One summer evening in the not-so-distant past, I went to Walgreens to pick up a few things after a workout.
I love Walgreen’s. They have everything. Sometimes I go just to go.
I strolled into the store joyfully humming when I passed the makeup aisle and spotted a threat out of my periphial.
A really attractive girl. But not just any attractive girl. An attractive girl I had dated.
We’d been out a few times and had fun, but we both knew that it was never going to work. So we stopped seeing each other.
Which is a very normal thing. It was understood by both parties and it was cool. Nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing to be awkward about…
EXCEPT WHAT FOLLOWED WAS THE MOST AWKWARD INTERACTION I’VE EVER HAD.
Let me explain.
I decided to say hi. Then completely panicked in front of her.
As in, I couldn’t speak words. I tried to recover and rambled for 7 minutes in the makeup aisle about eyedrops (I kid you not.)
Last but not least, I called her after I left the store in a desperate attempt to apologize for being awkward. She mercifully sent me to voicemail.
Bury me alive.
Now, this wasn’t an everyday occurrence for me. I was normally like a 6.5 out of 10 on the George Clooney smoothness scale.
But when I was around someone I wanted to impress, my shit went haywire. My level of awkwardness went up dramatically.
Whether with the CEO of my company. A famous person. A peer who I thought was more successful than me. Attractive members of the opposite sex.
These people represented a threat to my identity of perfection. Around them, I felt inferior and needed their approval to feel okay.
If I didn’t get it, my self-worth was buried six-feet deep.
THE GUIDING PRINCIPLES OF SUPER CONFIDENT PEOPLE
I learned from an early age that if you want to improve yourself, you need to model yourselves after other people who have what you want.
Set the bar high with these people. Don’t look at just their behaviors and what they’ve accomplished, the external stuff. Look at what’s behind it. The beliefs, the perceptions, the emotions that permeate through everything they do.
After my Walgreen’s fiasco, I started studying the people who had what I wanted: grounded confidence.
Not the charmers who had smoothness and feigned perfection, not the charlatans who talked and talked and quite literally pointed to their Louis Vuitton shoes in conversation, but the people with authentic, I don’t care what you think confidence.
I found most of these people in my life — mentors, friends, family. I picked a few historical figures too. I observed closely, took notes, and then backed out how they did it. I found three major themes around their social interactions.
1. They don’t believe their life is a movie (they killed their egos)
Unconfident people live under a few delusions.
One is that their life is a feature film, with thousands of oogling spectators concerned with their day-to-day performance.
Author Ryan Holiday talks about how many of us are living under The Narrative Fallacy and The Soundtrack Delusion. You’ve heard of narcissism. This is how it’s disguised in real life.
Try spending the day listening to an iPod as you go about your business. How much more important it all seems. Put your hands in your pockets and start walking down the street. It’s you, oh fearless warrior, and your battle against the world.
Welcome to the narrative fallacy.
God forbid you should ever have one with you when you’re running and it begins to rain. If you don’t have a shirt on, it’s over. Out of the corner of your eye, you’ll swear that trees are bowing as you pass.
Welcome to the “movie about your life.”
We shutter at the idea that we’re narcissistic. It’s nasty, childlike behavior that’s tough to justify. Other people taking selfies are. We aren’t.
Are you sure?
If you feel an abnormal amount of pressure in your social life, at work in front of your boss, like you’re living under a microscope, your ego is probably what’s plaguing you.
Why did I panic at Walgreen’s? Why do you think? I needed a perfect scene for the movie about my life.
2. They are honest
Most people are liars. They lie at the expense of politeness, political correctness, out of fear.
Lying takes a toll. Because each time you do it, you are rejecting yourself.
When you’re constantly faking and supporting standards that you’ve claimed to believe in but actually don’t, you know, for the sake of being liked, you are stabbing your self-esteem with a butcher knife.
Confident people don't play the bullshit human game of lying for the sake of perception. For them, honesty is a high pillar than self-indulgence.
They never negotiate or rationalize their integrity. It’s one of the few things in life they have a say in.
3. They use humor as a tool to cut through tension and anxiety
Think about a time when awkwardness had a choke-hold on a room you were in.
Maybe you or a friend someone was crying and emotional after a long day at work.
Maybe you were really nervous before a presentation or job interview.
Then someone tells an awesome joke.
It cuts through everything. Even if only for a brief moment, ah, you can breathe. It’s an amazing thing.
Humor grounds us instantaneously. It short-circuits whatever destructive thought pattern your brain was on.
It reminds us that human interaction is not a trip to hell and back and that it can actually be a pleasurable experience.
Make stupid jokes that don’t make sense. Tell a funny story. Make fun of yourself. Make fun of someone else.
It doesn’t have to be stand-up comedian perfect.
Have this goal: just make yourself laugh. Don’t worry about the other person. You can’t control their reaction anyway.
Let’s use my Walgreens awkwardness as an example.
When I said hi to the attractive girl, instead of trying to be smooth and perfect, I could’ve made fun of myself. For example, I was carrying Muscle Milk (and Tums for after the muscle milk).
A natural joke to make.
Or when I realized I was rambling about eye drops for 10 minutes, I could’ve made a joke about that.
I could’ve even hit the easy moving target: The person in line who shopped for their week’s groceries at Walgreens.
Laughter breaks the fear cycle and puts everyone at ease.
It breaks the glass ceiling bottling up awkward tension.
These principles should help you cultivate your own freedom around people. They give you perspective in important moments. And a sense of comfort knowing that you don’t have to be anyone else.
They don’t teach you confident behaviors: they teach you what’s behind confident behaviors.
Because confident behavior itself is nothing without a foundation. It will disappear with a gust of wind. Or when you spy a threat in an aisle at a drug store.