Most of my adult life I’ve been fascinated by two questions: “How do we solve impossible problems?” and “How do I get an intelligent, funny, beautiful woman to go out with me?” I’m starting to suspect the answers to these two very different questions actually share a lot of overlap. That’s because of something that happened to me in college.
When I was in college, I was terrified of asking women on dates to the degree that a group of my friends and I formed a pact that next time we met a woman who interested us for whatever reason, we had to ask her on a date. And a couple of weeks later, I met this woman named Alison. She walked into a classroom, I was walking out of it, and my jaw literally dropped. I have almost never seen a woman this beautiful in my entire life. Of course, I could never speak to her. I ran away and tried not to talk to her for as long as I possibly could.
One day, I’m sitting in the student center at my university, at CU-Boulder, and I see her sitting 30 yards away working on her computer. I’m sitting with my friends Daniel and Ben with whom I’ve made this pact. I’m really freaking out, all of a sudden. They say, “What’s going on, man?” I say, “Well, there’s a girl, Alison, you know, she’s really beautiful.”
“Dude, you got to ask her on a date.”
I say, “No, that’s not what I’m going to do.”
They say, “Yes, it is. You’ve made this pact, you have to do it.”
They keep pushing me, I keep resisting. Eventually, I’m like, “Oh my God, OK.” I stand up, and she’s 30 yards away. I take those first steps toward her. Have any of you in the audience ever asked somebody on a date before? You know the terror-inducing phenomenon that this is. Because my body has never been in life or death situation, but this is the closest I’ve ever come. My heart starts racing trying to escape my chest and run away.
My lungs are unable to draw upon air, my palms are sweating, my throat is dry. And I walk up to Alison, and I say, “Hey, Alison.” Actually, it was more like, “Hey, Alison.” My voice literally cracks. She stands up, and she’s like, “Oh, ehm.”
I say, “Teju.”
She says, “Yes, Teju, hi.”
We talk for a while. I have no idea what she’s saying, because in the meantime, I’m thinking about what I’m about to do, and the thought of it is so terrifying that I’m physically quivering. My body is shaking. And so I make a deadly fatal mistake. I rest my hand on a table in order to steady myself, but unfortunately, if you’ll recall, my palms are sweaty, so I do this. I hit my hip on the table, and she’s like, “Are you OK?” In my head, I’m like, “I am so not OK.”
But at this point, I’ve lost all dignity so I might as well just go for it, “Alison, this is crazy, but would you ever go on a date with me?”
And she’s so kind, and so thoughtful, and she says, “No.” Apparently, she doesn’t date, she is really focused on herself at this time, we talk for a little while. I go back to my table, sit down with Daniel and Ben. They say, “Dude, what happened?” I tell them what happened, I tell them the story.
But something amazing happened to me on this day, something that changed my life forever. And that is the fact that I survived. Leading into this moment, in that 30 yards between where I stood and where Alison sat, thoughts entered my head that were unbelievable. My brain was like, “What are you doing, man? Turn around, don’t do this, because when you ask her, she’s going to slap you across the face, call you a creep, everyone around is going to pay attention looking at you like, ‘What were you thinking?’ and I’ll be so devastated, my friends will shame me, I won’t have the courage ever again to do this, I’ll lose all confidence, and probably spend my life penniless and alone in my parents’ basement.”
But none of that happened. She was sweet, she said it made her day, my friends treated me like a hero, and nobody bothered to look up from their computers or whatever else they were doing. None of the things I feared actually took place. And in this moment, on this day, I realized: this wasn’t impossible for me. Asking a woman on a date was not impossible. It was merely difficult.
So now, if I was going to find love – that quest didn’t end – I had to do this again, and I did, again and again and again, and most of the time, the answer that I got was ‘no.’ But on a rare occasion, someone said ‘yes.’ And on a rarer occasion still, that ‘yes’ turned into lasting and meaningful love, which was what I was after the entire time. What I learned from this story is that if we’re willing to try things we believe are impossible, we realize, in fact, they are indeed possible, just difficult, perhaps.
If we’re willing to attempt again and again, we increase the likelihood that we actually succeed. And along the way, there is never a way we can do something so difficult for us without the help and belief of our friends. Daniel and Ben held me accountable to what was impossible for me.