Have you ever seen the really crazy homeless guy?
You know the guy I’m talking about. He’s the one screaming obscenities, clearly on some sort of mind-altering drugs, and clearly crazy. Very audibly muttering to himself about god knows what. He’s dancing in front of you too. It’s like he’s in his own universe, completely oblivious to your opinions of him.
An amazing human phenomenon occurs every time this guy walks down the street.
What happens when you see him? Do you stop and stare and commit to terrorizing him because he’s weird? Do you text all of your friends about it, post a rant on Facebook about him, tweet it out to your hundreds of followers?
No. You look up for a maximum of five seconds then you keep walking. Everybody does.
We’re all too wrapped up in our own stuff to stop and give him more than 10 seconds of our time. We don’t care enough to.
And yet, that’s what we’re all afraid of socially. We’re afraid, paralyzed even, of judgements from complete strangers, that maybe they’ll think we’re weird, abnormal, crazy, just like that homeless guy, that they’ll carry these judgements with them forever and tell all of their friends about it and then our friends and family will find out, then it’s over for us and our social life, we’re ruined.
All of this, from judgements that aren’t actually occurring.
Because if we move on from the homeless guy in a matter of seconds, the guy who is genuinely crazy and doing very loud and obnoxious things, do you really think your mild embarrassment like saying the wrong thing, offending someone, running out of things to say, causing a minor disturbance to someone’s day, or even appearing a little nervous is going to make you a social outcast?
No, it won’t. Because the reality is: 1) these ‘mistakes’ are normal and human and 2) everyone of us is too selfish to care.
It’s time we come to grips with the fact that we’re not the center of everyone’s world like we thought. And if that’s the case, let’s start having fun again.
My biggest social fear came true
We all have weird social fears that keep us paralyzed. Mine was being the creepy guy who hits on women.
I always despised that guy, probably because I was jealous that he had the freedom to do it, but nonetheless I hated him and vowed never to be him.
One day, I was at a coffee shop and was talking to an attractive barista behind the bar. I had a girlfriend at the time so there was no real interest from my side, but if I’m being entirely truthful, I was schmoozing. It was harmless flirtation, I thought.
One of the things I said to her that day was that her hair looked great. This was the extent of my ‘game’ in public with women, dishing out a PG-rated compliment. She replied that she had her hair professionally done for her sister’s graduation later that night. Anyway, we ended the conversation after a few a more minutes of small talk and that was that. Or so I thought.
About 48 hours later, I received a scathing Facebook message from another barista at the same shop. She, and other customers, were “alarmed and disgusted” with my behavior. I was hitting on a girl in a public place and it was insulting and that if I ever intended to come back into the store, I should be more respectful.
I was crushed. My worst nightmare had come true. Everyone in the store thought I was a complete scumbag. I laid in bed and stewed in shame for the rest of the week.
No less than a week later, I received another message from the same barista who ripped me to shreds. This one was an apology letter. She confessed that the reason she sent the message was that because she had a crush on me and that she was jealous of me flirting with her friend.
This was a revelation to me. The thoughts that kept me depressed and bed-ridden for days were completely her own stuff, they weren’t based in reality, and they weren’t even true. Yet, they affected me like they were real.
That experience taught me that people will always have their own opinions of you but 90% of the time, it’s not objective. It’s their own stuff that’s coloring their perception and sometimes, like in this instance, it’s messy and emotional.
By attempting to and getting caught up in trying to control how we’re perceived, we’re participants in a game only fools play. Give it up.
Why you should always take the risk
On your deathbed, when you’re 95 and reflecting on your wonderful life, do you think you’ll revisit that one presentation at the startup conference you worked really hard for but nonetheless bombed when you were 25?
Will you be covered in sweat tossing and turning, wondering what went wrong in that job interview (with that perfect company!) when you were 27?
But you’ll be kicking yourself for trying but getting laughed at and rejected by the beautiful chick at the coffee shop on the corner of 42nd at noon in 2014?
There’s no way. The truth is, these moments are tiny. In a lifetime, they are merely specs of sand on a beach, barely recognizable to us even just a few weeks later.
But those are only the failures.
Let’s use the same examples and look at the other side of the coin.
What if the presentation you worked really hard for when you were 25, what if it actually turned out to go really well and you got a promotion? What if there was an audience member who heard you speak who was a CEO of a startup and he was so impressed that he wanted you to come work for him?
What if that job interview for the perfect company turned out to be everything you imagined? You connected with the job interviewer, had an amazing conversation, negotiated a deal on the spot, and wound up working your dream job for the next 15 years?
What if that beautiful girl you wanted to meet at the coffee shop turned out to be just as perfect as you thought and became your girlfriend and later, your wife?
These are actually things you would remember on your deathbed when you’re 95 as they are truly life-defining moments. And the crazy thing is, none of these are fantasies. These are realities happening for hundreds, thousands of people even, everyday.
Take a client of mine who landed his dream job with a Silicon Valley startup because he took a chance cold emailing the CEO. Take another client who had never had a girlfriend in his life, muster up enough strength to start a conversation with a woman he was intrigued by at a bar - she’s his girlfriend now.
One of my greatest accomplishments to date, speaking at MIT, came as a result of a cold call (which was an exercise included in my workout for that week).
As you can see, the upside of these exact same ‘risks’ are infinite and have a compounding effect, while the downside is minimal, only invented and inflated by our fears. If you were an objective statistician or an options trader, you’d take this bet every time. One could even argue, that not taking the risk and staying comfortable, is the riskiest option of all.
Buy the option and it might just pay you handsomely.