How smart people unknowingly sabotage themselves by neglecting to develop one simple skill

It’s been said that luck = preparation + opportunity. Most geeks are great at the preparation part. We’re willing to spend hours and hours alone studying, practicing, and working hard at what we love. But we neglect the other half of the equation: opportunity.

The problem with this approach is that, despite the cliche, opportunity doesn’t knock on the door while you’re sitting at home alone preparing. You have to go out and find it. And more often than not, it happens serendipitously, through the people you know. You can’t just go up to random people, or to people who you think have the ability to help you, tell them what you do and say “Do you have any opportunities for me?”

For example, when I first moved to Puerto Vallarta and wanted to start playing music, I went around to several bars and restaurants and asked them if they needed live music. Most said no, some said they’d look at my Web-site and give me a call, but none of them did. But then one day I was walking home and I passed a boring little bar with a few gringos inside and I told myself “I haven’t done any socializing today. I’m going to go in here and have a drink and see what happens.”  The guy next to me at the bar was the owner of a rock club in the tourist zone, and by chatting him up casually, I got my first gig. From there it all grew through word of mouth and from the people I met. I got my favorite gig, playing at a yoga retreat that’s only accessible by boat, through a guy I met at a party that I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to. But because I forced myself to get out of the house and meet people, I now get paid to get on a boat every Tuesday around sunset and go play music at a bar overlooking the beach to groups of mostly women, then I wake up the next morning and hang out on the beautiful deserted beach by myself.

And the beauty of expanding your social circle is that it can open up opportunities that you weren’t even expecting. I got asked to be a model for the Puerto Vallarta tourism board, which meant that I got paid to spend a day on a yacht with beautiful women, sunbathing and paddle-boarding, through a woman I struck up a conversation with at a salsa club.

But it’s not just about creating opportunities. Being social will make you happier and healthier.  A study found that even introverted people are happier when they act like extroverts.

On the flip side, loneliness is toxic. Studies have shown that lonely people have a greater tendency to abuse alcohol and drugs, get sick, and die young, than people with active social lives.

This is because we’re a social species, like apes, dolphins, and wolves. We’ve romanticized the idea of the “lone wolf”, but in reality, the lone wolf doesn’t get to mate.

So, if you don’t want to be an evolutionary failure as well, you’d better start cultivating your social skills. Too often, we nerds spend all our time avoiding people and then complain that we have a hard time talking to girls. News flash: women are people, too. If you get better at talking to people, you’ll get better at talking to girls. Haven’t you ever noticed that the guys who are good at talking to girls are also the guys who have a lot of friends and acquaintances, and tend to be at the center of their social circle?

This is because women intuitively understand that social success = success in life. Studies have shown that women are more likely to notice a man when he’s with other people, and that women find men more attractive if they see him with other women who are smiling or laughing.

How many female friends do you have? Most guys complain about being in the friend zone, but the friend zone is actually your key to success. Your female friends are your chick magnets. Treat them really well, but don’t hit on them and creep them out. Practice being your best self around them – fun, charming, and entertaining.

But don’t focus myopically on one gender or age group. Everyone you meet has the potential to open a door for you, introduce you to someone special, or teach you something new about the world. Every person is more fascinatingly complex than the most intricately plotted novel or video game. Whether you want to spend lots of time with them or not, be curious about what makes them tick.

Learn to love people, and the world will open up to you.

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