“Can Social Anxiety Make You Unsuccessful?”
Can social anxiety really make you unsuccessful?
Well, it really depends on what you mean by success, right? For me, I define success as a good financial situation, having good relationships with people and being in good health.
In today's article, I want to focus on how social anxiety can make you unsuccessful in the financial realm of your life. I'm going to give you two specific examples of how it ruined my career early on in life.
What You'll Learn
- How social anxiety made me miss out on a college scholarship (ouch!)
- How social anxiety can turn even the most trivial tasks into a big chore and a daunting challenge
- How stop social anxiety from making you unsucccessful
So let's start with a very personal story about how social anxiety impacted my career as early as college.
How Social Anxiety Cost Me a College Scholarship
The college I went to had a scholarship program for aspiring students that basically allowed them to go to Japan and spend a few years there studying at a Japanese university.
Sounds pretty good, right?
Every year only a handful of students were eligible for that scholarship and you had to apply to get a chance of being selected.
And that’s the part that didn’t agree with my social anxiety.
Surprise, surprise, I didn’t apply. For the 5 years that I spent at college, I didn’t apply.
And I’m telling you, refusing to apply was not easy. My grades were among the best in class, so my professors were trying to make me apply for the program.
I don’t think that they noticed that I was struggling with social anxiety at the time though. If I had learned one thing during my elementary and high school years, it was how to pretend that that I wasn’t struggling with social anxiety at all.
So yeah, I was pretty good at blending in with the other students for the most part. I never went to any parties, I never went to any college events if I could help it, and I didn’t volunteer to join any academic competitions ever.
But no one seemed to notice that I was conveniently missing out on ALL the social events.
And that was just fine by me.
However, when it came to this Japanese scholarship program, it was something different. It was a big opportunity for students to be exposed to the language as well as a totally different culture.
Also, being able to mention in your resume that you attended a foreign university is big plus. You get to meet a bunch of new people and you get a chance to flood your brain with the Japanese which is a great opportunity to get better at speaking the language.
Needless to say, the professors knew all this and they were actively trying to persuade the best students to apply for the program... which put me on their radar.
So there I was, trying to stay invisible and just survive without any major social change in my life. In the meanwhile, my professors were starting to notice that I was suspiciously not interested in the whole thing unlike literally every other student in my year. Yeah, the program was that popular.
At one point, the dean summoned me to her office and told me that they were actually thinking about awarding me the scholarship to recognize my academic performance.
So in my case they wanted to make an exception and select me for the program without me having to apply at all.
That was pretty huge. That was success basically knocking on my door begging me to let it in.
And what do you think I did?
I slammed the door in its face without even thinking about it.
I declined. And I didn’t just openly decline. After all, I didn’t want anyone to find out about my social anxiety issues.
I actually told her that I couldn’t go because I needed to care for my step dad, who was in a wheelchair and needed 24 hour assistance throughout 7 days of the week.
Was it true? Well, yes, that’s actually true but if I wanted to, I could have gone. I wasn’t the only one caring for my step-dad after all.
But it was a convenient excuse to cut the conversation short and prevent her asking any more questions.
And the real reason that I declined?
Well, for me the thought of being separated from my family and finding myself in a culture that’s totally different from mine was way out of my comfort zone.
I understood that the scholarship was a great chance to study in a foreign country and build a network of international students and practice the Japanese language. I knew that, however, the disadvantages in my eyes grossly outweighed these benefits.
And what do you think were these overwhelming disadvantages?
Well, I would have had to talk to a bunch of strangers all the time, right? The scholarship program would have involved me making friends and going to all kinds of parties, giving presentations in front of other students and all that.
For me at the time this was way too much to handle.
But forget all the socializing, I would have had to board an airplane. And believe it or not, for me that alone was reason enough not to apply for the scholarship. I’ve had flight anxiety ever since I can remember. I find the thought of climbing into an aluminum canister that shoots through the sky at the speed of 570 mile per hour nerve-wrecking.
Giving presentations to professors and students I knew was bad enough already, doing it in a foreign country in front of a bunch of people I didn’t know, in a language I didn’t speak – there was no way I was going to do that.
And this is one of my biggest self-sabotage moments that I can remember that was caused by social anxiety.
So I told the dean that I wasn’t going to go, she silently accepted my excuse and saw me out of her office with a worried look on her face. I could kind of tell that she didn’t believe me 100%.
All that mattered to me though was that she let the whole thing go.
At that time the fact that I was finally able to get rid of the whole scholarship thing was awesome news.
Little did I know at the time that what I was doing was slamming the door in the face of success.
Or as a male professor brazenly told me “everybody makes their own destiny.”
Which was his way of telling me that I was making a big mistake.
And he was right.
How Social Anxiety Stopped Me from Getting a Job
Okay, you might think that yeah, missing out on a college scholarship is bad enough but it’s kind of a unique case, right?
Fair enough. It’s not something that happens to everybody.
So let me tell you another story of how social anxiety prevented success in my life. This one might be a little bit easier to relate to.
It started with answering phone calls.
Some people call it phone anxiety, others call it phone phobia. I like to think of it as another form of social anxiety.
It’s that overwhelming nervousness you get whenever you need to answer the phone.
The worst part of it is that it's such a trivial thing to do. Virtually every single adult on this planet answers phone calls several times a day routinely.
But for someone living with social anxiety, it’s a dreaded experience lurking in the shadows ready to ambush you when you least expect it.
Ever since elementary school, I’ve always had problems answering phones. Whenever I heard that ubiquitous sound of my cell phone ringing, my stomach would lurch and my mind would start going into overdrive.
I would quickly try to rehearse the phone call in my head. I imagined what I was going to say, all the possible conversations that could unfold before finally tapping that nauseating green button with icy cold fingertips.
After picking up the phone I would stammer and say all kinds of awkward stuff that I didn’t mean to say at all. My composure would collapse in on itself in a spectacular display of a pathetic mental breakdown that would involve me slurring my words, forgetting what I had planned to say and just trying to figure out basic grammar on the fly.
Yes, it was every bit as humiliating as I described it.
My phone phobia became unbearable when I first started looking for a part-time job at college.
I started sending off my resume to recruitment agencies and they would ask for my phone number to be able to reach out to me when a job opportunity was available.
And as you can imagine, the idea of being called by strangers was overwhelming.
So what ended up happening was, when my phone rang and I saw that the phone number calling me was either hidden or a number I didn’t recognize, I just didn’t answer the phone.
Deep down I was ashamed and I felt really bad about myself. But on my bad days I just couldn’t handle talking to strangers over the phone and possibly making a fool of myself for the umpteenth time.
Now, did this make me unsuccessful?
On the one hand, not really, because I also got a lot of emails which I had no problem answering and so in the end I did manage to land a job.
On the other hand, thanks to my social anxiety and phone phobia, a trivial everyday task like answering the phone became a daunting challenge that I often chose to simply run away from. And this ultimately cost me countless job opportunities.
And it’s not like I was cool about refusing to pick up the phone when someone important was calling. Every time I chickened out, I would lash out at myself like crazy and hate myself for it for several hours afterwards.
So if I count the shame that went into not answering phone calls, then social anxiety made me pay a much higher price than what I was aware of at the time.
It just wasn’t worth it. All the self-loathing, the embarrassment, not to mention the job opportunities I had missed out on just weren’t worth it at all.
How to Tame Social Anxiety
So my advice to you if social anxiety is keeping you from success is that first and foremost you have to look the beast in the eye.
What I mean by that is, you have to stop running. Just like I was running away from studying abroad for a few years, or answering phone calls from strangers, social anxiety could make you miss out on life-changing opportunities, too.
So think aobut it, how is social anxiety holding you back from success?
Is it maybe making it extremely difficult for you to socialize with your colleagues at work and build a network of friends?
Is it maybe making it hard for you to approach the opposite sex and ask them out on a date?
Is social anxiety making it hard for you to go to the gym and work out with a bunch of other people?
How is social anxiety making you unsuccessful?
It could be a work-related thing, it could have something to do with relationships or maybe it’s stopping you from leading a healthy lifestyle.
Whatever it is, you have to first get it on your radar. Be mindful about it, catch yourself whenever social anxiety is holding you back and notice it happening to you.
When I was avoiding the college scholarship for several years in a row, I wasn’t doing it consciously. It wasn’t like I was strategizing in my head and making plans on how to stay out of the program.
In fact, I wasn’t even aware that I was avoiding the opportunity in the first place. I was making up all kinds of excuses, most of which I believed 100%, just to convince myself that not taking the opportunity to study in Japan was actually the right decision that would benefit me in the long run.
I was thinking things like
“by not going, I was giving other people a chance to go.”
I was basically twisting my social anxiety into a merit by dressing it up as charity.
I have to give my mind credit, where credit is due: that’s some crazy mental gymnastics right there.
Or I would think
“I have good grades to begin with, I speak Japanese pretty okay, I wouldn’t gain that much from going to Japan anyway. It’s just not worth the hassle.”
So I’d just flat out ignore the fact that there was a whole social aspect of being an international student. You see, it was more convenient focusing only on what I was good at, i.e. academics and forgetting about my weak spot; my poor social skills.
I made up all these stories so that I didn’t have to admit to myself that I was avoiding an opportunity of success.
It helps tremendously if you can catch yourself making up these excuses and honestly admit to yourself that social anxiety is making you avoid success.
It's not easy because admitting to yourself that you’re acting on a deep-seated fear of social interactions bruises the ego quite a bit.
But to quote Michael Phelps:
"If it was easy, everybody would be doing it."
I still remember the shame that I felt when I realized that at the end of the day no matter how I sugarcoated it, I had been running away from an unpleasant social experience all along.
That’s a bitter pill to swallow.
But once you do, it will give you something immensely valuable in return.
It’ll give you control over yourself. Because the moment you realize that you’re running from something, it gives you the freedom and the power to stop running, turn around and look the beast in the eye.
And that’s when change starts to happen.
But to be able to stop running, you first have to notice that you’re running.
So my advice to you is to start cutting through all those fancy stories you’ve been telling yourself. Find out what exactly it is that you’re avoiding because of social anxiety.