I used to have unbearable social anxiety. And paranoia.
It wasn’t quite so bad back in the Ukraine when I was a kid. Back then, I was just like the other little Eastern European children – fair-haired, short, and perpetually wearing a look of mild concern.
Then, we moved to Canada. Then, I went through puberty in grade 4. I also loved eating mayonnaise.
So there I was, this chubby, short, overdeveloped nine-year-old with a thick accent and poor social skills. To say that the kids were ruthless would be an understatement.
I became one of those people who, walking into any sized crowd, could say just one word and have everyone staring at me like I had horns coming out of my head.
After a long, grueling struggle of trying to fit in, I stopped trying. I focused on my schoolwork. I kept my head down.
As I got used to keeping my head down, I also began to imagine what was going on in the world around me. I imagined people looking at me, judging me, picking me apart.
After a while, I never thought to look up.
One day, I found alcohol. It was this beautiful nectar that turned “Oh, god people are looking at me!” to “Oh yeah, people are looking at me!!”
Fast forward 10 years, I’m addicted, suicidal, and hopeless.
In the midst of violent self-destruction, I hit rock bottom. As I was picking up the pieces of my life, trying to put them back together, I could only heal so much by myself. Eventually, I had to reach out. I had to look up.
I still remember the freedom of looking around me, realizing that people weren’t really judging and criticizing me at all. I remember the laughter that escaped from my lips as I realized that I didn’t have to hide, that people were kind and welcoming after all.
And, now, people like me, and not just because they’ve heard of my work. I can (and do) start conversations with complete strangers that end up in authentic connections and mutual grins.
So what’s the secret? What’s the secret to making people like you?
I know you’re probably expecting me to say something like “Be yourself.” That’s important and it’s definitely a pre-requisite to what I’m about to share, but it’s not the lesson.
The secret, the real secret, to making people like you is this:
Stop obsessing about yourself. Think about them.
Anyone who’s ever had social anxiety, paranoia, or had to have a few drinks to dance, talk, or make love has simply been over-focusing on themselves. Will he like me? What will she think of me? How will they react? What will they think when I do this?
When we’re thinking about the judgment of others or when we’re seeking for their approval, we’re overfocusing on trying to make ourselves into something special. Thus, we enter social situations trying to present ourselves as desirable, cool, and calm. Thus, we end up looking like fools, because we’re playing a part.
Of course, we don’t do this by accident. Every day, we’re sold on the idea that we must “become” likable. We must buy this product and that product, simply to be accepted. We’re not enough as we are, they tell us. So we try to become good enough.
In a world where everyone is trying to become good enough, everyone’s just stuck in their own heads. A person who actually shows interest in another person is a breath of fresh air.
The truth is – you can’t look deeply at a person without allowing them to look deeply into you. And that is how we form real connections – we see and we allow ourselves to be seen.
If you want people to like you, first learn to like people. Show some interest. Be curious. Ask questions. Notice what they’re good at. Give genuine compliments. Pay attention. Get out of your own head!
We’re all perfect, just the way we are. And when we allow ourselves to experience it, we can actually experience each other. And that is the experience of a lifetime. That is what we life for – to connect deeply, to experience deeply, and to appreciate the magic in every pair of eyes.