Former nebbish, now Mr. Popularity, shares his secrets

To give you an idea of how uncool Jon Levy was as a kid: His first kiss was in first grade, when he was a student at the Abraham Joshua Heschel School on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

His second kiss? It happened during his freshman year in college.

Now, however, Levy has a packed social life and regularly hosts invite-only parties attended by the likes of Oscar winner Paul Haggis, Nobel laureate Saul Perlmutter and Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Jon Levy pushes through his comfort zone during a trip to Antarctica.

Levy hosts about 30 salons a year, each attended by 60 people, and maybe 40 more intimate dinners annually with a dozen or so guests. Most of the events are in New York, where he lives, and Los Angeles — but they’re also in San Diego, Park City, Utah, and elsewhere. And his guests even help cook and clean up afterward.

“My friend Anthony came over after one of the dinners and went into the kitchen to say hello — and almost fell over when he saw [basketball great] Isiah Thomas doing the dishes,” Levy, 36, told JTA.

Just how Levy went from social outcast to major influencer is detailed in his new book, “The 2 AM Principle: Discover the Science of Adventure,” a guide to living an adventurous life.

“That means living outside your comfort zone, making a commitment to growth and development,” he said. “It is what makes life enjoyable.”

Levy’s journey began in the eighth grade at Heschel, when a teacher’s innocent social experiment resulted in a devastating revelation. “She thought she was doing something wonderful,” he said, asking each student in the class to privately submit the name of two people they’d like to sit next to and two they wanted to avoid.

“I unfortunately discovered I was the kid no one wanted to sit with,” Levy recalled. “I was never the most popular kid in the class, but to discover that I was a social outcast was terribly disheartening.”

Eventually the ugly caterpillar became a social butterfly.

As he details in his book, Levy — whose “day job” is behavioral scientist and business consultant who advises corporations how to attract customers — suggests the best way to come out of your shell is to get out of your comfort zone.

Of course, going from nebbish to cool takes time. Levy didn’t make much progress until he started at a new high school and saw an opportunity to reinvent himself. Self-transformation also came when his parents sent him to Camp Shomria, a kibbutz-style Zionist youth camp.

“It was a new start,” he said. “People didn’t have preconceived notions of me. Also, when you’re in an environment where people see you in a certain way, it’s really tough to change.”

In both cases, while he still wasn’t sitting at the cool kids’ table, he made new friends. 

So if you’re looking to “explore, meet people and see what life has to offer,” the former nerd offers these tips:

Be patient — your time will come. “I never stopped being a geek,” Levy said. “But there was a cultural shift that allowed nerds to fit into the mainstream. It’s cool to be geeky now.”

Curate the people around you. “Seek out people who have the characteristics you admire,” he said. If you want to be stylish, make friends with people who are fashion-forward and learn from them. Want to be more athletic? Hang out with athletes. 

Bring something of value to your relationships. For Levy, it’s creating a sense of community. “My true strength is bringing people together and helping them connect,” he said of his salons.

Be willing to embarrass yourself. “The process of learning how to connect with other people is full of failures,” he said. “We screw up. We miss social cues.”

When in doubt, cookies. “In America, nothing instills that positive feeling as a warm chocolate chip cookie,” he said, noting that people associate fresh-baked cookies with a caring parent.