How I overcame my social anxiety to become a teacher and co-found a startup

Growing up, I had terrible social anxiety. I already had poor people skills due to my rather insular lifestyle, and moving between three different schools during my high school years prevented me from establishing any lasting or meaningful friendships. I ended up spending those crucial developmental years as an outcast. The loneliness and lack of emotional support at home caused me to spiral into a deep depression. I remember spending school lunches crying alone in the locker room because that was the only place I could get some privacy away from judging eyes. It got to a point where I would take a knife with me to bed and seriously think about hurting myself.

Luckily, I never did. What got me through these trying years was the promise of a new beginning when I went to college. I could see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel: a drastic change in scenery, with peers of diverse backgrounds, opinions, and mannerisms, sounded like the perfect place for me to shed my painful past and re-invent myself.

Out of all the colleges available to me, Brown seemed like the optimal fit for me to realize this dream. And it turned out to be the right choice! There was no better feeling to me than having a clean slate in such an amazing institution. At Brown I was able to start from scratch and mold myself into the person I wanted to be — open-minded, gregarious, experimental, adventure-seeking — that I did not feel at all empowered to do earlier. At first it felt like a facade, but with time all these character traits became a natural part of who I am. With the help of good friends and good experiences, I improved by leaps and bounds. Eventually, social anxiety stopped taking my everyday personality hostage. They say college transforms you, and in my case, it made me into a more versatile and outgoing person.

Immediately after graduation, in fact, I spent two years as a teacher, a profession that requires ample interaction with often difficult people. I’m now a co-founder at a startup where my communication and people skills definitely come in handy.

In the end, starting anew at Brown was the key to overcoming my struggles with anxiety and depression. But now that I think about it, it wasn’t really Brown itself that helped me overcome — it was actually the new determined mindset I adopted because of Brown. As such, my advice would be to find a way to find that new beginning intrinsically — a mental overhaul or personal resolve maybe — and commit to it independently of outside forces. We’re not slaves to our surroundings, nor should we rely on them to find happiness. Real change comes from within. Other than a intrinsic change in perspective, I’d recommend finding a therapist with whom you absolutely 100% feel comfortable. It’s always good to bounce your dreams, goals, fears, thoughts, and opinions off of a genuine and trustworthy person. And it prevents you from feeling alone. Otherwise, a lot of the mental and cognitive schemas outlined in Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People really helped me look at myself and my surroundings in a different light.
— Brown University alum '12, Neuroscience, Teacher, Startup Co-founder