My heart was thumping. Sweat beaded down my neck. The phone began to ring. I tried to remain calm, but on the inside I was booming with anxiety. Second ring. Still no answer. Maybe they won’t pick up, I thought. I hoped. Please don’t pick up.
Just before the third ring, I heard a female voice, “Hi, this is Restaurant’s Express, what restaurant would you like to place an order with?”
My heart was officially in my chest. In a panic, blurted out, “I want a number 19.” Instantly I realized how stupid I sounded. So did the woman on the other end. She tried not to show it, but I could tell she was taken back. You could hear it in her tone of voice. I could also tell she thought my foolishness was funny. Can you blame her?
I hung up the phone. My mother, sitting on the couch facing me, started giggling. She couldn’t keep it in. Nor could my brother, who was also in the room. My fifteen-year-old self was shocked and embarrassed. I bumbled out of the living room, cheeks red.
But no, this was not when I realized my social skills sucked.
Two years later. It’s May—my junior year of high-school. Prom was coming up and, feeling a bit more courageous than I had shown myself to be two years earlier, I walked with a bouquet of flowers in hand. My date to be, whose name I’ll omit, was a lovely blonde. I was sure she was going to the dance with me.
I waited in front of her class, flowers in hand. My peers began forming around me. Who can resist seeing a young buck ask a girl to Prom?
I stood patiently until, suddenly, I saw her.
We locked eyes. Bouquet in hand, I began to approach her. She lurched forward. For a brief second, I jumped for joy inside. “Nailed it!” I thought.
Until I realized the direction she was lurching. She took off for her classroom and in a flash she was inside the room.
I stood there. Rooted to the spot. At least fifty peers stared, not sure whether it was appropriate to laugh hysterically. That all changed when my teacher came out of the classroom next to the one she’d run into, the classroom where I would take my next class.
I was not his favorite student. I joked around in his class and this was his moment for revenge. He broke the tension with a booming laugh. He cackled, “Somebody got shot down!”
I’ll never forget the uproar that ensued. What followed was the longest 45-minute class of my life.
Looking back, my would-be date’s response was justified. We had barely connected, much less built any true chemistry.
But no, this was not the moment I realized my social skills sucked.
Fast forward another two years. I was chosen to give a speech in front of an audience of over a thousand people. “I’m going to rock this thing,” is what I kept telling myself.
Ah yes, I was beaming with confidence—until about an hour before I was to give my speech that is. That’s about the time I sipped a mixed beverage I made myself “just in case.”
Fast forward to the moments before I was called to the podium. My legs felt like jello. Just as I felt five years before when I called for take-out dinner, my heart pounded. My voice felt dry. The confidence I felt just hours before evaporated yet my palms were overflowing, soaked in a nervous sweat.
After an over-dramatic introduction, my name was called. I shook the hand of the gent who invited me to speak. That poor guy must have felt like he his hand under the faucet.
I’ll never forget the moments after reaching the podium. My view of the audience was terrifying. Row after row after row of seats, all occupied. Then, another column, also filled with occupied seats. And yet another. Three columns of people, twenty rows deep or more, filled with faces. Each of them staring at me.
I began with a “joke.” I wish I remember what it was for the sake of this story, but I don’t. Let’s just say it felt a tad flat.
Crickets. I cleared my throat, then continued. Just then, as I spoke again, the microphone belted out a sound of agony. Then, it began cutting out. My voice wasn’t projecting. It went in, then out, repeatedly.
The mic sent sharp, deafening sounds. You could feel the frustration of the audience. After several screeches the sharpness subsided. Clumsily realizing how the microphone worked mid-speech, I continued.
From here, the speech hit a comfortable but mediocre lull that both myself and the audience appreciated, given the jagged start.
From there I entered the “climax” of the speech. Ah yes, the part where I’d scripted a quote from Henry David Thoreau. This was my big moment. I began slowly reciting Thoreau’s, “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams …”
In the middle of slowly reciting the quote, I lifted my left hand towards the sky. My hand was cupped while I looked up and peered towards it as if my hand held the answer to life’s hidden treasures. I continued, “…and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet success unexpected in common hours.”
I followed the quote with silence. And with the aim of creating more emphasis, I held the gesture. Seconds passed. I was still staring at my left hand.
The moment(s) felt like eternity.
Just before ending the gesture, I remember thinking, “I’m really nailing it.”
I finally returned to a more natural position. I scanned the audience before continuing.
Then, it happened.
I saw two young men. One with long hair, the other sported a shaved head. Both were bent over, laughing hysterically. The source of their laughter could not be disputed. They were laughing at me.
Yes, this was the moment I realized my social skills suck.
It took me twenty-two years, countless awkward experiences, and a horrid speech, but in a flash I realized this simple, obvious truth. My social skills suck.
From here, I went from overwhelmed, to terrified, and then … suddenly … I felt liberated. This sense of calm shocked me.
Looking back, I believe the realization that I’d rock bottom—complete embarrassment—actually caused me to relax. It couldn’t get worse, right? I finished the speech. A tame thank-god-he’s-done applause followed.
That night, staring at the ceiling, I thought back. It became crystal clear.
“My social skills suck!”
The thought, similar to my experience earlier that day, actually felt soothing. I saw the truth. I simply lacked a skill.
A comforting realization followed, “This means I could build that skill, doesn’t it?”
That was the beginning of a lifelong quest and a newfound focus for incorporating personal development in the realm of social skills, dating, and overall confidence.
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