After taking the bus for over a year I resorted to my car once again, mainly because I had purchased vocabulary tapes and needed my car’s cassette player to listen to the tapes and learn new words. One thing about attending a high octane institution like the U.S. Military Academy, even for a short time, is that it leaves you unable to settle for mediocrity. At such institutions, excellence is pounded into your soul by a thousand mental mallets each and every minute. You are expected to perform at a high level of alertness and competence on short notice, rarely allowed to come up for air and, when you do, you seem to fall into a reflective stupor in which you immediately begin to anticipate the next shoe to fall.
You find yourself asking questions: “What will happen next that I need to prepare for?” You learn to exist in a high state of readiness, constantly anticipating, preparing for the unexpected. Because of this mindset instilled in me by my military experience, I have over the years sought to improve myself in myriad ways. I didn’t know at the time (still in my thirties) that I would develop a love for writing and that an expanded vocabulary would serve me well—even as I write this, those tapes continue to serve me. (12) To make yourself more interesting, enhance your life with new skills.
Years ago as a young investment broker, I realized that I had built myself a box and climbed in. My work-life was stale. But it was stale not because the stock market had suddenly lost its intrinsic excitement, and opportunities for profit had disappeared. Quite the contrary, the market was (looking back) never so thrilling and never so full of opportunity! That was many thousands of points ago. I was the problem. So I devised a solution. My solution involved attempting to expose myself to the unseen and, by doing so, (9) wake up the complacent energy within me in an effort to revitalize my work-life. In other words, to experience the world in a different way and see what might be detected about my existence that I had perhaps been missing and, therefore, failing to learn from. We lived just a block off a main artery leading downtown and every morning the city bus came along at precisely 7 o’clock. Now, I had never taken a bus to school or work in my life. In those days—and I suspect the same is true today—“professional” people simply didn’t ride the bus to work in my city. If you did, people would certainly view you as somewhat eccentric—not just your professional friends but the usual bus riders who daily took the bus would also look suspiciously at you! So, by riding the bus to work, I was sure to change out the lens through which the world viewed me while forcing myself to learn something about the world of others.
At first, my lawyer buddies and stock-broker associates would see me at the bus stop and wave awkwardly. Some offered me a ride but I politely declined. I would always say something like, “thanks, but I’m doing transportation research,” or something equally “out there.” But, hey, (10) you can’t be too concerned about what others think while you are trying to become more interesting as long as you’re not breaking the law, hurting others or deliberately trying to look like a fool. And I was not deliberately trying to look foolish! I was, in fact, on a mission—to learn from a change in scenery and routine. I’ll never forget stepping from the bus one morning in front of one of the prominent banks in the business district. Just as I stepped to the curb, a fellow broker with my firm, a rather snobbish person, emerged from the bank and immediately saw me stepping away from the bus. Now this person was very smart, at least, there was a perception that he was. He walked directly up to me, looked me up and down curiously and asked haltingly, “did you just get off that bus?” (His BMW was parked nearby.) “Yeah,” I answered nonchalantly. He cocked his head as if something really profound (or perplexing) was coming to his mind, then turned and walked back into the bank without saying a word. As I watched him go, I realized that I had just become a different person in his view—I had become someone who was willing to take a risk, someone who was unafraid to break the rules or shakeup the status quo, someone who was a little more interesting than he at first assumed, perhaps someone to be reckoned with, someone to watch, to get to know better, maybe. I’ll always wonder what he was thinking that day. But that was my goal: to start everyone thinking—in a constructive way, of course.
I rode that bus for at least a year. It took me forty-five minutes to go the distance that normally took fifteen. But I saw my city along the way. I saw the hardship of those little ladies who rode the bus out of lack of other transportation. I saw dilapidated homes, mansions and marvelous state buildings really for the first time as I peered from the window and contemplated the world in slow motion. I saw problems, opportunities, history and the future. The bus rides stretched me and shaped my thinking about my work, my role in life, and what really mattered. They laid the foundation for where I am today because they left me unsettled and unwilling to let life happen to me rather than taking life and making it mine. My little girl would greet me at day’s end by running toward me as I walked up the street from the bus stop. In retrospect, those were the glory years of my life; all because I was willing to rock my own world with change that opened my eyes to the lives of others unlike me, to love things unseen that I had previously passed by quickly or not at all. I learned so much by simply changing a single pattern of my life and I truly believe others saw me as more interesting, if not mysterious, for my effort. What was basically a dreary bus ride to others became a mode of reflection and growth for me. I still think of those days and continue to be affected in positive ways. (11) You won’t be affected in positive ways by experiences you never have.
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A little respect takes one a long way in business and life. But one sad development I have witnessed in recent years is that business men and women seem to have abandoned common courtesy. Sure, I know we are bombarded daily with sales pitches in the form of email solicitations, phone calls, TV and radio ads (I got rid of the TV two years ago), etc., and are basically worn out by assaults on our attention. But that’s no excuse for silencing our fellow human beings who are only trying to do their jobs and represent their companies and products well. Perhaps you are one of those humble servants trying to get past a gatekeeper and know all too well what I’m talking about. Rejection is an ugly fact of life. It is exceedingly difficult these days to get someone to return a phone call, answer a letter or an email. Even your best friends will shun you if they think you’re trying to sell them something!
So, how do you overcome this fierce undeserved resistance, and get face-to-face with buyers who will avoid you regardless of how rude they may be or how humiliating—and they don’t care—it may be to you? (Otherwise, you’ll never get the order.) The answer is actually pretty simple: you have to (8) network. Life in its most sublime form is networking. You can’t live life without networking in some way or another. Effective networking means your work must become your life and your life must become your work—but in a good way. Stop trying to “sell” and just concentrate on building relationships. Initiate them at the ball field, the golf course, church, synagogue, while dining out, attending parties, or whatever. Just be patient and wait for the question: “So, John/Mary, what do you do?” When you hear this question you must recognize it for what it is: 1. it’s an admission that you have connected—won their approval; and 2. it’s an invitation to explain what you do to survive in the world. When you get the question, the questioner is signaling that he/she is comfortable enough with you to ask if they might benefit from whatever it is you do. Tell them! And ask for referrals! But the key to getting the question is to discover how to make yourself more interesting. When you do, you’ll start attracting people and prosperity like flies to honey.
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When my daughter was just a little girl, I began to model for her what a good husband looked like. I tried my best to conduct myself as a gentleman, especially when we were out in public. I would open her car door and help her with her chair at a restaurant and so on. It got to the point that she would walk to the car and stand beside the door patiently until I opened it for her.
And she would not touch her chair at a restaurant—in other words; she came to expect me to mind my manners. My plan was for her to demand this kind of treatment from the guys she would date some day. I figured that if a fellow didn’t treat her likewise, she would quickly discern that he didn’t properly cherish her like her Dad; and that he wasn’t too respectful of her, and, hopefully, she would keep on looking.
I’m happy to say that my plan worked beautifully as we have a great son-in-law today who has impeccable manners and treats her like the lady she grew up to be. (Plus, I told him that if he ever mistreated her I would consider the occasion of his conduct to relieve me of all responsibility for my actions.) What’s the point of all of this? Well, I believe that one wonderful tactic for young (and old) men and women to distinguish themselves and make themselves more interesting to the opposite sex is to simply (7) show some respect! Unfortunately, good manners and simple respect are almost a lost art in today’s culture. Young men who master the art of good manners may be pleasantly surprised—girls may just take to you like flies to honey. And if they don’t, beware! They may be trouble as their “models” may have taught them nothing about proper relationships or maybe even all the wrong things. This works the same for young women looking for a serious relationship with a guy.
This is not to say that good manners are the only criteria for a sound relationship! It’s just one way people may distinguish themselves and become more interesting in a culture that is often all about getting rather than giving. Try it and see for yourself. It worked for my daughter; and although she may have even had no idea of my plan then, she understands the beauty of it now. Oh, how age doth make us wiser.
For post # 1, click here.
Speaking of butts, my Granddaddy always had a cigar in his mouth. He was born around the turn of the century—I think just before the turn of the 19th century, 1898? He survived the Great Depression, never finished grade school and never experienced what anyone would describe as great success—at anything—except, probably, at just enjoying life. My fondest memory of him was seeing him sitting at his old typewriter dressed in his work trousers and a tank-top T-shirt, pecking out a note to himself or to a friend. I didn’t think he was particularly handsome, he was certainly not well-educated or extremely articulate, although he did communicate his message very well, often in colorful language I won’t repeat, but never used bad words in public. He was not what one would call a gentleman in his private life. I watched him spit straight on the floor many times. If he needed a place to hang his pants, he would just hammer a nail in the nearest wall. He slept every day during the heat of the day and never started his business day before about 3:00 o’clock. He had many bad habits and could be pretty difficult for my Grandmother to live with most of the time. That’s just the way he was. But the public perception of him was quite different. He never left the house for town without neatly pressed pants, a clean white shirt, his “Fedora” cocked just so on his head, and a large leather-bound binder thick with client profiles under his arm. People who met him on the street thought he was a rich tycoon. He was once mistaken for being an FBI agent. Young women often flirted with him at the grocery store and he was allegedly quite a ladies’ man. He, more than anyone I have ever known, was masterful at making himself interesting, attracting friends and, to some extent, prosperity. Were he still alive today, I’m sure he would be just as mysterious and interesting; and, given the opportunities we have today, prosperous—if that’s what he wanted to be. But prosperity was never number one on his list. Fishing was.
He was fondly known by hundreds of people all over Central Alabama as the “policy man” for his work selling burial insurance—an interesting story in and of itself. I learned from him. When I started a solo-law-practice many years ago, I always looked my best and carried a folder with me wherever I went, lest people think I had no business (which I usually didn’t). One day a lady at the Circuit Clerk’s office asked me what was in that important folder and I had to confess that it was empty, that I just needed to appear to be working on something. She laughed at me and shared this story with the other ladies working at the court house. Soon, they were referring cases to me. In my vulnerability I had made myself interesting and it led to work. Interesting people are honest with themselves and others. (6) Don’t be afraid to make yourself vulnerable.
How have you made yourself more interesting by making yourself more vulnerable?
If you have missed earlier posts, click here. Next post: Show Some Respect!
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How does one become more interesting? Good question. Would you like to enhance your image in some area of life? Are you as boring as a fence post? Think you can’t become more interesting and transform the way people perceive you? Really? I can tell you without a doubt that you are harboring a gross misperception about yourself! You need only possess three things to change this misperception and begin making yourself as interesting as you wish to be: ***desire, faith, and effort. If you’re reading this, you already have desire. If you are reading this, you already have effort. Faith is trickier. In whom do you trust? Because if you trust in that little voice that is always saying “I can’t” then your trust is misplaced. That voice is from hell. Stop listening to it! Every time you hear this voice, tell it to go back to where it came from; and redirect your trust in Truth. That’s it. And what is Truth? Truth is beauty. Truth is goodness. Truth never deceives. Truth is reverent. Truth frees the innocent and indicts the wicked. Truth loves. Truth is reality—not what you perceive but what is really real. Truth never fails. Truth always wins in the end. Truth created you. There’s only one catch. You have to accept Truth. Truth will not force you to believe. You must take a step toward and have faith in Truth. (5) Possess desire, faith (believe Truth) and effort and you can change the world. But, for our purposes here, let’s just concentrate on changing your world, okay? We can change the world later. “But…” No buts!
***Remember the Prep School I wrote about in the very first post? Our crest at that school contained the words: Desire Faith Effort.
Next post: Speaking Of Butts…
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Who are you, really? And how are you perceived? Is the perception a roadblock to where you wish to go? Or would an adjustment to your lens simply grease the wheels, so to speak, and take you there more quickly? In most cases, better perception will help. So, (3) Provide the world with a new lens with which to observe you. This is not rocket science. It’s just common sense. But it’s important to recognize how you may be perceived and to ask yourself how to improve the perception others have of you, how to make yourself more interesting to those who can help you achieve your goals in life. For example, do people perceive you to be angry all the time? Why? Are you happy with that perception; or is it an impediment to your future? (Actually, if you are angry all the time, you may need another kind of help—spiritual counseling, perhaps.) That’s not what this is about. It’s more about ordinary people with aspirations beyond ordinary who wish to overcome perceptions that may or may not be deserved. My “serious” perception was probably deserved but no less an impediment. It caused me grief with friends and others on whom I depended for survival. But what if I had not been such a “too serious” guy at all? What then? It would have been no less a problem for me. I have learned that while making yourself interesting you also change the perception you have of yourself as well as the perception others have of you. You establish a new lens through which others may view you in a different light. This new lens serves to diminish the negative and accentuate the positive. You (4) allow people to engage you in new and different ways. And you, likewise, begin to engage the world in ways that help you escape your old mold. You become a willing enabler of positive feedback, a person of interest. (I swore I’d never take dance lessons but I did.) Improve how you are perceived and you’ll begin to attract people and prosperity like flies to honey.
Next post: How does one become more interesting?
If you missed Tip # 1, click here.
Indeed, I’ve remained a fairly serious person to this day. And much of my business life has been impacted by an inability to lighten up. Now, in all honesty, if you’re a lawyer or an investment advisor, which I have been most of my career, a serious nature is not all bad. That’s what people are looking for in their legal advisors and investment advisors. However, once I departed those disciplines and wished to do something different with my life, I realized “serious” doesn’t necessarily sell. I needed to change the way people viewed me in order to succeed as a writer, a designer, a business coach, a technology salesman, a speaker, an artist or whatever I wanted to do next. I felt the need to break out of my old mold. I had become boring—even to myself. My life was flat because my personality was flat. I had sequestered myself away in my past. After all, I had not frolicked like a child since I was, well, a child! I was no longer interesting to anyone, not even myself. And I desperately needed to be interesting, if for no other reason, just to get through the day. I needed to provide the world with a new lens.
But wait! There is good news. The lens I eventually created for the world has brought me a better marriage, a plethora of new friendships, lucrative business relationships, opportunities I would not have seen otherwise, and a healthy outlook on life. I remembered my instructor looking up into my face—she was a short woman who taught speech. Again, I remembered her admonition: “Jeff, it’s not how you are. It is how you are perceived to be that affects the way people relate to you.” Inside, I’m still that serious soldier. But I have taught myself over these many years to observe the world through a different lens and provide the world a different lens with which to view me. It works. Ask my wife. (2) Break out of your mold.
MAKING YOURSELF MORE INTERESTING AND ATTRACTING PEOPLE AND PROSPERITY LIKE FLIES TO HONEY
“It’s not how you are. It is how you are perceived to be that affects the way people relate to you.” This was great insight that an instructor at the United States Military Academy Preparatory School shared with me many years ago. I was a West Point Cadet-Candidate struggling to overcome a personal tendency to take life too seriously. Peers kept telling me I needed to “lighten up.” A year later I was a “plebe” at the Academy. I remember “bracing” in an upperclassman’s room. In the days before rules were relaxed, new cadets were required to “brace,” that is, assume a posture whereby the chin was withdrawn into the neck. An acceptable brace was marked by a certain number of wrinkles created in the plebe’s face and neck.
Five or six wrinkles were considered acceptable. I remember standing there bracing at attention, and this first classman (senior) calmly telling me, “Mr. Barganier, you need to calm down. Just relax. You’re too uptight. That’s why you can’t remember your poop at the table.” (He was referring to the dining hall table where plebes were daily tasked with reciting certain information or “poop” as they called it.) Of course, they were all correct. I was uptight. It was the way I was. I took everything so seriously that I lost the ability to laugh at the circumstances, keep a sense of humor and survive.
Three months later I resigned out of sheer despair. I had learned nothing. Serious was what I was and nobody was going to change me. But that was only part of my problem. The other half of my problem was the anxiety I fomented in the minds of others. That brings me to the first rule for making yourself more interesting: Don’t create anxiety in others.