I’m not the most comfortable person in social situations…
Dunno why. Maybe it’s that I was raised in a household with a hippy, potter (not pothead) mom and a mad professor dad. Either way, I never quite learned the standard party openers, you know, first 10 questions to ask or ways to be instantly known as the life of the party.
And, I have to admit, I kind of resented this lack of proper social grooming for a lot of years.
Because everyone I knew seemed to have a much easier time than me. But, with age, comes wisdom (also known as eccentricity), and I eventually realized my parents’ socialization skills were actually pretty killer. They were just finely tuned to the very narrow craft-world and academic communities in which they operated. Hell, my dad could throw down with the best cognitive scientists out there and my mom could talk gas-fired celadon circles around your average potter.
Problem is, outside those counterculture cliques, mainstream America operates differently.
And, while they were comfortably ensconced in their worlds, I was growing up in the bigger soup of mainstream suburban U.S.A. So, I learned how to fit into their worlds…but not mine.
And, after years of not really getting it, I started looking for the secret. I was fascinated to hear, many times and from many people, that the REAL secret is…
If you want to be interesting…be interested.
It sounded so easy. Just learn the standard openers, the 10 new-person questions, then listen to the answers and keep asking questions that demonstrate that you’ve listened and want to know more. I tried it. It took a bit of practice. But, it worked. If you pretend to be interested by mimicking the behavior of a genuinely interested person, people love you. I figured this would be a great skill set to have when looking to build clients or get a job.
Only one problem…a solid 80% of the time, I didn’t WANT to know more.
In fact, it was all I could do to keep my inner geek/hermit from raising it’s head three words into a conversation and screaming, “NEXT!”
I’m not antisocial by any definition. But, I am selectively-social.
And, here’s what I discovered. I don’t want to be considered interesting to everyone in the room, everyone at the conference or everyone at the bar. Because it takes a boatload of energy to feign interest in the name of being found interesting by people who, when it comes down to it, you don’t want to share your damn cookies with anyway. It empties you out in the name of being liked by people who, even if you’re successful in your quest to be found interesting, will have fallen not for you, but for who you’ve conned them into thinking you are.
Ya know what? Maybe, just maybe it’s time to (wo)man up and learn that it’s okay for only 5% of the people to find you interesting. Because life’s not about mass adoration, it’s about individual connection and we all have a relatively limited capacity for that.
I DO want to be considered interesting to that small subculture of people who are so genuinely likeminded and/or engaging that I authentically DO care about what they are saying. I DO want to be respected and loved and be known as a vital part of a select community, not because I asked the right questions to create just enough feigned interest to pass social muster, but because they’re them and I’m me…and that’s enough.
In the end, it’s not about how many hands I shake or the percentage of people in a room who find me interesting. It’s about the 5 people with whom there’s the chance for a genuine connection.
So, here’s a new rule about how to be the most interesting person in a room…
Be authentic, filters down. Have something to say, fueled by passion, to a small subset of the room who care and who you genuinely want to listen to.
Because the moment you have to feign interest, you’ve already lost the interesting game.
As always, just thinking out loud.
What do YOU think?
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