself to everyone. Unfortunately some people weren't very friendly and I was left behind. It was a painful experience, but afterwards, I reminded myself of how far I had come. I didn't allow one afternoon with strangers to discourage me from pushing myself socially. I'm proud of myself for being so resilient.
This resilience keeps paying off in wonderful ways. I've participated in a number of activities and events where I've met lots of great people. For whatever reason, now when sharing stories with strangers, they're often inclined to share their food with me -- a touching gesture of friendship. I've also been told that I'm very outgoing, radiant, and easy to talk to. People tell me my smile is beautiful and inviting. Many people actually start conversations with me now.
I've discovered that I have the power to choose who I want in my life, so it's no big deal if one stranger isn't receptive to my offerings of friendship. That's their choice. Challenging my fears and misconceptions about social interactions has resulted in powerful changes in my life. There is nothing out there that will keep me from being open to meeting people. I have an amazing story to share because of where I was and where I am now. I look forward to sharing this story with new friends and I'm excited to hear their amazing stories too!