How journalist and author, Greg Richter, turned social anxiety into opportunity for success

Greg Richter is a jack of all trades. He is an award winning journalist, author, editor, gifted photographer, filmmaker,and much more.

Would you be surprised to know that he also has suffered from social anxiety?

I met Greg when he came to photograph my mural back in 2010 (if I recall correctly) for the Birmingham News.

Since then, I’ve come into contact with him numerous times, usually at a historical event where he is the photographer.

I asked Greg if he would be willing to let me ask him a few questions for an interview, and he kindly obliged. Here is our conversation below:

What do you think is the biggest struggle that you have had to face in life?

Greg: The biggest struggle I’ve ever had to overcome is social anxiety or extreme shyness. I haven’t completely beaten it, but, at 50, I’ve adjusted a lot. Most people just see you as quiet and urge you to talk more, but it isn’t that easy. You’re not being quiet because you want to be, but because you are terrified that what you say will make a bad impression.

What’s worse is that some people seem to think that because you don’t talk you also can’t hear. When I was in high school I was sitting in a room waiting for my friends to show up and another group of students were came in the room and where hanging out. I didn’t know them well so I just say silently, wishing I could join in. They left the room, and one of them said, “That Richter guy is cool, but he’s weird.” Well, that made me feel good!

When I was in my 20s I was a newspaper reporter and showed up early for a meeting. I just hung out in the back of the room by myself, while people there for the meeting were gathered up front. One of the men said, “That newspaper man don’t talk much, does he?”

Well, no. And if I was terrified to talk before, having someone point it out to a crowd of strangers wasn’t going to make it any easier.

If you haven’t guessed, dating was virtually nonexistent for some time. I didn’t get married until I was in my 40s. But I’m happy now with my wife who puts up with all my quirks, including my social anxiety.

I’ve been able to overcome a lot in recent years just by getting involved in volunteer organizations. I joined the local historical society because it’s something I’m interested in, and in a few years I was president. That meant talking in front of crowds. I also have played a character in the cemetery tour for years. The first year my voice was shaking. Now, I can talk to a group of strangers like they are my friends.

I know there are medications and other therapies to treat social anxiety, but my own treatment has been to force myself to get involved. I think my biggest regret was not admitting the problem sooner. I think friends and family would have helped if I’d asked for it.

Interestingly, I got into journalism despite my fear of talking to people. I enjoyed reporting, but spent most of my career as a copy editor where – you guessed it – I didn’t have to talk to strangers.

I’m still a writer, working as a freelancer for Newsmax, a political news website, and The Clyde Fitch Report, where I am a columnist. I also have self-published an e-book, “The Easy Budget,” under the pen name Owen Tew and co-authored “Legendary Locals of Cullman County” with Kay Cagle. My wife, Laura Axelrod, and I also have a short documentary film in film festivals called “Becoming Colonel Cullmann,” which tells the story of how re-enactor Larry Rowlette came to become the face of Cullman Oktoberfest.

I’ve always wanted to use my writing to share my Christian faith. I have done that through the years, and would eventually like to do through my writing and filmmaking.

Tell me about the joy that is in your life – where do you think true happiness comes from?

True happiness comes from walking in the Spirit. I first found that joy at the age of 19 while I was in college. It literally saved my life. My social anxiety had me thinking I couldn’t continue in an unhappy life, but I had been brought up with Christian influences. I decided to say the “Sinner’s Prayer” one night after I had just gotten out of one of my classes. The thing is, I had said that prayer dozens of times since about the age of 12 and it had never taken. So I thought, why would this time be different? I decided to simply trust that God had indeed saved me and would be there for me. I immediately felt at peace, and I never looked back. I have failed in my walk many times, but I have never regretted my decision.

Is there anyone who inspires you and motivates you? If so, tell me a little about them.

My Dad has always inspired me. He is even more shy than I am, but he is the most trustworthy person I have ever met. He would do anything in his power to help you if you need it and is the best secret-keeper you’d ever meet.

Is there any advice you would like to share with others who have been in your shoes?

If you suffer from social anxiety, don’t wait to talk to people about it. Your friends and family are fully aware of your situation, so pretending that it doesn’t exist – such as always answering that you’re not dating anyone “right now” – doesn’t do anything for you. If you need to talk to a doctor about it, don’t be afraid to do that either. I know it’s easier said than done because I have been there, but that one bit of courage can change your life.


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