Social Anxiety to Social Butterfly
The Transformation Story of Lisa Cole
The battle of overcoming our biggest fears and facing obstacles we would rather not deal with is fierce. Anxiety will fight attempts to overthrow it with mind games, racing heartbeat, numbness, and every excuse imaginable to keep itself “safe”. It takes time, a lot of time. It takes perseverance, even when nothing seems to be working. There is no simple formula that makes success quick and painless. It takes a purpose bigger than ourselves in order to push outside the box our self-image defines for us.
But some people do it. Some people totally transform their lives. Some people radically change their limiting circumstances. Some people overcome all odds, all obstacles.
Lisa Cole is one of those people.
She grew up shy and sheltered. She admits preferring the company of dogs over people as a kid. “I didn’t even really like people”, she said. There were only 14 kids in her class at her Christian school and she didn’t have any siblings. Her school was predominately white middle to upper class families. Her mother was also shy so she never ventured beyond the social safety of family.
Culture Shock. After graduation she was thrust into a radically different world. Going from a school where even wearing pants as a female was considered sinful to the brash language, styles, and diverse lifestyles in the outside world was a major culture shock. She described feeling handicapped because of her lack of experiences interacting with people of different races, cultures, and value systems.
Coping. Besides her dogs, Lisa connected with computers instead of people. When she could hide behind the computer screen, she had the courage to express herself. She had her first computer at the age of three, built her first website in 1997, and had over 10K visitors a month at her Collie Dog Owners website by 2002. She learned to survive in the world, but quickly retreated to the safety of her computer screen after work.
Destiny. Because she was working full time, going to college, and running a large online platform, she usually was unable to go to church with her family. So when her mom asked Lisa to attend a special evening service one night, Lisa agreed to go. Kevin Cole also happened to be at that event. It was love at first sight and marriage soon followed. In 2007 Kevin and Lisa found out they were expecting their first child.
Motherhood Changed Everything.
She made a decision. When her son arrived she reflected on how crippling it was to not have a strong social circle and well developed social skills. She wanted a bigger world for her child. She wanted to expose him to experiences, cultures, and situations where he could learn how to connect with others and develop meaningful friendships. There is not really a roadmap on how to raise a social child coming from a reclusive lifestyle, but Lisa decided to just start something and forge a way.
Determination. When she looked online to find out what public opportunities were available for socializing babies she found library story time events. Even though it was often the same familiar faces at the library, conversations never really got past “hi, how are you”. Lisa began to ask herself what could be better. That question lead her to playgroups. Despite having a severe panic attack on her way to their first event, Lisa kept going. With her kids as the driving force, no matter what happened, she wasn’t giving up. Every day she would make strides in the journey of overcoming her own fears so her child wouldn’t have to face the same struggles. She just kept putting those playdates on their calendar, sometimes up to five a week even when her own feelings were ruthlessly fighting every step she took.
Persistence. The entire first year she couldn’t even remember other people’s names because of the high levels of anxiety she was battling. She read books (and still does) to teach her how to start conversations and make friends. Her dad’s guiding wisdom kept her going. He told her…
if you know you are doing the right thing for the right reason
you just have to force your body to do the actions
and eventually the feelings will come along.
His reminder that it’s her choice to let her feelings rule what she can or cannot, kept her pushing through all the effort and discomfort.
Overcoming. It took about two years of play dates for those feelings to catch up. Around 2012 attending playgroups finally started getting easier. Facebook helped Lisa express her feelings with the group from the comfort of her home. It also helped her remember the moms’ stories to read Facebook posts they shared. She focused on reaching a broad range of people and then let more intimate relationships develop naturally. She focused on appreciating people for the season they were in. She learned to not take offense when relationships come and go.
Crash. By 2012 she was also expecting their third child. With that child also came a debilitating hit with postpartum depression. She was overwhelmed and couldn’t keep up. She lost all her websites, hundreds of online articles she had written, the domain names, the online shop she had built to go along with her Collie Dog Owners website. All irretrievably gone. Because of her hard work and persistence in developing real friendships, she had the playgroup support circle but it was not enough to get her through the severity of the depression. Her husband was supportive, but there was no way for him to understand what she was going through either.
Rebuild Even Stronger. She knew it was time to go back to asking herself questions to find a way out of the darkness. She asked what would make things different, new, and challenging in a way that would lead to positive growth. So she took on another of her long held limiting beliefs, signed up for the 5K color run and joined a gym. She hated running and had always been un-athletic so it was definitely something new and different. Just like on her way to her first playdate, she had a panic attack on her way to the gym, but again, she did it anyway.
She even persuaded two of her childhood friends to sign up for the race with her. They were all terrified not only about the challenge of the run, but also the wild and flamboyant culture and celebration that went along with that particular 5K. But they all ended up really enjoying it in the end. They all discovered that just because you think you won’t like something doesn’t mean you won’t. That new belief really paves the way for persistence in future endeavors that require a bit of pain before the pleasure.
Becoming A Woman Of Influence. The Color Run also taught Lisa how to draw people into situations that they wouldn’t normally consider. It showed her she could guide others to expand beyond their current comfort zones just as she had in the playgroups. She was developing confidence that pushing through all the effort and discomfort was worth it. That confidence equipped her to lead other people beyond their comfort zones as well.
Giving Back. Because her social skills were learned through trial and error along with diligent study and observation she is now able to intentionally apply those skills in other areas. As her children grow, her social circles change. She makes the choice to test her skills learned in playgroups to her children’s PTO group at their school, their swim team, and boy scouts. Since she has awareness of the strategies in creating connections she can now even teach those strategies to others, leading the way in developing strong communities within the organizations she is involved with.
Looking Ahead. Lisa plans on re-entering the work force in a few years when her youngest child starts school. Always growing, she is now a member of the Junior League of Columbia. She is meeting many young professional women and gaining experience, training, and exposure in a variety of public relations, business, and leadership opportunities while serving her community through volunteerism. When asked, she admits she has always had an entrepreneurial spirit, but wants to pursue a job rather than building a business because the demands of owning a business can take over family time, and she puts her family first.
Surpassing Goals. It was her children that motivated Lisa to push through the misery of panic attacks, repeated social awkwardness, and stress as she transformed socially. Yet she is amazed at how wonderful her own life has been enriched through friendships and experiences she didn’t even know she could have wanted. She smiles as she talks about all the people who love her children because of the social circles they’ve been raised in. “Beyond what I ever could have imagined for myself” she says of the quality of the friendships she now has.
Thriving. Another side benefit she said, “is the confidence in my ability to get through the fear”. Many situations still bring up that same old fear, but that didn’t stop her so she can face it head on. She admits to frequently forgetting how far she has come and still seeing herself the old way. She continues to read, practice, and grow in this journey. She accepts that there are seasons to relationships and strives to embrace her present situation while staying willing to let go of unfruitful things.
You Can Too Her story shows success is not an overnight phenomenon that comes from wanting it very badly. Its taking tiny steps, reflecting on their results, and taking another based on that feedback. What step will you take today so that in two years from now, you will be amazed at how far you’ve come? Don’t give up, it will be worth it.
A Few Helpful Success Tools From Lisa
- She asked results oriented questions to find specific actions that were within her control.
- When her results weren’t aligning with her goals, she went back to asking “What’s better?”
- She used social media as a tool to learn about people, connect deeper with others, and express herself authentically. Used this way, this tool enhanced her offline relationships rather than detract from then.
- Her children were her motivation. Something bigger than herself to propel her when things were hard
Recommended Books For Social Skill Development
The Art of Mingling by Jeanne Martinet
How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
How To Start Conversations and Make Friends by Dan Gabor
Personal Daily Habit That Contributes To Lisa’s Success
“I seek out people that will teach me things, and surround myself with people that I admire for being kind, focused, good at what they do, or dedicated.”
Parting Piece Of Wisdom
Nosce Te Ipsum
Be your authentic self, be who you want to be, not just what others expect you to be. You can connect without conforming. When you can be the right person you will attract the right person.
In some people, the shackles of shyness seem to refine the words that do escape. Their message gets put through the fire of every possible objection, boiled down to the most potent, essential elements of their message before it is allowed out of their mouth.
I can’t help but wonder if this plays a part in the beauty of Lisa’s writing. Even her Facebook posts are rich with power, emotion and purpose behind every word. She said social media was a great help along her journey of learning to connect authentically with people. She could be herself and say what she wanted to say at night, because she was relaxed, simply typing from the safety and comfort of her bedroom. She also admits throughout her entire first year in playgroups, her anxiety levels were so high she could never remember anyone’s name. Facebook also gave her the opportunity to learn about others on her territory, which she could then eventually carry over into live social opportunities.
Because she posted her thoughts and feelings so eloquently on Facebook, I know I personally always want to read anything she posts, and feel like I know her far deeper than I would from our kid focused interactions during playgroup meetings. As she blossomed online people started following her, replying to her posts, providing feedback and encouragement that guided her growth and increased her confidence. For so many years the computer was her shelter. She hid behind the screen, safely distanced from the outside world. Yet through the sheer determination of a mom totally committed to creating a bigger life for her children, she used her crutch to knock down all the barriers she thought would always keep her contained.
Thanks so much for reading! Lisa has inspired me and helped me focus on progress rather than perfection, and to trust the process. I hope her story will give you courage and faith that even if you are not as far along as you thought you should be, it’s a journey worth taking.