I will never forget having to work through the noise coming from downstairs.
It would be a Thursday night and my roommates were throwing another party; and I was sitting upstairs, working on another fact pattern for my Business Law class, alone.
Part of that was because I was a varsity athlete overloading on classes due to transferring and taking 2 Master’s level classes (including this Business Law class) in a semester.
It was not easy. And honestly there were times I was happy not to be down there. But I also wanted to have the ability to be social. But big parties where I didn’t know a lot of people left me very anxious. I wanted to be able to at least socialize and meet some new people.
I was tired of always being holed up in my “Fortress of Solitude” (as one of my roommates called it, knowing that I’m a HUGE Superman fan).
And the advice that my friends gave were the generic, not helpful advice like “be yourself” or “just go talk to her.” So nothing was actually changing.
But what was I going to do? I didn’t have hours of time to deal with this.
I was taking 6 classes, had baseball practice, plenty of homework and still wanted to spend time with the people who were already my friends.
Acknowledge that This Won’t Be Quick & Easy and Embrace the Failure
Once you realize that this is a process, it will take a lot of pressure off you to start seeing BIG immediate wins. Instead, focus on quick wins. Smaller wins that show progress, but also take less effort and you will get less resistance from yourself when trying to accomplish (i.e. instead of talking that gorgeous girl at the party with 80 people, try talking to just one nice stranger at the mall…even if they’re 80 years old).
By making small incremental steps, you will be able to see progress and work your way up to having those big wins you desire. The smallest step I took would be going to see one of my friends or teammates when they were with a group of people I didn’t know. I already had a friend there and it made it easy to get introduced.
Soon some of those guys became my friends and we would hang out between classes or converse when we saw each other at parties. All because of a simple step forward.
But the pressure will be much smaller because your “change” will be significantly smaller than if you tried to dive in to the hardest challenges right off the bat.
Also, understand that you will not be successful every single time. Some people will be rude or reject your simply talking to them. This is normal. Everyone has this happen to them. The key is to accept that it will happen and embrace it. The faster you find these people, the faster you will find the ones who will give you a more pleasant response.
Budget How Much Time You Want
The first thing that I had to admit was that this was not going to be something that I could focus a ton of time on.
And that was okay.
My schoolwork, my baseball responsibilities and my job as a bouncer (to pay my rent) all had to come first. They were the reasons I was really at school, so I could not shirk them for this new goal.
I had to find a way to build it around my current lifestyle and commitments.
We shouldn’t be throwing out things that are priorities or interests to make this work. We all have other things to do besides learn this.
So after you budget your time for your other interests and responsibilities, schedule in some socializing time in those free blocks you still have left over. The reality is that giving up your other aspects of your life to focus on being more social would be counterproductive because it would take away much of the person you are. Those interests, hobbies and responsibilities are all important tools you can use to become more social.
Instead, focus on the minimum amount of time you think you would need to start making progress. Maybe week one you only need an hour to walk around the local mall and chat up a stranger about that awesome motivational poster they’re looking at (I love telling people about this poster), or the fine Italian suit they’re trying on.
Week two you might need three or four hours to go to a Meetup and go to happy hour with your co-workers. The key is to budget the time into your schedule so you know EXACTLY when it is going to happen. Otherwise it can easily be pushed off to “later,” and later never seems to happen.
Use Your Passions as an Ally
One of the easiest way to get out of your shell is to talk about your passions. Typically we are very excited about talking about the things we are passionate about, even if it’s with strangers (think about how random people can come together at a sports bar watching the game because they both LOVE the sport or the team etc.).
Sometimes it can be as easy as being on the same sports team. My best friend in college was also my teammate (and, at the time, our starting second baseman). I was our starting first baseman and our natural love of baseball and our connection as the starting right side of the infield created a natural, easy friendship that still lives on to this day (I was the best man in his wedding).
I met one of my best friends at school at one of these parties because we both loved watching football on the weekends. We could talk about it all day, and sometimes we did grilling delicious food at his place and watching the games.
Another friend became (and still is) one of my best friends in the world after one of the most epic college football video game battles of all time. But to get there, we had to first start talking about it. We both loved the game, and were both looking for someone to play with. We became virtually inseparable after that (and I’ll be one of his co-best men at his wedding this month).
The last one that really brought me closer with friends was after I quoted Ivan Drago (the giant Russian boxer in Rocky IV). It kicked off my shared passion in movies with one guy in particular. And it made it very easy to talk to someone who I had just met about 10 minutes before that. To this day, we still talk on the phone every few weeks.
The best part of talking your passions (beyond just the natural excitement you get while doing it) is that it will naturally attract or repel people from you. The ones who share your interests, and thus are a good fit, will be drawn into interacting with you while those that are not interested in those topics probably weren’t a good fit anyway.
Breaking out of your shell is not an easy thing to. My friends in college, while good natured with their advice, did not provide the answers I needed.
But if you focus on things that you can control: your effort, your schedule, the people you hang out with and the topics that you discuss, you will be surprised at your progress.
You do not have to become the center of attention to be more social and be able to enjoy more events.
I applied these principles and the results I saw were fantastic. One of my roommates noticed this as well and he bought me this Superman figure because “he is breaking out his shell…just like you.”
While a small gift, I have kept this gift to this day (it sits on the top of one of my bookcases); as it is one of my favorite gifts.
Not because of what it was, but because it symbolized that great change.
How would it feel if your friends recognized such a change in your life? Let me know in the comments.