I could almost see his spirit laid across the floor, shattered, crunching underneath the bustle of a Lower East Side wine bar. I stood off in the corner, not unlike a trainer during a 12-round boxing match. I was ready to yell some motivational tidbits in his ear, or do what little I could to dress his wounds, but not much more.
At least a dozen times that night I spat my personal mantra at him: It’s not about them; it’s about you. Now he was learning just what that meant, rather brutally. He’d come to this program with 24 years of bad decisions, and we were trying to reverse that in a single weekend. For 24 harsh years it’d been about them—their idea of how he should live, how he should act. Now, for the last 24 hours, he’d made it about him.
What do you talk about, when you talk to women?
He considered his answer and mumbled,
I don’t know…
How don’t you know?
I demanded, making sure there was a little bite in my voice,
Do words just spew from your face?
No…I guess I just make small talk, ask them about themselves, recite routines.
Stop doing that,
From now on, you speak in alignment with your values.
Speak in alignment with your values. As the words spewed from my face, I realized how ridiculous the phrase must have sounded. I chided myself for being too esoteric, too self-helpish. I took a sip of my Blue Moon, leaned forward, and clarified,
Look. You’re living by other people’s standards. And an obvious symptom of that is the way you’re talking to people. Making small talk, asking a woman about herself, or reciting a routine does not set you up to have the sort of conversations you want to be having, now does it?
No. It doesn’t.
You’d much rather be enjoying yourself. Given the choice between enjoying yourself or making small talk, you’d pick enjoying yourself, right?
But you’re talking the way you are because you think that’s a necessary step to get yourself—and the girl you’re interacting with—to enjoy the interaction.
He thought about this, and then nodded.
Your entire communication strategy,
I went on, my voice picking up momentum.
Is based around other people’s standards. You think by appeasing someone else’s values first, you’ll be rewarded. You think by giving her what you think she wants, she’ll give you what you want.
I took another sip of Blue Moon, letting the point sink in.
You’re not going to do that anymore. The point of this weekend isn’t to give you a new set of values—it’s simply to get you living in alignment with the values you already have. Since you paid to attend a weekend program to meet women, obviously that’s something you value. I mean—you didn’t pay to come on a weekend program to make small talk, did you?
He chuckled. I couldn’t tell if the laughter was genuine, nervous, or both.
I went on,
So if meeting women is something you value, meeting women is what you talk about. Everything you say—from the first words out of your mouth—has to align with what you value. For me, I have a habit of telling women that they’re adorable and I had to meet them. It’s a horrible pickup line, but at least it’s honest. It’s an expression of what I value.
Even though he remained quiet, I knew he was getting it.
You have to make everything about you. I don’t mean that in a selfish or arrogant way. But your only shot at attracting a woman is attracting her through your values. Everything else is just smoke and mirrors.
I tilted my head back to finish off the Blue Moon. Slapping the bottle down onto the table, I concluded with the words that were to echo throughout the evening:
It’s not about them; it’s about you.
He scampered toward another group of women. As he made he way through the crowd, my heart shook my ribcage like a desperate inmate trying to bend the prison bars of his captivity. It was as if my heart wanted to leap from my chest, plop onto the trampled barroom floor, and slink behind him as he approached.
I felt as if the world suddenly grinded to a halt, suspending the moment so I could take a mental snapshot that would allow me to remember it forever. I can still recall everything, from irrelevant details like the color of the shirt of the bartender was wearing (white, v-neck) to the ominous New Wave song that blasted out of the speakers (Tears for Fears “Shout”).
Choosing the Hard Road
As he pushed forward—facing rejection after rejection—I knew he was chiseling out a new fate for himself. While he logically understood everything I’d told him, he had to understand it emotionally. And that was something I had no control over. All I could do was sit back and watch.
But, in that moment, as he made his way to do another approach, I realized what I was witnessing. This wasn’t some dude acting like a pest at a pretentious Lower East Side wine bar. This was a man breaking out of his cocoon of passive acceptability. While it pained me to watch him get brutalized by girl after girl, it had to happen. When you step into your power, make it about you, and throw yourself into the arena of proactivity, bad reactions are waiting for you. Any hint of weakness or uncertainty is ferreted out, exposed, and mocked.
Yet, he accepted those terms. His decision was symbolized each time he got back up. Each time he turned around and approached the next girl. And the next girl. And the girl after that. With every approach, he came into closer alignment with his values. He took my phrase—ridiculous as it sounded earlier that evening—and made it completely not ridiculous. He made it something he was living by. He was transforming his understanding from logic to emotion. He was transforming into a man. He’d made it about him.
Two and a half years later, that man is J.T. Styles.