My eyes continued staring at the pen that I was hoping would somehow save me. I was flipping it around in my hand as it continued to hold my gaze, the minutes passed by as if they were hours. Seven minutes later, the date was over. It would be the first of a dozen or so dates that night. As I mumbled a few questions like “Have you ever done this before?”, never once looking her in the eyes, I could only assume I wasn’t cut out for dating in the first place.
Several speed dating events, and over 100 women later, with a dozen online dates in-between, I was finally convinced that I was simply broken and unlovable. Unsure why I would be allowed to live on this planet in this state by whatever entity created the universe, I questioned whether there was a reason to bother going on. What was I without a “second half?”. I was already 25, how is it that I could not get this sorted?
You see dear reader, I spent my childhood and a good chunk of adulthood morbidly obese, peaking out at a lovely 400 pounds. Perhaps not the best reason to avoid dating, the self-loathing and hours spent on video games were a successful distraction from it. After a few years of calorie counting, dieting and exercising, the weight situation was improved at least.
It was at this point that I finally moved out from my parents home and began enjoying the luxuries of doing everything on my own. In addition to going to a job I wasn’t particularly enjoying, and without a girlfriend, I spent my time contemplating how everyone seemed to be getting on with life except for me.
The years I spent obese certainly didn’t help my confidence, self-love or social skills. Even after a lot of the weight was gone, confidence in myself did not magically develop. I had fairly crippling anxiety in most situations. Unable to look even a cashier in the eyes. I figured since the weight loss didn’t fix it, it was just a part of me. I wasn’t meant to be a social butterfly, I was built to be trembling in job interviews and staring at tables while on dates. But it’s not my fault right? I must simply have some bad genes. I wasn’t meant to be direct with women or the center of attention in a room. Right?
I wasn’t used to talking about this kind of thing to anyone. I had never heard anyone else speaking about wanting to change, about being unsatisfied with their situation. This further led me to believe, that change wasn’t something that could happen. That the people I see in the olympics, that the charismatic Bill Clintons of the world, are just ‘that way’.
When suddenly one day I decided to open up to my personal trainer at the gym, he was just a bit older then me, and we had built a bit of a bond. I told him about my frustrations in life and how it seems no matter how many dates I go on, I’m just not compatible with anyone. His answer wasn’t what I was expecting. He told me you can learn to be better. That there’s books for knowing how to talk to women, how to be more charismatic, how to find more peace and calm in your life, how to find your purpose. My mind mostly associated those kind of things with “Oprah nonsense”, that was some huge hoax for people to buy books.
With this seed in my mind that someone I trusted told me that it didn’t have to be this way, I hopped on a plane with a couple of friends and toured around Europe. The whole time still frustrated about my situation, I lashed out at my dear friends in ways I was not proud of. I did have some of the material my trainer gave me on the trip, and started flipping through it. On the day I returned to the real world, I was laid off from my job.
This was my rock bottom; no job, no girlfriend, and terrified of the idea of having to move back in with my parents. My mind reached some sort of breaking point, but what was on the other side was not something I was expecting. I felt as if I suddenly had the ability to start all over. That this was a new dawn.
And so, with the spare time in-between job searching, I started to devour books and began pushing myself to face my fears. Any idea that sounded like it would benefit me, I accepted fully and naively. I was a blank canvas and I would get to decide what the new painting would look like.
With the idea of ‘fake it till’ you make it’, I thought I’d pretend to be confident, and see how I got on. I received a call from an IT recruiter, when they said ‘since you seem really confident, I’m sure you’ll do great’, I burst out in laughter after the call. I had fooled him, totally! The interviews came in quick succession after that, and with techniques like Amy Cuddy’s power poses, the confidence eventually really did become a part of me.
The years of video games, and my career being in the field of ‘computer security’ or ‘fighting computer hax0rs’, allowed me to thrive in the process of ‘personal development’. I always looked for ways to do things more efficiently, or ‘hack them’. I failed over and over, but kept progressing as I would learn something from each failure. It was just like dying in a video game, and trying again and again until I learned the strategy that would lead me to victory.
This led to passions in all kinds of other areas. For instance, I wondered how far back I could find advice on the art of life, this led me to exploring philosophy. My love of ‘hacking’ things efficiently led me to explore neuroscience and psychology. The profound effects of my hitting rock bottom had me look into religion and spirituality.
My search of love, had me explore dating and relationships. While initially all I could find was the old school, weird pick-up artist sort of advice, I did eventually discover a whole community of men who explored ways to become better with women, by becoming their best selves. Learning how to connect with women emotionally, how to have the strength to be vulnerable, how not to become needy or a ‘nice guy‘.
And so I found a new job in a new city (as pictured above, me staring dramatically into the distance at Montreal’s Mount Royal summit), the blank canvas concept extended to my entire life now. I could decide on my friends, my hobbies, my habits and just about every other aspect of my life. I used the skills I learned to connect with others, and built new, far more profound types of relationships. Where before my hobbies were video games and movies, things easy to do as a person with pretty heavy social anxiety, the new me had no such limitations.
I filled my life with people who were on similar paths, from all walks of life, all ages, different dreams and goals. People who cared about themselves and their lives. My hobbies became things like public speaking, I took improv classes, I tried out stand-up comedy to reasonable laughter and success, I even ended up on television as a part of a happiness program.
I suppose the “Oprah nonsense” wasn’t as much nonsense as I thought. The only nonsense was my beliefs. When I believed I could change, change no longer seemed impossible, I was no longer a slave to ‘my genes’. It’s been a long journey, that wasn’t always easy, and is nowhere near over. I hope no matter where you’re at in your story, you find some inspiration and actionable advice in this blog.
I’d like to end with a special shout out to Peter Hartman and Samantha Barley, who both run meetup groups in Montreal, they allowed me to jump-start my socializing and new life almost immediately after I moved into the city. The momentum I’ve built thanks to them has taken me to places I could have only dreamed of.