College student was crushed by social anxiety — Here is how he found confidence and purpose in life

Pavel Porubiak used to be painfully shy and plagued with social anxiety, but now has no trouble speaking in public and connecting with others. He hopes his journey of building confidence can encourage others facing a similar challenge.

L-R: Pavel Porubiak; Pavel speaking at a human rights panel.

I grabbed the guitar. I was ready to play, but I couldn’t remember how the song went. I couldn’t even remember how it started. I’d like to have had another pause of 20 seconds to compose myself, because I couldn’t remember how to play.

I completely ruined the performance, and I was always like this. I couldn’t even speak in front of my class during high school or give a speech or presentation because I was so anxious and afraid.

I am thankful to have been able to make a dramatic shift since that time. It’s my hope that sharing my story of how I overcame severe shyness and social anxiety might help others.

Disaster on Full Display

That guitar incident took place in 2012. As a skilled guitarist, I was onstage at the prestigious International Guitar Competition held in Brno, the second-largest city in the Czech Republic. I had prepared for this event for months and made it the primary focus of my life.

There was good reason for that. This was the right place to showcase my talent, get the recognition I longed for, and have the chance to win a unique prize: a Japanese guitar valued at more than 4,000 euros.

My disaster that day, on full display before an important audience, was truly devastating. It was especially so because of how much I craved to be recognized for an excellent performance, as guitar playing was something I used as a safe way to express myself where I did not feel too vulnerable.

Shattering as it was, that incident was just one of many frequent manifestations of the severe shyness and lack of self-confidence that I had suffered from since I was a young child.

 

“I had prepared for this event for months and made it the primary focus of my life.”

 

Hiding Behind My Guitar

I grew up lonely as an introvert and many times was drowned in hopelessness about my ability to overcome this situation. By age 11 or 12, I had few friends, maybe just one or two, and felt rejected and isolated all the time.

As I got older, I found myself hesitant and indecisive around girls when first meeting them. Then once I got to know them better, I would go to the other extreme and develop a kind of arrogance, despite feeling anxious inside and fearful of losing face. It was like a mask I put on to cover up my lack of self-confidence, and it brought on a feeling of unfairness that bothered me very much, as I considered myself a good person. I had a terribly hard time and really wanted to find a way to make a change.

During high school, a possible solution came along when I learned to play the guitar and discovered that I had a natural aptitude. Guitar playing was a way to show off my skills and get others’ attention and recognition. At the same time it served as a safe place to give expression to my thoughts and feelings without needing to be around other people.

Later, in university, I got serious about playing the guitar and decided to make it my first prioritymy purpose in life. I was very good at it and had the desire to achieve greatness through a skill, so what else could be better?

But underneath it all, what I was really doing was using the guitar as a means of avoiding and ignoring the real issue. I was trying to hide and protect myself by pursuing an activity where I could be by myself and not have to worry about dealing with other people.

 

Pavel with his classmates in university in the social work program, in 2012.

 

Skill Mastery Was Not the Answer

The guitar competition incident made me feel heavily depressed and dispirited. I believed there was no way things could change. What was the point of excelling in guitar playing if I could not present my skills and music to others?

The fact was that I enjoyed showing off my skill and was prepared to work hard to pursue ever-greater perfection. But I realized that in the end, no matter how outstanding a guitar player I became, it wasn’t going to resolve my shyness and severe social anxiety.

I needed to find another way to fix my fundamental issue, and I looked to philosophy and spirituality for solutions.

 

“No matter how outstanding a guitar player I became, it wasn’t going to resolve my shyness and severe social anxiety.”

 

Finding My Way

Although I do not come from a traditional religious family, my mother introduced me to God and spiritual belief from a young age. By age 5 or 6, I sometimes had the feeling that I was receiving an answer to a question I had in my mind. It was very comforting, but it gradually faded away.

Then by the time I was 8 or 9, I became more conscious of the existence of God. But I did not know how to contact God. As I grew older, I tried hard to look for that higher power that would help me make sense of my life.

In my search for spiritual insight that could solve my problems, I started to immerse myself in philosophy. Then I tried some esoteric teachings. I looked into many schools of thought that I believed taught “elevated” things. But nothing gave me the help I needed, and some of those teachings made me feel disconnected from the real world.

Then one day I stumbled on an article about the benefits of a traditional Chinese practice called Falun Dafa. It immediately got my attention, because at that time I was reading Chinese and Japanese novels and learning about martial arts and I was very open to Eastern cultures. I was able to quickly grasp the essence of Falun Dafa’s teachings.

Higher Truths About Life

Falun Dafa, also called Falun Gong, is a practice of mind and body that explains moral and spiritual principles and also incorporates qigong exercises and meditation. It teaches the core principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance as a way of attaining wisdom and spiritual enlightenment.

It is practiced by more than 100 million people around the world, who have benefited from the practice in many ways. I soon experienced the benefits myself.

I learned the exercises from the video tutorials on the Falun Dafa website and read the main book of teachings, “Zhuan Falun,” which is also available free on the website.

I started to do the exercises regularly while reading the book. After reading the book three times, I realized how profound the teachings were, and yet so simple. They were higher truths about life that I had never seen anywhere else before. They helped me gain a clear understanding about life, and suddenly I realized that happiness was something in my own hands, not something from the outside that I had to wait for.

 

Pavel lining up with other Falun Dafa practitioners before the start of a parade in New York City, 2015.

 

Gaining Courage and Confidence

In a matter of a few months, my life made a positive turnaround, and I started to experience what it was like to feel hope and confidence.

I believe that what made this possible was studying the teachings of Falun Dafa and adopting its guiding principles in my life, such as always considering others first and looking within for solutions to challenges in life.

With that shift in mindset, I found new courage in myself that allowed me to be able to more easily connect and talk with people. Instead of thinking of myself and focusing on myself, I put others first.

For the first time in my life, I had faith in the future and believed I could truly improve myself as a whole being and not just in some skill or knowledge.

I started feeling more comfortable talking with others without worrying about what they might say or think about me. It was as if my anxiety had disappeared.

I am most grateful that I am now even comfortable doing public speaking, be it in my daily life or for work. On a number of occasions, my new mindset enabled me to participate in opportunities where I could let more people know about Falun Dafa and how it benefited me and countless other people.

I share my story here because the change in me is something I couldn’t have imagined just a few years ago. And I think the opportunities are rare that we can find a way to change ourselves so dramatically for the better. There are not many opportunities like that. I hope my story can relate to and encourage others working to overcome similar challenges.

 

Pavel at his best friend’s wedding reception, 2017.

 

Editor’s Note:

Falun Dafa is a cultivation practice of mind and body that teaches truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance as a way to improve health and moral character and attain spiritual wisdom.

For more information about the practice, visit www.falundafa.org. All books, exercise music, resources, and instructions are available free of charge.

 
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