By Fayette Fox, Jaunty's writer
“I always kind of focused on social improvement,” says recent college graduate, Kaiwen Sun. Born in China he moved to Portland, Oregon with his family when he was five. Growing up he was, “pretty shy and quiet.” He now works as an IT consultant in San Francisco.
“In college I was less shy. But I still hadn’t figured out how to talk to people. I would ask way too many questions. I would try and make other people talk.” He had a tight group of friends who he felt at ease around, but who weren’t interested in meeting new people. Kaiwen did, but found it hard to build rapport. “I never felt like the conversation was really rolling.” On dates, he says, “The hardest thing was knowing how long to make eye contact. I was over thinking it. I think it came off that I was nervous.”
After college Kaiwen went traveling for a year in Asia and Africa. He talked with people all day and became more comfortable approaching strangers and having conversations.
“People expect you to talk about yourself. ‘Why is he here?’ They’re maybe a little suspicious.” He’d explain what he was doing there and they’d feel more comfortable. That’s when he realized you can’t just ask questions. You need to tell them about yourself.
He met a guy from Barcelona, named Octavi, who’d been traveling in Africa for a year. They biked together for three weeks. Kaiwen was impressed how his friend used humor to build rapport with West African border guards, wiggle out of bribes, and get discounts from hotels. Kaiwen learned a lot from him and caught his first glimpse of what’s possible socially.
But when Kaiwen moved back to the States, he struggled socially and stopped talking with strangers as much. “I found it hard to bring the social skills I had learned while traveling back here.”
“Then I found Jaunty. At first I was a little skeptical. I was in the 1:1 with [Jaunty’s Founder] Eric and he said, ‘Just play. It’s about playing with the situation. Don’t worry about what to say.’ That was the exact same thing Octavi said.”
Kaiwen signed up for Jaunty’s six-week course on social intelligence. His class developed a tight bond which motivated him to work hard practicing social skills with strangers outside of class. “We created this mindset that it’s okay to do this. All my friends are doing this. Hearing their stories, I thought I can do this too.”
“Before I had this [class] I thought that I only connected well with certain types of people. I thought I was stuck in that trap forever. This is why I was kind of uncomfortable to approach people.” Indeed, initially Kaiwen only talked with some of the people in his class. As the class went on he realized everyone had such different personalities but he found a way to connect and talk with all of them.
“I improved so much in the period after Jaunty. Before I would have never dreamed of approaching people on the street. It’s still a bit hard for me but I know I can do it.”
“That traveling period and Jaunty were the two most important things to happen to me socially in my whole life. I feel pretty happy about where I’m going. “Before I was [uncomfortable] approaching people at the party, even friends of friends. Now because I can approach strangers too, friends of friends feel pretty easy.” Kaiwen approaches lots of people and say, “Even if I can’t make a connection, I can at least talk with them.” He appreciates the conversational agility techniques he learned at Jaunty and now knows how to always have something to say and build rapport. He goes out a lot with Jaunty classmates and everyone brings their friends. He likes discovering new bars and places with people.
As for dating, Kaiwen feels he still needs to work on the “contact close” — a technique to casually and confidently ask for someone’s phone number. “Before, I thought I wasn’t afraid of rejection. Now I realize I am.” So he’s been practicing the direct approach with strangers to keep honing his social intelligence skills. He’s getting into the mindset that it’s normal to exchange contact info.
“I feel like my personal anxiety has definitely gone down a lot since Jaunty. It’s kind of amazing how it happened. For me the goal was to talk to a few people at a party. Not to be the life of the party because I’m not that person. The thing with Jaunty is it’s pretty simple. Your mindset grows along with the skills. You really do become a person who everyone wants to talk to. There’s really not that much difference between the guy who's the life party and the guy in the corner. It’s just a few skills. The guy who’s the life of the party just sees things a little differently and says what’s on his mind. Sometimes I feel like that guy. I’m like wow, I’m just standing here and people keep coming up to me and talking with me. I’m this person today who I would have thought it was impossible for me to be. You do these little things that add up. In the end you see the social situation in a different way.”
By Eric Waisman, Jaunty's Founder
Whoever invented the selfie stick must be a billionaire by now. I recently got back from traveling to Israel for a family wedding and then Greece to spend time with family and friends. It was a great trip. In Greece I spent most of my time in Oia on Santorini. You'd recognize the town from calendar photos even if you don't know the name. The place is stunning with pastel houses nestled into the hillside, overlooking the Mediterranean. Everywhere I went I saw tourists taking selfies like their whole trip revolved around it. Just being in this beautiful place wasn't enough. They wanted to show it off to the folks at home, former co-workers, and old friends they haven't seen since high school.
This desire for external validation and "fame" is all part of what I call the Big Me movement. Big Me is about curating the perception of you on social media. It means playing the role of celebrity and paparazzi. It means broadcasting a very specific side of your life and pretending that the dull moments, disappointments and insecurities don't exist.
We live in the Big Me generation, but we can choose another route instead. I call it the "Under the Radar Route." I love this route. One of the most well-connected and powerful friends I have, taught me a long time ago to come across as the "little guy."
Here are some ideas to play with getting less external validation.
1. Try taking a fun trip without checking-in at the airport or posting any pictures of it. I love exploring new places, even for a weekend. Most of my experiences are not well documented, and those are sometimes the best ones.
2. Help a co-worker, business partner, or loved one with something big, and don't take any credit for it. In fact, give them all the credit.
3. Simplify your life. Less is more. No need to keep up with your neighbors, you only need to keep up with you. When I sold my house and downsized my possessions and the people in my life, I was way happier. I realized I got a lot more out of life once I was surrounded by quality people who taught me things and who I really care about. Also talk less. I talk a lot in a work context, but outside I try and listen more.
4. Cut back on social media. My social media pages suck and that's a good thing. Seriously, they don't represent me at all because I've stopped actively adding to them all the time.
5. Say no to some experiences. If you feel like you are going to some party or event because you have to for someone else, or it'd be good for your reputation...then, umm, don't go every time. Go to the ones that will help you grow and that you will enjoy.
Enjoy the moments you have. Take pictures for nostalgia or to share with loved ones who really do care. Be aware of your motivations. Before you click, ask yourself why you're posting something and what a "like" means to you. If it's too much for other people, try reining in that Big Me mentality and living your life for you.
Have other ideas for putting Big Me in check and weaning ourselves off external validation? I'd love to hear from you.
By Fayette Fox, Jaunty's Writer and Community Manager
During "smoke stops" the train stopped long enough for passengers to get off for some fresh air (or a cigarette). My favorite smoke stop ritual involved racing back and forth along the platform with Tyler and four of our new friends.
Tyler and I were on our way to DC for the holidays. Because we had the time and like an adventure, we decided to take the train from California instead of flying. We planned to break up the three-and-a-half day trip, visiting friends in Madison, Wisconsin, where Tyler used to live. Everyone we told thought it sounded really cool. Folks who had taken the train before, told us how social it would be.
And it was. I Jauntied my first passenger in the Emeryville station. On board, I chatted with a few people, but spent most of the first day relaxing. I kept my phone off, enjoying being unplugged. I read and ate clementines. Initially, I didn't have the energy to socialize much.
The second day, I was ready to put myself out there, and connected with lots of people. It was a good reminder to be gentle with myself and not feel like I have to be social all the time when I need to recharge.
Passing through the Rockies, I successfully "cold read" Laura, a woman in her sixties who is into long-distance, solo hiking. Kat had just finished a year at an educational farm and decided to take the train back to Pennsylvania, rather than flying, to ease into the next chapter of her life and figure out what to do next. It was touching seeing her draw monsters with Emma, a seven-year-old Australian. I loved talking with the Aussie family who were starting a fifteen-month trip through India and Nepal.
In connecting with people, I discovered everyone was taking the train for one of three reasons:
1. They were afraid of flying.
2. They wanted an adventure. Or in a few cases,
3. It was cheaper.
Tyler and I fell into the second category. Here, people in the first group could talk openly about their flying phobias and no one would make fun of them. But apparently they'd gotten a lot of flak from people at home.
"Why on earth are you taking the train?" People scoffed. "So you had some bad turbulence once? Get over it."
This got me thinking about "frame." When Tyler and I told friends and family we were taking the train, they all thought it was really cool.
Yet when the anxious fliers mentioned their plans, people made fun of them. It's the same trip. The difference is perception. Tyler and I framed our trip as a fun adventure and so everyone we talked to saw it that way. The flying phobics framed their trip in terms of their fear. They were not flying as opposed to embracing the train.
Similarly, everyone on the train was so friendly, approaching strangers felt totally normal. I hung onto this frame off the train too. Our longest smoke stop was in Denver, where Tyler and I ran off the train into the grand, new station. I laughed with the woman in the ice cream shop and struck up a conversation with a South African photographer. I felt like I was bursting with magnetism and didn't think it was remotely strange to talk with anyone. And because I believed it was totally normal, so did they.
"All aboard!" Choo-choo!
This blog was originally published in Jaunty's September newsletter.
By Eric Waisman
When you own it, some strangeness can impress and intrigue.
Look around you. Most people do their best to conform and fit in...like it's a good thing. But when it comes to being memorable or attractive, blending in spells certain death.
When I studied abroad in Israel, I joined a group of 500 students from all over the world, all excited to establish our places socially. In the first few days, cliques formed and a few beautiful, alpha females and loud, good-looking alpha males, started rising to the top of the social hierarchy. When the alphas got together, they wore tight shirts and used very loud (sometimes drunk) voices. Meanwhile I tried to meet people across all different groups to see who I liked.
I had accidentally enrolled in a Hebrew language class that was way too advanced for me. Instead of learning basic words, this class was already working on advanced storytelling. I felt like an alien. I ended up saying really weird phrases, but owning the fact that I probably sounded ridiculous. This may have come off as independent and creative, I have no idea. Interestingly, I started getting a lot of attention from the other students.
On the weekends, I sometimes disappeared from the group as my cousins showed me around Israel. As I got immersed in the culture, I started dressing, talking, eating, and acting like Israelis. I'd come back to the group, tanned and full of great stories. They listened, eager as I shared tips about the best hotspots around us. I was unknowingly leading, and I started holding very strong eye contact, which Israelis are accustomed to. For an unknown reason I also started to use darker humor.
I quickly realized that almost everyone wanted to hang out with me, including the alpha females. I wasn't trying to impress anyone. I was just exploring, experimenting, and doing what was interesting to me. It turned out my being a bit different was interesting to a lot of other people too.
Think back on some of your first few weeks at school while you were growing up. How did you establish yourself socially? What would you do now to either be yourself or try to fit in? Think about the kids you admired in your schools and what they did to stand out. Now I urge you to celebrate your quirks rather than hide them. Have fun expanding and exploiting what is uniquely you. Now, go and be your weird self.
By Adrian Robinson, Jaunty graduate
What is a social economic immigrant? How can someone born in a country be unaware of its social norms, cues, and customs? Where do you learn these social skills?
I was born in Washington, DC. You might be picturing the US Capitol, the White House, and the Monument. Unfortunately, I was not born in this part of DC. Imagine a neighborhood rife with drugs and violence. As a result, social interactions were driven by people suffering from anger and depression. People were trust-averse and therefore unable to fully emotionally invest in social interactions.
I attended urban public schools until I entered the University of Maryland. Suddenly I realized my upbringing hadn't prepared me to interact with conventional society. I was able to navigate academic and professional interactions, but socially I could be awkward. My sophomore year, I was eating dinner with floormates in the cafeteria, when one of them reached over my plate to grab the salt shaker. In my old neighborhood, reaching over someone's food is a sign of disrespect and I responded with a confrontational, "What's up?" Everyone at the table was shocked. It was clear that I had overreacted. It did not feel good.
My sense of humor turned out to be my saving grace in college. After graduating, I interned on Capitol Hill and performed stand up comedy. I moved to Colorado to work on the Obama 2012 campaign, where I loved interacting with campaign staff, volunteers, and voters. The campaign was the first time I felt like a member of a social community, not a visitor. After helping to organize the inauguration, I moved to San Francisco. Suddenly I couldn't hide my social awkwardness behind politics and public policy, so I hid behind business and technology.
My professional life excelled while my social life failed. I needed to change. I researched social intelligence and discovered Jaunty. I attended the free workshop and signed up for private coaching which was a better fit for my schedule than the six-week course. Each session felt empowering, as Eric coached me on conversational agility, body language, and touch. Immediately, I was able to connect with people on a social level. Complete strangers from coffee shops and bookstores invited me to their parties and social events. The social dynamic of my existing relationships expanded too. I felt like a member of a community again, but my community was not limited to political thinkers.
Wanting to test my social progress, last September I traveled to Portland, OR for a week. It was a birthday gift to myself in the form of a social challenge: to visit a new city and use my social skills to find fun activities. I spent my days approaching strangers to find the best places to eat, drink, and party. On my birthday, I met some local artists in a bar who invited me to their art show, a tribute to the 20th anniversary of The Notorious B.I.G.'s "Ready to Die" album, one of my all time favorite albums. The event was the best birthday gift and the trip was the best week of my life. I avoided social awkwardness without using politics or business talk as a crutch. After returning from Portland, I felt like an immigrant who was awarded his green card.