At 19 years old I had no confidence in myself and was incredibly insecure. I had suffered from terrible acne my whole life (which I was really embarassed about), I had hardly any friends, and I had literally no experience with the opposite sex.
To say that I struggled socially would win an accolade for understatement of the year. I was the stereotypical weird kid that nobody really wanted to hang around. This isn't false humility either...trust me.
So, when my parents told me that I had to go out into the world and get a job on the side while studying, I panicked. I'd have to talk to people I'd never met before, go through an interview process, deal with customers... I really didn't want to to do it.
Anyway, I had no choice.
Eventually after loads of interviews at supermarkets, electronic shops, sports shops...I ended up getting a job behind the bar of a hotel in my local town!
Kinda unbelievable, right?
The weird, awkward kid who can barely mumble a sentence serving you in a bar. Not exactly what you want as a punter having a pint after a hard day's work.
To this day, I honestly have no idea why the interviewer gave me the position...
But he did.
And, honestly, of all the jobs, experiences, challenges that I've ever had in my life...this was probably the best thing that could have ever happened to me
Something like two weeks before my first day behind the bar, I was in a state of sheer anxiety about the prospect of this job...
Out of desperation I picked up a book that my dad had won on a recent business course he had attended.
It was called "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie. I devoured the book and one chapter in particular really impacted me...
The chapter was all about smiling at people you've never met before and the kind of effect that can have on how people perceive you. It made me realize that I'd always been too insecure and nervous to give any sign of outward positivity to others.
I had a bit of an epiphany at that moment:-
Maybe the reason I couldn't get on with the world is because I sent the wrong signals to the world in the first place.
This epiphany was a real breakthrough for me. I needed to test this new theory out so I challenged myself to smile at everyone while at work in the hotel from day one. And all I can say is...what a difference a smile can make.
It was a bit of a fake it 'til you make it, slap on a band aid, solution oriented therapy approach, but the positive reinforcement I received from this subtle change to my behavior gave me exactly what I needed at that point in my life. Just the mere act of smiling led to new experiences. I became friends with colleagues, I had interesting conversations with punters and, believe it or not, I even got my first girlfriend while working in that hotel.
It's hard to believe the cascading effect that a smile can have.
The Urban Scowl
In The Like Switch, Dr. Schafer reminded me of my hotel story in one chapter of his book. The chapter starts with:-
"Have you ever wondered why one individual seems to have the 'knack' when it comes to attracting others, making a good impression, and getting people to like him or her, while another person, who is equally attractive and successful in life, can't seem to duplicate that 'magnetic appeal'?
He goes onto say that if often comes down to unconsciously sending off "foe signals".
He then talks about a woman that noticed she had a difficulty connecting with strangers, but "once they got to know her, she had little difficulty developing close relationships with them".
Why was this?
It turns out that she simply needed to change the way she presented herself to other people. She naturally and unconsciously wore an "urban scowl"; a fierce facial look that's often a survival tool in tough neighborhoods, like the one where she had come from.
She replaced the scowl with a warmer demeanour and found her attractiveness to strangers improve greatly.
Sounds like she suffered from the same problem as me...
Do You Struggle to Make new Friends and Get on Well with Strangers?
If we feel that we're not very popular and have a tough time making new connections, we often jump to narratives that fit our own insecurities:-
- I'm not attractive enough
- I don't have anything interesting to say
- I'm too short, too fat, too thin, too tall
- I'm not woke, cool or hip enough
- ....and so on
Here's another narrative to consider...
Maybe it's got nothing to do with any of those insecurities that we try to project onto the world.
Instead, maybe the reason we're receiving negative feedback from others is because it's a mere reflection of what we're subconsciously communicating to the world ourselves.
You might think that this doesn't apply to you. But that's the sneaky thing about it - you might be displaying the "urban scowl" without even knowing it.
So if you're the type of person that has close friends but struggles making new ones, then I challenge you to make it a habit to smile for 30 days and see if your life is any better for it.
Smile at strangers, friends, co-workers, family...everyone... for 30 days and see if your experience and feedback from the world changes for the better.
Perhaps you'll receive such positive feedback that you'll change your behavior permanently. Maybe it won't change anything and you can try other things. It's an interesting experience nonetheless and one that personally benefitted me greatly.
The only way you'll truly know is by trying.
A smile, someone once said, costs nothing but gives much. It enriches those who receive without making poorer those who give. It takes but a moment, but the memory of it sometimes lasts forever. None is so rich or mighty that he cannot get along without it and none is so poor that he cannot be made rich by it. Yet a smile cannot be bought, begged, borrowed, or stolen, for it is something that is of no value to anyone until it is given away. Some people are too tired to give you a smile. Give them one of yours, as none needs a smile so much as he who has no more to give. not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand
Let me know how you get on in the comments!