How do I become a more interesting person?

Originally posted on Quora, answering the question: How do I become a more interesting person. Follow me on Quora.

“Either write something worth reading about or do something worth writing about” – Ben Franklin

Often easier said than done.

My senior year in high school I sat down for a group interview at a prestigious university. The interviewer asked everyone to share what they did this summer. One girl had spent the summer in London apprenticing under a well known photographer. Another traveled to Italy to study painting. I’d spent the summer in New Hampshire working at an ice cream shop. I didn’t feel the least bit interesting. And becoming interesting sounded very expensive and out of reach.

That’s all changed. Since then I’ve driven across the country 7 times, hitch hiked from San Francisco to LA, attended a Rainbow Family national gathering, backpacked to over 20 different countries among others. I’ve got amazing stories from all of it, but a lot of the best stories didn’t happen because of traveled far or spend a lot of time or money. Here’s what I’ve learned about becoming interesting:

  1. Seek adventure. Adventure doesn’t have to mean traveling to another another country or involving a expensive gear or expenses. One of my most memorable college experiences was hitchhiking from San Francisco to LA. It cost me nothing. I caught somewhere around 10 rides and have a story from each. I’d never hitchhiked before or after. I also took a Greyhound from LA to Santa Fe once and could write a book on all the people I met and stories that happened. The ticket cost me $35. Seeking adventure can be through travel, sports or the outdoors, but it definitely means getting out of your comfort zone.
  2. Be curious. Be curious and learn about the world around you. Read, listen to podcasts, find great websites. Learn from interesting people. Knowledge has never been as accessible as it is now. Knowledge is one of the sources of having interesting things to talk about. You might find an interest in say Astronomy. You could show friends common sites in the night sky and the incredible stories behind them.
  3. Be unconventional. Capturing people’s attention doesn’t have to involve grand stories or adventures, but can come from the unconventional. Triathlons weren’t common right after I got out of school. If you did them then, that’s pretty interesting. Then Team in Training came along (an awesome cause and not taking away anything from it), and suddenly it seemed everyone around me was doing triathlons. Not really that interesting anymore. A friend of mine after college did something no one’s ever done before (at least known). He circumambulated Martha’s Vineyard via its beach/shore. It only took a couple days and some camping gear. 20 years later he still tells the story. He also lived briefly in a Teepee after college. That part is interesting enough. It gets more interesting considering his stay there continued through a cold New Jersey winter. Another friend does long bike tours all over the world (at home in the U.S. as well). That’s pretty interesting. What makes it even more so, is he does it on a beach cruiser.
  4. Delve deeply into a hobby. Interesting people have hobbies they pursue passionately. It’s hard to have more than one or two that you have the time to pursue passionately, but one is all you need. Immersing yourself in hobbies is inherently interesting. You meet other super passionate people, you travel with a purpose and you have shared experiences. I got into scuba diving because I loved the ocean, and I imagined it would be something I did once a year on tropical vacations. I now dive 12-15 times per year in California alone. Primarily off the beaches in Santa Monica and Malibu to hunt for lobster and to spearfish. 50 feet off of beaches packed with tourists, I’ve caught lobster and fish and swum with seals. I bring a camera along to capture it. There’s not a single person I show the photos and video to that isn’t captivated by them and amazed it’s all possible yards off the local beaches.
  5. Explore. I was going to just say “travel,” but exploring is much more interesting. When I was backpacking through Guatemala, taking bus’ around the country and staying on youth hostels, the entire trip was an adventure. A couple approached me. They were on a cruise and were being shepherded around to the touristy sites with hundreds of other people from their cruise. They were amazed and jealous at the freedom I had to see and explore. We were in the same place, they were on a tour and I was exploring. Traveling to Asia, I had an extended layover in Kyoto and hired a taxi driver to take me to the Zen monasteries, he took me to two hugely popular monasteries that although they were beautiful, were immensely crowded and touristy. It didn’t feel like the spirit of Zen at all. I asked him to take me to a quiet monastery. He brought me to one with only a couple other tourists. It had a large beautiful rock garden and empty halls and spaces, and it left a much deeper impression than the touristy ones. I could write pages and pages on this topic, but the key point is to get off the bus, the schedule, the tour and to go explore.
  6. Document and share. It’s much more powerful to show an amazing adventure or trip or experience than it is to try to describe it. I make a habit to document and take great photos of all my trips and to have those photos and videos ready on my phone in albums.
  7. Learn to ask questions and listen. If all you do is talk about yourself and tell stories, you’ll be a huge bore. It won’t matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been, people only really want to hear stories about you to a certain extent, then they want to talk about themselves. Every time I talk about the hobbies or travel, it’s usually a jumping off point to a great conversation where we both share about what interests and fascinates us. You can actually pull this off without having any interesting experiences, just by learning to ask great questions and to listen well. But I wouldn’t recommend bypassing the experiences, because there’s an immeasurable value of actually going out and having these experiences. And it’s not in becoming more interesting, it’s in expanding your perspectives and experiencing the world.

Looking back on that college group interview, I’d felt hugely insecure. I realize now that I was very interesting. In high school, I’d been a student leader and an accomplished athlete. I’d spent my summers working at an ice cream shop and training for road bike racing by riding up to 200 miles per week. It took having all these later experiences to realize that it’s the sense of adventure, passion and curiousity that makes people interesting, not their experiences or where they’ve traveled.

What are the lessons people most often learn too late in life?

Originally posted on Quora, answering the question: What are the lessons people most often learn too late in life. Follow me on Quora.

Learn how to listen. So few people can really listen and so many people genuinely appreciate when you do.

Learn when it’s time to move on. From jobs, people and relationships. Not everything is fixable. Cut your losses and move on.

None of the best experiences of your life will happen staring a computer screen, a phone screen or a TV. If you want more of the best experiences of your life minimize the time you spend in front of these three.

Take great care of your body. It’s delicate and becomes more so as you get older, but if you treat it well, it will treat you well. Exercise regularly, stretch or do yoga, eat wholesome food.

Take great care of your mind. Foster curiosity, read, learn and grow. Learn to be quiet, meditate and spend time in nature regularly.

Take great care of your heart. When you hold onto harmful emotions like anger, hurt, pain, you really only hurt yourself. When you practice love, compassion and generosity, your heart expands and grows.

You’ll spend too much of your life working, staring at a computer screen and sitting. If you’re going to do all these things, find a work environment or shared purpose that’s fulfilling and creates meaning.

Success comes most readily when you find fulfillment and create value in the world.

Learn how to compliment people and do so regularly. There’s no limit on how many compliments you can offer, there’s no scarcity of compliments available and there’s no end to how much people will appreciate them.

Learn how to accept a compliment and do so whenever one is offered. You’re conditioned to deflect compliments. Recognize how you do this and practice recognizing and accepting when the universe acknowledges what you do.

Learn how to be generous. You can’t attract what you don’t give. Share your knowledge, your time, your thoughts, your wisdom, and your charity.

Learn how to be patient. Life is not a race, and it certainly won’t go slower if you rush through everything.

Practice gratitude. If you cultivate gratitude, it has no limit to its rewards and benefits and no cost to nourishing it.

Hard work puts you in the place where luck can find you. The harder you work, the more you help others selflessly, the more value you provide in the world, the luckier you’ll be.

Happiness is a habit, not an aspiration.

Great stories come from great experiences. Chase those experiences.

It’s not that time moves by faster as you get older, you just start to have fewer new and captivating experiences. If you can continue those experiences and expand your curiosity, time won’t feel like it flies by as so commonly described.

What is the most thoughtful/kind act you’ve ever witnessed?

photo-1438027316524-6078d503224bOriginally posted on Quora, answering the question: What is the most thoughtful/kind act you’ve ever witnessed. Follow me on Quora.

After my freshman year in college, I decided to take a year off and live in Santa Fe, New Mexico. My parents were not supportive of my decision, so I had support myself entirely. I worked in restaurants and coffeeshops and was as broke as you could be.

I bought a old junker Volvo. I think I paid $750 (this was 1995). It never ran right from the start, but I couldn’t afford the necessary repairs. It doesn’t seem that long ago, but cars have come a long way. Cars used to regularly break down. Good cars sometime did and newer cars sometimes did. Owning an older used car was a guarantee to inconvenient break downs.

The car’s engine compression was shot. It required rebuilding or replacing the engine which wasn’t an option. It the morning, it wouldn’t start. I lived on a hill and would have to park it there, pointed downhill, so I could do a “hill start.” Letting the car gain momentum on it’s own and then shifting it into gear, which start the engine running.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t always a hill nearby. In those cases, it needed a running start with either myself and someone else pushing it to get it to sufficient speed to start.

This went on for a couple months before the car just died, but in the meantime I was assisted by countless people who would see my hood open, stop and inquire if I needed help. Most didn’t have any inkling of car mechanics, but just felt compelled to help.

It was often a helpless feeling, staring at my car stuck in empty parking lot at night, wondering how I would get home. Inevitably, someone would just pull up and ask if they could help. I was amazed every time someone stopped to help. It was the every rare instance that it did not happen.

Why do charismatic people easily get what they want in life?

Originally posted on Quora, answering the question: Why do charismatic people easily get what they want in life. Follow me on Quora.

Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart, once described porn as: hard to define, but “I know it, when I see it.” The same could be said for charisma. It’s hard to define because it takes on many forms through many personalities; but the affects of charisma are always the same: a likability of that person, being drawn to them and a willingness to trust them. With those affects on people, it’s not hard to see why they get what they want in life.

The bigger question is how can the rest of us become more charismatic and get what we want in life as well?

Charisma’s closest cousin in the business world is sales. They’re not one and the same; but great sales people are charismatic, and charismatic people get what they want because people like them and trust them.

Building likability and trust in a very short period of time is the quintessence of sales. What makes sales a great comparison with charisma is that with sales you can break it down to a set of teachable and learnable skills. In fact, that’s what sales programs and books are all about.

The core of sales isn’t talking as it’s often misunderstood, but listening. Great sales people spend most of their time listening and doing so acutely. They’re not distracted, but giving you their whole attention, making you feel interesting and important.

That’s one of the strongest affects charismatic people have. You’ll remember someone who tells a great story, but you’ll remember better someone who makes you feel great. Those are the charismatic people.

There’s a story of a reporter interviewing two candidates for president. After the first interview, she declared “He’s was the most interesting person in Washington!” But after the second interview, she declared of the second candidate “I felt like I was the most interesting person in Washington!”

Great sales people give their full attention and ask great questions. It’s not “So, what do you do?,” but instead “So, tell me about what you do.”

Another characteristic of great sales people is that they’re persuasive.

Persuasiveness starts with agreeing with people. You can’t get people to like you if you’re disagreeing with them, correcting them or trying to be right. No one will remember if you’re right, and you won’t change anyone’s opinion through argument.

People want to be heard, not corrected or challenged. So allow them to be.

I was in a sales presentation to a vice president of top consumer electronics start up. A couple minutes into the meeting, she declared that she didn’t believe in what we did (paying influencers to promote brands and products). In the back of my mind, I thought, “Why, in god’s name, would you ever take this meeting then?!” I had flown up to San Francisco for this meeting and taken precious time from my work week, and now it seemed like a complete waste.

Instead of responding that way, I paused and composed myself. I smiled and responded, “It looks like you’ve done an amazing job marketing your company without having to [pay influencers]…”

She wanted attention and wanted to declare she was different. She also wanted to challenge me and would have gladly gotten into an argument if I had disagreed with her. Getting into an argument is probably the most effective way to ruin a sales meeting. Instead I agreed. Not only did I agree, but I noted that her approach had worked, and that allowed me for the eventual opportunity to be persuasive.

Being persuasive isn’t arguing effectively; it’s not arguing at all.

I asked her to tell me more about how she had created such success without paying influencers to promote their brand and product. She got her chance to talk, which is what she really wanted. Eventually, I brought up the point that many of our current customers were in her same position and shared why they tried our service.

So what are the things can you do to be more charismatic?

  • Smile. You can’t sell in the world and you’ll never be considered charismatic if you’re in a bad mood. People are drawn to people who are in a good mood. Moods are contagious; spread the right one. My friend would do a trick at weddings he’d call “fake wedding table laugh.” At weddings, you’re often seated with a table of strangers. For this trick, he waits for a quiet moment during dinner and then has the whole table laugh out together, loudly. The affect is amazing. Most of the other tables  look with jealously at the table that seems to be having the best time. The fake laugh created a bond and would soon lead to real laughs.
  • Listen. I mean really listen to people. Make strong eye contact and give them your whole presence. Don’t pick up your phone, don’t let your eyes wander around the room. Both are cues that people interpret as you’re not interested in what they’re saying.
  • Tell me more. Use that phrase or something like it during a conversation get all the details out of their story. The details are what will make their story different and are what they want you to remember.
  • Remember the details. I transferred my junior year in high school. Before transferring I was on a visit and saw a play at the new school. The following fall, I ended up meeting the senior class president. He was captain of the soccer and hockey teams. Upon meeting him, I told him excitedly that I saw him in the play last spring and loved his performance. We ended up becoming friends; and years later, he recounted that story and how I stood out for remembering that. Everyone knew him as the athlete and class president, but I made a huge impression on him for noting what most people hadn’t paid attention to. When you see someone after meeting them and recant how their one story really made an impression on you, you will stand out to them.
  • Discover what they love. Everyone has something they’re dying to share and talk about. Often it’s their hobbies, their kids or family, or their job. Almost always, it’s pretty easy to find out what these are. Ask about them and let them share.
  • Talk to everyone you meet. My old boss raised millions of dollars for his biotech company. He met his first investor, who contributed millions of dollars, waiting in a long line to get concert tickets. Most people avoid talking to others throughout the day, at the coffee shop, in line, flying, etc. When you talk to everyone, talking to anyone gets much easier.
  • Agree. Deep down we want to be right, we want to share our opinions and convince others of them. Fight that urge. When people sense disagreement, they put their guard up and prepare to defend their position. You’ll become friends much faster, by agreeing and moving on. Don’t let your opinions get in the way of getting to know someone.
  • Connect. Charismatic people are connected. The world is filled with flakey people. The phrase “let’s grab lunch” is so commonplace, it’s become a way of saying goodbye rather than an actual intention of connecting. Most people crave real connections and have time to grab coffee, so do just that. End the conversation with, “I’d love to hear more and see who I might be able to introduce you too over coffee.” And then actually follow up with them. You build connections and positive relationships.
  • Follow up. After meeting people, send them a note. If just to say you appreciated meeting them. Remind them of what you enjoyed about them or the experience, what inspired you, what you learned. These types of notes are really powerful and will make a huge impression.