You’ve backpacked through Europe, ran five marathons, and know Pi to the 100th digit. You are a one of a kind special snowflake and you’ve tried to share your unique experiences with others. The only problem? Nobody cares! Well Cameron does 😉 but that’s only because I’ve had the same experience as you.
I would tell people what I thought were EPIC stories. Sometimes people would politely laugh or compliment me on my stories, but more often I’d see their eyes wander in boredom, looking for something else to divert their attention to.
I knew that I didn’t suck at telling stories, however, because I could tell stories during speech classes and oral presentations and have my audience completely engaged. Try as I may, however, my conversations quickly died out whenever I’d talk to someone in an informal setting.
I never understood why until I had an epiphany last week while reading How To Win Friends & Influence People. I came across a chapter titled, “How To Interest People.” I didn’t think anything of it before reading the chapter, but after I finished I’d had an epiphany.
The reason I struggled to maintain conversations, and a problem you likely have as well is that you talk about yourself too much! The reason you’re not interesting to other people is that you’re robbing them the opportunity to talk about their favorite subject, themselves!
I shook my head when I realized there was such a simple solution. This past week I’ve made a consistent effort to allow others to talk about themselves. I’ve asked questions I thought they would like to answer and sure enough, people have been more interested in me than ever before!
An equally positive effect was that I’d become more interested in other people than ever before! When you’re working to better yourself and having all the crazy experiences that often accompany the journey of self-improvement it’s easy to think that other people are boring.
It’s easy to think that you need to anchor the conversation because you’re more, “Enlightened,” and have had a more diverse set of life experiences. However, the reality is that when you give other people the opportunity to share things about themselves they immediately become more interesting.
When you get others talking about what they’re passionate about that passion becomes infectious to both you and the conversation at large! You also open yourself up to the knowledge of the other person as well. Everyone is superior to you in some way, and everyone loves talking about the things they’re good at! If you’re willing to listen, the other person will almost always be happy to discuss with you that which they have experience in.
This eventually leads to an upward spiral as well. The more you learn, the more topics you’re able to intelligently converse with others in. The more knowledge you have about a diverse set of topics the deeper you can dive into conversations that others find interesting, and when you allow yourself to be interested by others, they almost always become interested in you.
Was this post a bit too much common sense? Sometimes I have to research things many of you guys just intuitively get. If that’s the case here I apologize. Hopefully this post helps someone though.
Something almost all of us struggles with is an addiction to complaining. This wouldn’t be so bad if it was the occasional rumbling of something truly horrendous like a hurricane killing hundreds of people. Perhaps in that kind of circumstance complaining about the unfairness of life would even be justified.
What I’m talking about right now is the complaining you and I do on a daily basis. Oh my god, it’s 12 degrees and it’s only December. I can’t take school anymore, it’s just too hard! Why do bad things always happen to me?
We complain constantly, and for what purpose? I don’t even know, but what I can tell you is that we’d be a lot better off if we didn’t wallow in our self-labeled “misery.” Now I’m not into that woo-woo positive thinking stuff. I don’t think that by merely believing you can float with the butterflies that you’ll magically manifest a garden you can live in for the rest of your life in which everything is perfect.
What I will say, however, is that there’s certain universal principles among those that have attained significant levels of success, and you’d better believe complaining isn’t one of them. Almost every person who has made it to the top has had to climb through a lot of muddy obstacles and bullshit. There’s no getting around it. Like one of my old girlfriends used to say, “Suck it up buttercup.”
However, at the same time it’s important to realize that although you’re likely to experience significant emotional challenges in the pursuit of your goals it’s unlikely you’ll experience anything on even the cusp of those that have come before you.
I recently read a book called Unbroken and it was about a guy named Louie Zamperini. This guy was a badass. He was a hilarious prankster, not to mention the fact he was an Olympic runner. He ran such a tremendous race at the 1936 Berlin Olympics that Hitler took notice and personally complimented him.
However, he was later drafted for World War II. In the midst of World War II he was sent on a rescue mission to search for a plane in the middle of the ocean. Unfortunately, his crew was given a dysfunctional aircraft and as a result they crashed as well. Only 3 out of the 11 men onboard survived the crash.
So then there’s three guys on a couple of inflatable rafts in the middle of the ocean. Louis, Phil, and Mac. Their only food is a handful of chocolate bars. If crashing without anyone in the outside world being aware of it wasn’t enough Louis also woke up the next day to find that Mac had eaten all the chocolate!
He didn’t let that get to him though. He said he was disappointed in Mac, but that he forgave him and they were going to find a way to be rescued. Shortly after that it appeared as if Louis may’ve been right. A plane flew by them and they shot their flare in the air, but the plane didn’t notice…
Around this time the whole crew was getting nervous because the sharks had found them. Louis, Mac, and Phil were standing on the raft having to fight off sharks for all hours of the day, but it was ok because they were going to be rescued. They saw another plane, and it was the one from their base sent to rescue them! Unfortunately, despite another shot flare this plane too sped past them. Ouch.
It was all good though. Countless days later they saw another plane. Third time is the lucky charm right? They shot their last flare and the plane turned around and began flying towards them. They were going to be rescued! Well, that’s what they thought. It turned out, however, that the plane happened to belong to the Japanese and despite International Law against it, the plane shot at them.
So there Louis was. Diving underneath the raft to take cover from the bullets while simultaneously having to fight off numerous sharks. This continued for some time until the Japanese pilot eventually tired and an exhausted Louis was eventually able to pull himself back aboard the raft.
At this point Louis was only about halfway done with his “sail.” When all was said and done only him and Phil would survive (Mac died after 33 days at sea), but after a long 47 days at sea they eventually made it to an island. They had won. Well, they’d won the battle. The war was still far from over and they’d landed in Japanese territory.
Louis and Phil would go on to suffer as prisoners of war for about two-and-a-half years until the war finally concluded. During this time they were heavily starved with prisoners often losing more than half their original bodyweight. Those that survived that is. Louis and Phil did survive though.
Louis went through untold torture including starvation, dysentery and other diseases, clubbings/whippings, and hard labor. He was also once punished by a guard named Watanabe who forced every other prisoner in his camp to punch him as hard as they could in the face (Someone in the camp estimated this amounted to 320 solid blows).
Although Louis’ circumstances were almost too horrible to even conceive, he made it through them. He made the choice that he would not let Watanabe or anyone else steal his dignity. Another of Watanabe’s punishments for Louis was forcing him to hold a thick, six-foot long, heavy wooden beam above his head.
This doesn’t sound particularly bad, but if you try raising your hand straight above your head you’ll notice that alone quickly becomes tiring. So how long did Louis hold the pole up? 1 minute? 5 minutes? 10 minutes? Try 37, and he only dropped it because Watanabe was so frustrated at his inability to break Louis that he punched him in the stomach.
What’s the point of me telling you all this? The point is that all the time you and I spend complaining is completely unwarranted. Now you don’t have to be a hippie about this. Like Tony Robbins says, positive thinking isn’t magical in the sense that all your problems will solve themselves if you run into your garden screaming, “There are no weeds! There are no weeds!”
However, it is important to gain perspective on the circumstances we find ourselves in. If you look at Louis Zamperini or other great human beings from history you’ll quickly realize that your problems are probably nowhere near as significant as you believe them to be. You don’t like your car? That’s nearly as bad as Nelson Mandela, one of the kindest men to ever walk this planet, serving 27 years in prison in his pursuit to conquer the Apartheid government. To say your circumstances are almost as trying… Get real.
You and I don’t even have a concept of what bad is. Deal with the slight annoyances of daily life, shut the fuck up, and put aside your petty bullshit so you can do something that will contribute to those who have something worth complaining about.
Pick up a copy of Unbroken the first chance you get! It’s a true perspective changer.
If you’ve had trouble accessing the site in the last 24-48 hours it’s because I made a few mistakes transitioning to SETT’s new servers. Everything should be good now though! Sorry for any inconvenience.
(Picture is of my trip to Dallas in April 2014. I’m headed back there for a week after I graduate high school next month!)