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Interested > Interesting
How a phone call with a stranger taught me the best way to be known as an interesting person is not what we think.
Have you ever noticed that some people you meet are really, really interesting? And then, there are others, bless their hearts, that just… aren’t? Intuitively, it seems like the interesting people have done a lot of cool stuff with their lives and the not-so-interesting folks just haven’t gotten out much. But, I’m learning that what a person has done in the past has a lot less to do with how interesting they are than we may think.
A few years ago, I got a random email from someone I’ve never met. Yet, the person on the other end of my inbox somehow knew a lot about me. Enough, in fact, to tell me that I reminded her of her younger self and she wanted to have a phone call sometime. This is odd, I thought to myself. But, I was curious, so I sent her my number and a few weeks later I found myself on one of the most interesting calls I’ve ever had with a stranger.
Admittedly, I don’t remember a whole lot of detail from that conversation. What do I remember? I got off the phone and knew I wanted Robin as a mentor in my life, because, wow, what a fascinating person. Ask me how I knew she was interesting, and I would have paused. Because, you see, Robin hardly talked about herself at all.
Think back to the last time you had a conversation with someone who was genuinely interested in you and your life and what you cared about. How did it make you feel? How did it influence your opinion on the other person? Conversations like that make me feel valued, like I’m worth listening to. And when we feel like we’re worth having a conversation with, it makes us appreciate the person who made us feel that way. More often than not, when we tell others about that person we met, we’ll describe them as “interesting”—in a good way. You see what I mean?
Here’s the tricky part, though. I would venture to say most of us want to be known as an interesting person. Yet, I think many of us are mistaken as to how to achieve that goal: we think we need to spend the bulk of our time in a conversation talking about ourselves, to show others how interesting we are. We turn every story they tell into a story about us in our desperate attempt to show we can relate to others. We find every opportunity to bring up all the cool things we’ve done with our lives to show that we, too, are worth listening to. In our pursuit of being interesting, we end up becoming the very type of person we would describe as annoying and self-absorbed and definitely not very interesting.
So, what do we do? We seek to be interested, not interesting. And by being interested in others, we will become interesting as a byproduct. Often, the best way to become the thing we want is to pursue what’s underneath it; just like we become leaders by serving, or we become experts by relentlessly aiming for places where we have much to learn. When we aim for interested, we start asking others more questions about their lives, what they care about, what they love talking about. We listen to learn more, not to sound smart when we respond. We lead with curiosity and compassion, not our own knowledge and self-interest. This is how we become people as interesting as my mentor Robin, who since that phone call has become one of my dearest friends and trusted voices in my life.
It’s a hard skill to master, seeking to be interested over interesting. It takes time, patience with ourselves, and a desire to put others above ourselves. Yet, I think we’ll find it’s worth the time. After all, it gets boring talking about ourselves all the time. How about we let someone else do the talking and see what we can learn?