How do you develop your social skills and improve your social life when you're a naturally shy person? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Many years ago, I wasn't happy with my social life.
I was four years out of college, and I hadn't really made any new friends. I was even losing touch with my small set of college friends in the area. The 70-80 hour weeks that I worked at a startup weren't helping.
Small talk, big parties, socializing with people I didn't know well -- these activities all made me uncomfortable. Instead, I found comfort in working, reading, and learning on my own. Over time, I could depend on the shy introvert in me to make up excuses whenever social opportunities presented themselves.
An old friend might be visiting the area from out of town -- but I'd see that he'd be an hour's drive away and say that I was too tired to drive up after work and see him.
A co-worker might invite me to a party -- but I'd hedge and say that I'd attend if I was free, despite knowing that I had no intention of actually going.
A stranger would reach out over email for a coffee meeting -- but I'd ignore the request, telling myself that nothing would likely come up out of it.
My behavior didn't serve my goal of improving my social life, and a better social life was something that I craved. It took me a while to finally realize that the only person who could change my situation was myself. And, if I didn't change anything, nothing would fix itself on its own.
And so I made a new commitment to myself. For one year, I would say yes to every social invitation that came my way. No more excuses.
Want to grab coffee? Yes.
Want to get together after a long day of work, even if it meant an hour-long drive? Yes.
Want to go to a networking event where I didn't know anyone? Yes.
Saying yes was uncomfortable. Oftentimes, it was exhausting.
I showed up to startup parties where I didn't know anyone.
I walked up to strangers and struggled with small talk.
I endured awkward silences and smiled and nodded at topics that I didn't find interesting.
I didn't really know what I was doing -- except that I was committed to treating my year of yes as an experiment, an experiment to discover what might be possible in that discomfort.
And, I found the occasional gems. Sometimes, I would strike up a fulfilling and meaningful conversation with someone I met. Other times, I'd meet someone who would then invite me to another social event -- to which I'd say yes -- and the chain of events would become an opportunity for a deeper connection.
The most important outcome for that year of yes, however, was that I significantly stretched my capacity for discomfort and grew my comfort zone.
I shifted from approaching social skills with a fixed mindset -- believing that I was just naturally weak at these skills -- to viewing them with a growth mindset. I felt viscerally that, with practice, social skills could be improved just like any other skills. And improvements to my social life naturally followed.
That year was an inflection point in my life.
It marked the start of an addiction -- an addiction to all forms of personal growth. What other sources of discomfort limit me, and what can I do to stretch the limits of my comfort, in service of opening up what's possible?
Recently, I embarked on a challenge to have an uncomfortable conversation per day for 100 days. I asked a stranger on the street for money without making up any excuses. I told a co-worker he intimidates me. I had a deep conversation with a Lyft driver about our dreams. I don't succeed every day, but I know I grow stronger and more free with every uncomfortable conversation.
I know it's now more difficult for me to hold back urges to share any unsaid and uncomfortable truths. The uncomfortable and difficult conversation is often the one that most needs to be had -- and it's also the one that tends to hold us back from deeper connection with people.
My intention behind sharing this story is to let you know, that if this is the type of growth you want, it's possible for you. Make your own commitment to yes, and start stretching your capacity for discomfort.
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