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As Jack shares the lessons and realizations he discovered while on the long road to gaining confidence, he chronicles how he ...
As Jack shares the lessons and realizations he discovered while on the long road to gaining confidence, he chronicles how he eventually learned to implement a system that allowed him to take chances, look girls in the eye, enjoy a fun and entertaining conversation, build curiosity, dance with the best of them, and become true to himself in the process. Through his openly honest and revealing anecdotes, Jack shares both his social successes and failures during his first two years in college.
From initiating his first real pick-up of a brown-eyed girl to making out with multiple girls in one night to transitioning from the friend zone into something more, Jack's experiences will be relatable to any young male ready to change his life into an amazing and fun journey.
I was on my way to college, which is a place where no one knew my name. The only person that could make people avoid me is myself. I was going somewhere where I could have a fresh start.
I got accepted into a pre-engineering summer session whose purpose was to help students prepare for the engineering curriculum in college. It only cost $700 for five weeks, which included housing, food and books. It is actually a really good deal once you think about it. The $700 is the costs of the books alone, so all the other things came for free.
Even with all the stuff that was given to us for free, the main reason that I decided to do this program was that it allowed me to get out of upstate New York, and a new start. I was so ready for to leave my hometown when I was in 2nd grade, and the thought of leaving 10 weeks earlier than I originally planned, I couldn't pass the offer up.
I was not the most popular guy in high school. I never really had a group. I was more the person who did his best to fit in and failed miserably. Sure, I had a few friends, but never had girls calling me to hang out, and never got invited to parties. People knew my name, but did not really pay attention to me. I could sit at a table during lunch alone and have no one come over and ask me to join them. For this reason, I usually went and ate lunch in my math teacher's room because he was always happy to talk to me and keep my company. I spent my weekends at home, watching TV or playing X-Box by myself. When I went off to college, I knew I couldn't spend another four years with the life that I had in high school. I knew I had to change, but had no idea on how to set out to do this change. I decided to play it by ear, and see where that took me.
Going off to this pre-engineering program was the perfect chance, in my mind, to meet new people and start my new life. And thanks to Larken, I was able to start the process of becoming a whole new me. A "Me 1.0."
* * *
I met Larken one of the first days of the program. She is an amazing person and we are still good friends to this day. The first time I saw Larken, I couldn't believe how confident she looked. Larken is a short girl, with fair skin, blonde hair, a beautiful smile and blue eyes that an angel would be jealous of. She is absolutely gorgeous. I knew I was staring, but couldn't look away.
Larken must have seen this 6'1", 155 pound kid, with a brown hair, styled to that similar to "McLovin" from Superbad, a prominent chin, and big, scared, blue eyes staring at her in wonder, because she walked up to me when she saw me staring.
Seeing the girl that I was staring at walk over, I immediately started to get nervous and fidget. Not knowing what to do, I decided to look down at my feet and go from there.
When Larken made her way over to me and said "Hello, my name is Larken ..."
I looked up, to make sure she was talking to me, and stammered "Hey, my name is Jack O'Connell , I am here to be an engineering student." I immediately closed my eyes, realizing that I just blabbed the first random comment that came to my mind. It was obvious I was coming to school to be an engineer, since everyone in this program was here to be an engineering student. Keeping my eyes closed, I waited for the sound of Larken laughing, and then the sound of her footsteps walking away, but the sounds never came.
Opening my eyes, I looked down into the amused face of Larken, who said "well that is cool, so am I."
I couldn't believe it. Larken, I realized, was a sweet girl, who wouldn't make fun of or laugh at my nervousness. She was so different from most of the other pretty girls I have talked to in the past. Larken proceeded to ask about me, like where I was from, what I liked to do, etc. I answered her questions and asked about her, and pretty soon I lost my stutter and was soon talking to her without nervousness. So my friendship with Larken officially began.
* * *
Larken and I used to go on walks around campus and talk about this and that. Larken was able to read me like a book, and I am sure she still could if she wanted. So whenever something was bothering me, she would know and would always be sure to take me on these walks to help me out.
That is one of the amazing things about Larken; she actually really listened to what I had to say, instead of just being polite, and waiting for her turn to speak. She enjoyed listening to what I had to say, but also added stuff to the conversation that made talking to her really easy.
Larken helped me with my low self-esteem. I would still put myself down a lot like I did in high school, and she was determined to help me fix this problem and was a major factor of me getting out of this habit.
Larken told me how she had a physics teacher who had a rough life growing up and yet still made it through and is a successful, happy person. She told me how he thought positive and always tried to find the good in situations. Everyone seemed to be happy about being around this guy. His attitude was good but he was not one of those annoying, peppy people. Of course, this would take a while to take effect on me fully, but it was start.
She also helped me with a little habit I had of looking down whenever a girl walked towards me. This girl of course, had to be my age, but did not matter if she was good looking or not, I was always intimidated. I would turn red and if I were talking, would either have to stop talking or just continue and stutter until she was gone.
I was walking back alone from breakfast one morning, and in my own little world, that I didn't notice a beautiful red head, with fare skin and green eyes, walking the opposite way I was. I finally did notice her at the very last second, and when I looked up, our eyes met.
I immediately looked straight down to my shoes, and continued to walk forward for about ten steps without looking away from my shoes. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't look up. I looked down for too long, and didn't see the low hanging branch that must have fallen from the tree the previous night was now dangling head level with me, and I walked full on into it and let out a yelp in surprise when it bounced off my head. Jumping about two feet into the air and doing a 180-degree spin. It took me five seconds to regain my composure, and look around to see if anyone saw what just happened.
Of course, the big man upstairs wanted to make this little experience even worse, because the red head was standing there, about fifteen feet away from me, holding her hand over her mouth, and grabbing onto a side of a building to keep her balance while she was trying not to laugh. Of course she had to see me walk into the branch.
For a few seconds after seeing her, I was hoping that maybe someone told a funny joke to her and she was laughing because of that. But looking around some more, I realized that no one was around, and it would have had to been one hell of a joke to make her laugh this hard. But maybe she was just coughing or something, having an asthma attack that just appeared to be laughter, but that hope was shot down when I heard her gasp for breath and continue to breath, and laugh, just fine.
Not knowing what else to do, I turned around, ducked underneath the branch that just made me look like a fool, and continued on my way at a speed that a cheetah would be jealous of.
I decided not to tell Larken about this. She didn't need to know everything that happened to me.
Even without me telling Larken about the branch incident, Larken noticed my problem and made it her personal mission to make me look up and continue what I was doing no matter who walked by me. Of course, she only did this when we were alone, because the group of guys that I hung around with a lot was ragging me on, in a friendly way. Larken did not want to draw attention to this so they had something else to make fun of me about.
I brought over my bad habit from high school of talking when I was nervous and not realizing that it is not always necessary to talk.
A group of us would go out and hang around on campus at night. Sometimes, when we were not doing anything other than sitting there talking, I would get nervous and start to ramble because I did not like the fact that nothing would be going on.
Larken noticed this, and would talk to me later about how this is not necessary and ways to help me improve this bad habit. She was amazing. She always did this when no one is around, so I would not get embarrassed, and would never get angry with my lack of progress or when I made the same mistakes over and over again.
I do not want to make it seem like Larken was only trying to change me into a whole new person, because she wasn't. She was trying to help me improve on some things to help bring my confidence up and make me a better, stronger person. She saw that I had potential, and knew that I just needed a little help getting there.
* * *
Larken, Kay (Larken's roommate) and I would often go to dinner. Kay is a pretty African American girl, with a big smile and a heart made of gold. She liked to wear clothes that exposed her chest. This of course made me very nervous, and one time, Kay thought that it would be fun to play with this nervousness.
Walking back from dinner, Kay came up and grabbed my arm and started to walk with me holding on to me in an almost hug like manner. I immediately started to stammer and turn red. I tried to look down so I was not looking at her, but she kept getting in my line of vision. I started to giggle, and stammer more, and that got Kay laughing, along with Larken.
Kay kept saying "what's wrong Jack, why are you so red? Why are you shaking? Am I making you shake? Do you get nervous when such a beautiful girl touches you? Don't look away, look at me, you are turning red ..."
Larken would always be there for me, and would be the first person I would go to with a problem. She was there during and after Jessica, Sherry, Molly and many more. She never said "no" and was always honest, and right. But that did not mean that I would listen, because most of the time it was not what I wanted to hear, even though it was the right thing to do. The summer was worth it just because I met Larken.
* * *
Larken helped me out on purpose by talking to me directly, but Grace was a girl that helped me out indirectly, and had no idea she was doing it. Grace was also at the pre-engineering program that Larken and I participated in, and was (and still is) one of the most insecure people I have ever met.
I first saw Grace talking to a group of guys at the first meeting of the pre-engineering program. The reason why Grace caught my eye was not her looks. Grace has brown hair, in a hair style that makes her head look big, a nose similar to the Whos in The Grinch. She had some meat on her bones and wore jeans that seemed that they were going to split at the seams to keep her larger than normal thighs in. What caught my attention with Grace is that she was laughing at everything any guy said in her vicinity, and touching all of them too. I couldn't understand why she was doing it either.
All the guys she was around looked extremely uncomfortable, and were turned away from her. I couldn't understand what was going on, and asked Larken about Grace later that week.
Larken immediately knew who I was talking about when I described Grace to her. Larken explained that Grace was extremely insecure, and it wouldn't be a bad idea for me to pay attention to Grace and make sure I never acted in the manner that she was acting. That is exactly what I did.
The more I was around Grace, the more I started to see all of Grace's insecurities. Grace would always be touching guys and trying to flirt with them. Every guy I saw her do this to would shoot her attempts down and try to get away from her touchy hands. If the guys started to make fun of Grace for what she was doing, she would always choose the weakest person who is around at the time to make fun of instead, in hopes that the guys who were making fun of her at the time would set their attentions out on this weak person instead. This weak person was me most of the time. The plan failed miserably for Grace though, because the guys who usually made fun of her the most were the guys that I hung out with and were friends of mine, so they would just continue making fun of Grace until she gave up and left.
The guys in my group even came up with a suitable nickname for Grace: Slut. She earned this nickname too. On the weekends, a group of us would go to the club that was right off campus. I would usually hang out with Larken when everyone was dancing, being too scared to go and join them. It was alright though, because I was able to se Grace dance with every forty year old man who would let her dance with her. It was more of a dry humping motion, and would usually end up with Grace attempting to kiss this old man, who four out of five times, would push her away. I would ask Larken why Grace would do something like this, and Larken explained that it made Grace feel better about herself by getting this attention, even though it made her look like a slut. It was actions like this, and also bringing some high school guy to our dorm one night, which ended up with him laughing at her when she tried to kiss him, that made the nickname "Slut" become the name everyone knew Grace as.
By watching Grace, I learned a lot from her without her realizing she was teaching me. I realized a lot about body language by watching the guys around her. I learned what body language was displayed when someone is uncomfortable. The person would look around, as if trying to find an away to escape. They would turn their body away from you and try to get smaller, as if trying to disappear in their shoes. They would do all in their power to not let you in their personal space. I saw dozens of guys show this type of body language when around Grace. I also saw the body language she presented too. It was one of neediness, where she would talk to guys with her chest pushed out, as if giving them something to look at because there is nothing coming out of her mouth that is worth paying attention to. Also, she would laugh at everything. As if laughing would cover the uncomfortable feeling that she was experiencing. There was no such thing as "personal space" when it comes to Grace, she was always in yours and trying to touch you.
Also, her actions taught me what not to do in public because they scream "insecure." First off, she would touch any guy that came into touching range. That made them uncomfortable and also made her seem needy and didn't care who would fill that void. People noticed that and often looked at her with disgust because of it. They did not respect someone like that, girls and guys alike.
I have known Grace for years, and she has not changed much. Guys are still disgusted by her, and I have never known a guy to be "with" her for more than a night. She talks bad about those who she considers weaker than her so that she makes herself look better and takes the negative attention off herself. And she hates me with a passion that consumes her soul, mainly because of the fact that she could not get others to make fun of me instead of her during the first summer of college.
Grace was an unknowing teacher for me, and I give her credit for helping me change the way I was to the world, mainly because I didn't want to be anything like her and knew that in order to accomplish this, I had to be secure. It would be easier said than done, but just the thought of being like her was all the motivation that I needed in order to continue the long journey of gaining confidence.
Right after the pre-engineering program was completed, I went to Boston with a few people from my high school to participate in a mock Model UN debate. Larken had helped me for the past five weeks with my confidence and low self esteem, so I was ready to go and try it.
Those last couple days was first time in my life that I really was confident.
Wait, let me back up.
All throughout high school I was the type of guy with really low self esteem, and talked that way too. I would put myself down a lot, whether it was to make fun of myself to try and make other people laugh, or to say how bad of a person I thought I was. I thought I was really ugly and thought the whole world saw me as that ugly person I saw when I looked into the mirror. I used to tell everyone that I knew I was ugly. It is understandable that people wouldn't want to hang out with me.
Excerpted from Surviving the College Game by Jack O'Connell Copyright © 2010 by Jack O'Connell. Excerpted by permission.
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