Updated: Dec 7, 2019
In high school, there was a girl in my class who was awesome. She was vibrant and funny and nice and fun to listen to and she LOVED art. Not only did she take art classes all 4 years of high school, but she was constantly *making* art. Not making even, living art.
Art was her life. It still is, in fact; she is now a professional artist.
In high school, she always carried around “art books”, literally old books that she defaced in different ways (painting on them, cutting them, folding them, pasting stuff in them, writing on them, etc.) so that they literally were works of art.
I remember being completely mystified because it seemed like the most wonderful thing in the world, and so natural for her. And, despite how much I wished to the contrary, so unnatural, so UNTHINKABLE, for me.
I would have never thought to do such a thing. And even knowing it was thing, I still couldn’t do it. There was a block.
I couldn't even picture myself even trying to start one.
That was the story I told myself, reinforced by a home life that disdained such things.
But I didn't realize it was just a story; it felt REAL. This caused me alot of internal distress. I wanted to be the sort of person who naturally did something interesting and beautiful and ALIVE-MAKING.
She always had something to talk about because she had her art to share. She always had questions to ask people and an excuse, no, a PURPOSE, to go out and collect things for her books.
I desperately wanted the joy, energy, the excitement, the ALIVE of getting out and MAKING and sharing and growing and LIVING.
But all I seemed to be good at, or made for, was occupying space and being completely depressed. For large parts of my life, I went to bed praying to God to take my life while I slept because I was tired of being so unhappy with no end in sight, and no good reason for being here. What, so I could write an essay my teachers probably didn't really want to read? Most of them were wonderful people, I just can't imagine them getting much from having to correct my 15-year old formulaic lackluster paper-waste I just did to get a grade, at home after they worked on that sort of thing for 8 hours every day already.
The other thing that interested me--and confounded me-- was how people became close friends.
I was very, very blessed to go to a high school where I really didn’t have a problem with anyone. My classmates were very nice to me. People would smile and say hello in the hall. If you were struggling, someone would help.
But those are really friendly acquaintances. I only went over to someone’s house twice in high school: once as a sophomore for a mandatory history group project (because I had to), and once for a brass-cleaning event for marching band (which was good fun, but I was still very much only there because of school).
I never felt eligible to connect with people because I felt like a burden, like a disappointment...honestly, like an embarrassing piece of trash who would only make my (and others’) life Hell by imposing my wretched company on them (and considering what an emotionally immature wreck I was, I was entirely right about that last bit, although I didn't really know why).
Every class for 4 years I would wonder how people connected so easily, how they wanted each other so comfortably and told each other everything...
It didn’t make sense to me.
I learned from a narcissistic parent that people are dangerous and frightening and unpredictable and untrustworthy and stressful…and everywhere I went, adults gave me a hard time for “not smiling enough”, “not talking enough”, “not coming out of my shell”.
Yeah, well, I didn’t know how to (and if I tried, I would almost certainly do it wrong).
Why didn’t they leave me alone? Or rather, why didn't anyone wonder what was really wrong? Why did no one intervene in a deep and meaningful way?
I certainly didn't know how to help myself.
In truth, I both wanted to save myself from showing how much of a horrible embarrassment and failure of a person I was, and at the same time I wanted to be constantly reassured that I was wanted and valuable.
This came from the fact that I had been raised in a joyless, defeatist, isolationist environment on a diet of shame, criticism, and disappointment.
I had been raised to be docile and controlled with fear (fear of the world, of taking a risk, of failing, of showing I was a human with flaws).
I followed orders and went to college. I did not follow orders to become a doctor.
I hated that direction so much I literally couldn’t face life if I had to do it.
Still, I got 2 degrees to compensate, one in business, one in design, and graduated cum laude. I did what all the preachy 1990’s television shows and the misguided older generation said to do. I followed the rules. But I couldn’t support myself (which was allegedly the point).
For 2 years after graduation (there was a “recession” that was a lot like a depression) my already somewhere-in-the-Mariana-Trench low self-esteem continually took more beatings as the hours-long job applications I filled out never got more than a form-letter e-mail rejection (or worse, no response at all).
Parent’s (the only person in my life, the person who my tiny world did and always had revolved around) disapproval and “I-told-you-so” were at an all-time-high in this, one of the darkest points of my life.
I kept following “the rules” that kept getting recited, the common advice that people threw out: join clubs, go to this social gathering, go to that social gathering, get involved, blah, blah, blah.
While I did get to go do a few really cool trips thanks to clubs, I never connected to anyone in them in any meaningful or lasting way, nor by visiting or joining any special organization I went to for the express intention to network, be it a church, business association, or educators group, neither during university nor afterwards. Why?
1. I needed help, but I never wanted to help back (or it was too expensive, or it was too far away, or at the wrong time, or it got re-scheduled, or it fizzled out). They wanted help and money. It felt a bit like a parasitic relationship. What part of that is a recipe for success? Some of the "organizations" lacked just that: organization or commitment from it's members. Everything was about taking or flaking. Our mindsets were not the mindsets of winners :(
2. It was the most awkward, unnatural thing EVER. In those meet-people organizations, you’re either a newcomer (a.k.a. on the outside looking in) and they are all tight-knit, so that you feel like you just crashed someone’s 10-year family reunion (even though they are trying with ALL THEIR MIGHT to make you feel welcome)
you’re all a bunch of strangers trying to impress each other and/or avoid looking stupid (as Natasha Adamo says, “Auditioning”). Real, warm connecting isn't happening because everyone is so wrapped up in themselves and how they are coming across; too busy making an image to be real!
Either way, everyone was trying so hard to make a good impression that there was no real warmth or genuine connection, there was no REALNESS because the whole situation was ARTIFICIAL and felt completely FORCED, FAKE, CREEPY, OVERWHELMING, and STRESSFUL. Anything but the rewarding that you would be going there for.
This is what happens when people are tooting their own horns instead of creating value for others, or taking a genuine loving interest in others. It was gimme interest.
3. The culture didn't match the culture I was longing for. This was further enhanced by the fact that these organizations had hierarchies: people who, call it what you will, basically lead the others and were considered “in charge”. This inevitably lead to more distance and more difficulty connecting.
In some organizations, no matter how humble or down-to-earth the "leaders" may be (and yes, they may be), you are just not quite on the same level. You're always beholden to or triaged by somebody, somebody who stands over you and ultimately calls the shots, whether you agree or not.
4. Even if, by some miracle, there was a slight connection, it always fizzled out before it started. Why? Because since these social events were mostly occasional and out-of-the-way, and because people are busy and have a never-ending list of things to do and take care of, and because they had family and friend quotas all filled up, nothing synched up.
The remotely possible reward of a what? Text-acquaintance at best? Most people at those networking meetings weren’t people who were or knew how to be successful, looking to the blind to lead the blind...so no help there...
It wasn’t worth the ridiculous logistics-trouble of trying to shoe-horn in someone with little ambition, no clue, and a completely different lifestyle and schedule, who lived several towns over, and would "ghost", etc., etc.
I didn't know where to start so I was following “the rules” made by, essentially, morons. The rules being: Go to events that looked good and sounded good on paper, but that I (and few others) had a genuine interest for and therefore little generosity-in-effort towards.
You know when I met people who were meaningful to me in some way?
I don’t mean that they were meaningful in that we’re necessarily taking the journey of life side-by-side. I mean that the world seems vaster and better and more beautiful because I was able to connect with someone who was vast, and good, and beautiful.
People I’ve stayed in contact with for years and people I only talked to for minutes, but regardless I still remember them and they still make my life special today. People who taught me something, even if they didn’t mean to. People it felt good to be around. Real people.
I met them while I searched for answers to how to make myself genuinely better.
I met them when I looked for someone who was where I wanted to be, and cried out for help.
I met them when I kept searching, or when I was making and sharing things, or when I was trying to solve problems, or when I was having fun and feeling good!
It happened when I was REAL.
When it just feels *right*.
It just happens while *you* are happening.
Now, 14 years later, I finally see that the two things that mystified me so completely, were so intrinsically linked: making, doing, getting out and living in the truest and most joyful way possible...and meeting the right people.
Your joy and the gift of being yourself and what you love *IS* the value you provide to society. It may not be the only value, but it is the best and most valuable value!
If you are mystified by confidence and having a grounded power of your own, that is where it comes from. Your joy, the joy you know you have to share with others; your openness and real-ness. Knowing that you will be happy and doing, wherever you go, and that the right people WILL join you. When you can appreciate this, you don't give a fig about those that don't. You can graciously and whole-heartedly keep dancing towards those that will.
I find great comfort in the way the Tao Te Ching words these things that I discovered in the school of hard knocks.
The tao says that the way to do things is not to force anything and not to go to any extreme.
Extremes cause things not to work well, and they cause a huge backlash to the other extreme, which also causes things to go badly…a vicious cycle.
We had to learn history, so we all know lots of examples of that.
Instead, the tao (the way, the force, what I like to call the Invisible Hand (I guess my business background is showing)) urges you to let life flow through you. To stop resisting your own natural beauty. And to do by "not doing", Wu Wei Wu.
The tao says that when you behave naturally, you will accomplish what you truly desire. The tao espouses passive action.
Oxymoron major?! Passive action?
Have you ever had a chore to do, like sweeping, or washing dishes, or whatever, and you didn’t want to do it but you made yourself do it and you were miserable and it seemed to go on forever and it sucked?
But have you ever been sitting down trying to figure something out, and next thing you know you realize that you are elbow deep in suds and the mountain of dishes you’ve been putting off is practically all done and you didn’t even notice you were doing them (heck, you didn’t even realize you started doing them!) because your hands needed something to do while you solved your problem? And you found a good solution to that problem, while you were at it?
It’s not that you didn’t do anything, or weren’t making an effort. In both cases, you did.
But in one case, you forced yourself into doing something when you didn’t want to, at a special time, and focused entirely on that.
And in the other case, you were relaxed enough to let things happen in their own good time, and you didn’t stop living your life to do it.
That is the tao, the way. The way to strive to operate.
I’m NOT saying that this is *always* possible. This isn’t a perfect, completely optimal world. Sometimes you need to do things, even if/when you don’t want to, because they have to be done. I’m not arguing with that.
What I *am* saying is that if something feels impossible-to-ignore, down-in-your-gut-off wrong, it IS wrong.
The times I was miserable, and I mean gut-grinding, I-literally-wish-I-had-never-been-born, this-has-to-be-wrong-my-body-is-practically-having-a-physical-allergic-reaction, this-feels-impossibly-dark-but-I’ll-make-myself-anyway, abandon-hope-all-ye-who-enter-here miserable, I WAS wrong.
And I mean EVERYTHING, from the sham religion I was raised in (and almost locked myself into), to wasting money and years on college, to many other bad experiences.
The good news is that we use what we learned and experienced and try to put all that to good use…and looking back…that misery was me being steered away from things that were wrong for me because they were ultimately false or not what my True Self truly wanted; they were on the way but they were not the way to my best life.
Meeting the right people, the people you need, the people who will enrich you is no different. Why? Because if like attracts like, then real attracts Real.
You’ll meet the people for you when you are BEING YOU.
Or when you are looking to BETTER YOU AND BE MORE TRUE TO YOU (a.k.a. re-routing away from soul-killing situations).
It may take longer than you like, but it will happen sooner than you expect…and certainly not when you expect.
The times I met THE people were the times I was being me: my aunt, who was the mother of a schoolmate but who was super nice and who I reached out to, and adopted (I had a feeling I should go talk to her, so I did, and she was incredibly kind and funny); making a friend I was apprenticing with (who just so happened to have a lot in common with me) because I said "Yes!" to the offer of going out to eat together at a vegetarian restaurant...and then kept saying "Yes!" to going on adventures with her; my Birthday Sister who I met at her garage sale, and talked to and listened to her stories; we found out we have the same birthday, we traded addresses and still mail each other birthday and Christmas cards!; even my ex-, who was an awesome friend, who would hang out and explore with me; we were always coming up with stuff to go do to beat the boredom; the pen pal I made just from wanting to make a trade on a forum (we agreed to keep writing to each other while we waited for our packages to arrive, and we enjoyed our e-mails so much we just kept going!); the sister I made when I kept looking for answers and help on my own…
In none of these cases did I expect (or dream) that I would stay in touch any real length of time, or that that I would love all of them so deeply…there was no expectations, I wasn't trying to prove anything, there was nothing to lose! I was just going through life, doing my thing, sometimes losing hope and completely surrendering, if anything…completely surrendering, and yet still inching towards a dream, even when I thought I wasn’t. I was just being me as best I could at the moment, having fun and trying to be even better. Connections and closeness built bit by bit over time and shared bonding experiences.
You’ll meet people when you are effortlessly making an effort.
When you are DOING what comes natural because you enjoy it.
When, like my artist friend, you are doing the only thing you can do: growing your YOUness.
When you are finding your way.
The people meant to be in your life, their way will intersect with yours…some ways will even parallel for a life-time.
That is the tao of you.
I'll leave you these thoughts by Nicola Tesla, the genius:
"If I try to continue a broken line of thought, I feel a veritable spiritual nausea, then, almost by chance, I go over to another job, surprised by the freshness of mind and ease with which I overcome obstacles which had tormented me before. And as a rule I find answers to difficult questions with the least possible effort."
[You can do this when talking to multiple people as well, or connecting to multiple groups of people, or being happy and fun! Keep it fresh by mixing it up! Misery is how you are guided to stop stagnating and move on a bit!]
"We must all have some ideal which will govern our behavior and satisfy us, but it is not material. It can be religion, art, science, whatever, it is only important that it acts as a non-material force."
[These are our self-actualizing needs--what makes us unique and gives us reason to live!]
"We are all one. People are interconnected by invisible forces. Although we have the freedom to think and act, we stick together, like stars on the heavenly arc, with unbreakable connections. These connections cannot be seen, but we can feel them."
[The UN-SELF-ISH warmth, love, and interest you genuinely feel for someone WILL be noticed if you are open, genuine, and DON'T BLOCK IT WITH WORRY OR EXPECTATIONS OF LOSING/BEING TOO INADEQUATE FOR THEM. Connect by showing interest in someone's life and what is important to them, what gives them joy, and by you being joyful yourself! Ask to hang out with them somewhere and have fun! We are energetic beings sharing a human experience.]
"Our virtues and our failures are inseparable, just like energy and matter. When they separate, the man is not there any more."
[Failures build our virtues and steer us in the direction to be better us-es!]
"Every effort under duress requires the sacrifice of life energy. I have never paid that price. On the contrary, I let my thoughts flourish."
[Do by not doing. Wu Wei Wu.]
"They say that I am one of the most persistent workers, maybe I am, if thought is equivalent to work, because I dedicated to it nearly all my time. But if work is interpreted as a finite activity in a finite time by specially determined rules, than maybe I am the worst sloth."
[We need to be free to ponder things, to find the best way to do things, experiment, explore, and not just beat ourselves against the "hard work" wall. We need to follow our own schedule and blossom in our own time. We need time to research, connect, and grow. As Charles Bukowski said, "How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 8:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?" This isn't wu wei wu. This isn't a recipe for creativity or abundance; this is a recipe for stress, exhaustion, and feeling bad, burned out, and cranky!]
"Our first strivings are exclusively the instinctive stimulus of lively imagination and non-discipline."
[Your mind and heart will instinctively go where they need to; experimentation, exploration, and LIVING are innate; we overthink and complicate things and talk ourselves our of our True Self's truest, deepest desires. We need to be free to try something and run with it!]
"As we grow older, the reason strengthens and we become even more systematic and creative. But these first impulses, unproductive at first sight, are the greatest moments that can strongly shape our destinies. [What you do now is foreshadowing your life!]"
All My Love!
P.S. The best advice I ever got with regards to how to connect with those who are successful, the ones who’s lifestyles you want to emulate and who you wish you could work with?
Ask them if there is anything you can do for them. Or better yet, give them ideas of how you can help them. Without any expectations.
And then offer again.
And offer again.
If they are receptive, keep offering.
We’re all in this together. I'm so proud of you!
Fresh, Clear, Friendly Additional support, for some basics:
Introverted Alpha is marketed as a dating how-to website for introverted men, but honestly the techniques and advice on connecting and conversation are good for everyone! Don't miss this video of Sarah and Dan Wendler!
Improve My Social Skills with Daniel Wendler: EXCELLENT resource or refresher for the basics on being a good communicator and connector, communicated in a very gentle and down-to-Earth style. You'll love Dan, his advice, and his cat!