Success for Shy People

There is economic success and there is social success.

There are two kinds of ways to live a great life: there is economic success and there is social success.

Economic success is when you have a job and you're able to buy things you need like food, transportation, and shelter, and social success is your ability to talk to people and make friends—something that is a lot more personal.

You may think of economic success as more important than social success, or that they have very little to do with each other, the economic side being more related to what you do and the social side being more related to how you feel, but this is the wrong way to look at these two very closely related things.

Sometimes, thinking and doing can feel unrelated. There are actions and then there are thoughts. There is how I view myself, and then there is how other people view me. The problem is that you can't do anything without thinking about it first, and many of our actions go nowhere because our thoughts get in the way. Therefore, what we think is just as important as what we do.

Most times, social success leads to economic success. I recently applied for a job and got hired because they liked me at my job interview. Someone on the inside told me that I made a good impression not only because I had a firm understanding of the company I was applying to work for, but because I was relaxed and even humorous as I answered their questions, something they don't often see in the tense atmosphere of job interviews.

Based on my success in this arena, my advice to people at job interviews is to hide the fact that you're nervous, remember to smile, be friendly, and talk to them as if you're talking to a friend. Let them see that you're serious, but also that you're human.

And if you're curious about the part where I said I used humor, it wasn't that I was telling jokes, it was that I found humor in my answers naturally, and this is where my love for stand-up comedy saved me. I always remembered something former Late Show host David Letterman said that struck me: "Comedy is at its best when it's found, not forced."

You want to learn how to talk to people in a social environment? Watch stand-up comedy. It will teach you how to appear at ease in high-pressure situations and how to use timing to make what you say more effective.

Side note: When I first got into comedy, my favorite comedians tended to be people like Jack Benny, Bob Newhart, David Letterman, and Bill Cosby because they always talked quietly and calmly, and I'm a quiet person. So as much as I love Robin Williams, I would only study someone who I could evoke the most naturally.

So I achieved economic success thanks to my social success, but my social skills were again put to the test when I trained for my new job with 15 other people who also got hired, forcing me to be social within a large group of people; something I struggle with because I am a natural introvert.

Oftentimes what happens when you are shy is that, when you talk to people, you feel like you are extending yourself away from your comfort zone, and then when you are alone again, you feel centered and calm. The trick is to expand your comfort zone so that others will feel invited and more welcome.

You must recognize that it is in the DNA of human beings to be social with each other. That's why we care what other people think and constantly seek connection and approval, and the best way to connect with someone is to make them want to connect with you, which is why you must find out who you are before you talk to people. This gives you more confidence because it's like having back-up to avoid awkward silences. Find out what kind of things you like (movies, music, hobbies, people, places, etc.) and make that list as big as possible. The more things you like, the easier it will be to find something to work into the conversation.

And for people who are lonely: you must recognize that loneliness is a vicious cycle that makes you want to socialize, but prevents you from having the confidence to do it, so you must get out of your state of loneliness as quickly as possible, and the way to do that is not only to have a long list of interests, but to have the ability to keep the conversation going even when talking about things that don't normally interest you.

One way to do that is to do what they teach you at improv classes, which is how to progress a conversation started by another person, which isn't too difficult. All you have to do is listen to people and talk to them about whatever interests you most about what they just said.

Also make sure you ask them about themselves more than you talk about yourself. Talking about yourself is the easiest thing to do because we know ourselves better than anyone, so use that as a last resort. Your main interest should be getting to know the other person, which I enjoy because people are fascinating to me, and understanding different points of view is essential to our growth as a species.

Hopefully this advice helps. I'm not a psychologist. All I know is that it worked for me. Deep down I'm still a shy person. I just learned how to pretend that I'm not.

Eli Sanza
Eli Sanza

Eli Sanza is a media critic and film historian from California. He posts film and TV news on Twitter and discusses Hollywood history on his podcast and his blog. He is also a Disney geek and currently stuck in the '90s.

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Success for Shy People