I discovered Jaunty through a housemate. She was surprised I was interested. My mom was too. They both saw me as so social. But I had social anxiety just like everyone does to some degree. Maybe I just did a decent job hiding it.
I had moved to London after college. It was the early 2000s and global perception of the U.S. was pretty low. I felt ashamed of my Americanness and desperately wanted to fit in. Americans were loud and outgoing, so I made myself quieter and more reserved. I made friends through grad school, work and my book group, but rarely approached strangers. There were times I wanted to be more boldly social, but I held myself back because people were guarded and I was afraid of breaking some unspoken taboo.
When I moved back to the States nearly a decade later, I initially felt like a stranger in my own country. I didn’t know what the rules were anymore.
After living in San Francisco for a year and a half, I had some friends I liked a lot, but hadn’t cultivated the community I really wanted yet. I was a writer, working part-time as a nanny, which meant I was often either hanging out with a toddler, or alone, writing. I’d become good at connecting with people I had things in common with, but wasn’t sure how to keep a conversation going with everyone else. Sometimes I felt friendly, outgoing and poised. But other times I felt awkward, speaking quickly and stumbling over my words.
Around week two I realized for as much as I loved London, I’d picked up some bad habits out there. I’d internalized a laundry list of assumptions about how to behave – don’t interrupt (it’s rude), don’t approach strangers (they’ll think you’re a crazy American), etc. etc. These rules might have made sense for London, but in San Francisco they were holding me back from connecting with people.
Jaunty assigned homework and paired us with another student as an “accountability partner”. Every day I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone, stopping strangers in the street, experimenting with different types of humor and getting people’s phone numbers. I felt like I was discovering a totally new way of being in the world. I even learned how to connect with people even when we have very little in common. Learning new people skills was exciting and I felt I was making real progress. A huge breakthrough came when I successfully befriended a woman on an elevator, something I never could have done pre-Jaunty.
Now the course has ended and I’m still working on my different Jaunty skills. I feel like I’m getting back to my original, authentic self. I’m more confident and realize if I give in to social anxiety, I’m only holding myself back. I feel like I’m starting to create the community I want. And thanks to Jaunty, I now know I can strike up a conversation with anyone and make friends everywhere I go.