Back in January, I invited a friend to visit me in Puerto Vallarta where I live in the winter. This was his first visit, and he fell in love with the city and the people just like I have. After spending a few days hanging out with me he made the comment that everywhere I went, people knew me – Mexicans and gringos. He started calling me the mayor of Puerto Vallarta because I seemed so well connected and liked.
Here’s the thing. I’m naturally an introvert, but only people who know me well would know this. I am social everywhere I go, but I’m not a natural at it.
Neither of my parents was very socially skilled, and my father was a virtual recluse when he passed away.
So being social is something I have had to work at. Now I have been doing it for so long, it feels more natural and second-nature.
But I am still an emotional introvert. I need alone time and private space to recharge my emotional battery. Being with people opens the doors to adventure for me but doesn’t naturally energize me.
In high school and college, I always felt awkward in social situations or around new people. It always took time for me to warm up to people, and I was never good at approaching strangers. As a result, I often felt lonely and isolated.
The few girlfriends I had were the product of months of getting to know each other. I believed that women weren’t attracted to me at first meeting, but if they got to know me, they would really like me. Once I did get a girlfriend, I often hung on way too long because of my anxiety about the long process of finding another one.
As an adult, whenever I attended professional meetings or other gatherings, I felt on the outside looking in. It always looked easier for other people to make connections than for me.
This surprises most of the men who meet me in a group, workshop, or class. They see me as this naturally outgoing guy, even cocky, and assume it’s easy for me to connect with people. Often they credit my success with meeting people and approaching women to being naturally outgoing. The opposite is true.
Some men even dismiss that what I teach about approaching and connecting with women will work for them, because they aren’t naturally outgoing. Well I’m not either, and I tell them if I can learn to be social, so can they.
Bottom line, I am an introvert who loves being around people. I love dinners, gatherings, team sports, and road trips with the guys. Because I am self-employed, I spend most of my days in coffee shops doing my work on my laptop. I know the names of every barista who serves me and I talk to the people around me. I have made most of my friends just from talking to people in public places.
We need people. Evolution has wired us to connect. Our ancestors who connected well survived and passed their genes on to us. Those who didn’t connect didn’t survive and therefore didn’t pass on their genetic tendency.
We are wired to need people. Social connections enrich life on every level. But not everyone is naturally good at it.
A lot of the men I work with are just like me –introverted, shy, and socially anxious. They crave connection, because this is how they are wired, but they also lack the natural skills and confidence to relate to strangers and new acquaintances. It is easier to stay insolated and avoid situations that might trigger anxiety or make them feel awkward or look foolish. Since they don’t work at learning how to connect, nothing ever changes. Most resign themselves to a life of isolation, loneliness, frustration, and resentment.
Miracles happen around people. Every time I walk out my door, I expect a miracle. I love waking up every morning, not knowing how my day is going to end. For most introverts, however, this feels like hell.
Here is the good news: everyone – including natural introverts – can expand his or her social and emotional intelligence. It is challenging and takes work, but it can be done.
Here is the excuse I hear from most introverts when it comes to developing new social skills and social influence: “I’m an introvert, it makes me anxious to talk to people, and it’s just easier for others.”
It’s like, “That’s it, end of story.”
You know what? Everyone – introverts and extroverts – has to challenge themselves in one way or another to grow and mature. Getting out of his or her comfort zone makes everyone anxious. That is how we are all alike.
So do introverts have to stretch themselves more than extroverts to be social? Probably. But that doesn’t mean an introvert has any more anxiety than the extrovert while stretching him or herself.
Introverts don’t have more fear than extroverts. They just fear different things.
The bottom line is that using your introversion or shyness as an excuse to not challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone is just that, an excuse. Personally, I have never grown in any significant way that didn’t initially scare the shit out of me.
So how did I get to be the Mayor of Puerto Vallarta?
Here are some of the ways I have developed social confidence and influence. I suggest you regularly do the same.
Get out of your house and talk to people. Most introverts tend to spend a lot of time alone and get addicted to routines. This is why I end every Dating Essentials Podcast with the admonition, “Get out of your house, expand your route, linger in public, talk to the people you meet, test for interest, and walk through the open doors.”
There is just no substitute for getting out and around people and practicing your social skills. I often say that, unless you have a living room full of people, you aren’t going to experience any miracles. Get out of the house.
Get out of your head. Most socially-reserved people live in their heads. Their internal chatter is incessant. They also tend to be pretty narcissistic in that they are always concerned about how people might perceive them. They live in constant dread that someone (anyone, including strangers) might think something negative of them. They also fear looking foolish in any way.
Remind yourself, you aren’t that important to anyone else. No one is thinking about you near as much as you imagine. If you do cross someone’s radar, you won’t stay there for long. Stop thinking about you, and take the time to get to know other people.
Learn people’s names. I admit, this is challenging for most people – it is for me. Evolution didn’t wire us to have to remember names. Our ancestors lived in small tribes and knew everybody. We didn’t even need names until the last few thousand years. That means that learning and remembering names is not natural for most of us. Because of this, I make asking, learning, and remembering peoples names the foundation of my social interaction. Learning names makes other people feel important and helps keep you present when you meet a person for the first time. If I can learn to remember names, so can you. Work on it.
Take the time to be social. When I was married and realized I no longer had any male friends, I had to face the fact that I didn’t make time to be social. Get out of your house and spend time around people. Accept invitations. Let your guard down. Don’t avoid or rush away from social encounters. Make time.
Finally, honor your need for quiet and isolation. Being social will probably never be how you get your emotional batteries recharged. It will often be draining. So in order to consistently challenge yourself to be social, you have to take the time to recharge yourself in your own quiet space, doing your own activities.
Retreat, then get back out there and have an adventure.