I’ve spent a great deal of my life trying to be an interesting person. When I catch up with old friends or relatives I haven’t seen in a while, I run through a mental list of noteworthy things I can share with them. “Let’s see, since the last time I saw you, I’ve gotten a promotion, and vacationed in Mexico, and got the cutest new pair of jeans.” It’s as if I prepare a mini-resume for every encounter so I can feel valuable.
I know it’s not really true, but there’s a part of me that feels like I have to be interesting in order to be liked. I have to do something of note, or say something profound, in order to be a valuable human. The narcissist part of me (which is unfortunately a pretty big part of me) wants to be fit and stylish, dazzle friends with a hilarious story, and impress people with my achievements. I’ve always thought, in the back of my mind, that those “cool” things would make people like me.
Everyone does it, right? We all want to catch up with our people, especially when we haven’t seen them in a while, so we start with the usual questions about their work, their families, things they’ve done and places they’ve gone. It’s good to share that information. If the intention is to impress people, though, or to check off a list of things you’ve done, then what is anyone really accomplishing? If we don’t actually listen to the people that tell us these things, or if we don’t seek to know something real about the people doing the talking, then what’s the point?
One of the unexpected gifts of becoming a stay-at-home parent is that it’s taken all of that drivel away from me. I don’t mean that I don’t still want to share exciting news with my loved ones and feel great about things I’ve done – I mean, I haven’t done anything. Most of my days are spent keeping my children alive, cleaning the same room and the same dishes and the same clothes, shuttling people from here to there, and begging little humans to eat, sleep or use the bathroom. It’s busy, and full, and happy, but it’s hardly exciting.
As I’ve stripped my life of all the typical work and life accomplishments and washed away the dazzle and excitement of achievements, I’ve felt lost at times, and certainly vulnerable. Without all that stuff to brag about, I’ve had to actually take a look at myself. What makes me interesting, without all the interesting stuff I used to do?
When my husband comes home from work and I ask him how his day was, he has a lot of stories to share. I can usually contribute something along the lines of, “Fruit snacks were on sale today!” I don’t have a list of exciting things to run down, so I’m forced to do something crazy. I’m forced to actually listen to him. In turn, he’s also forced to ask me things about myself, and learn about my thoughts and emotions rather than just a laundry-list of things I’ve done throughout the day. It’s brought us infinitely closer, and I hope that it’s also made me a better person out in the real world.
I’ve been forced to not think so much about myself, and instead ask people questions. I’ve learned so much by listening. I’ve discovered some really interesting people – but they aren’t interesting because of what they do. They’re interesting because of who they are.
What I’ve come to realize is that the most interesting people in the world aren’t the ones that do or say fascinating things. They are the ones that are interested in their world and the people in it. The facts of the stories could be interchangeable. One person’s promotion/vacation/illness/life event is pretty similar to another’s. The things that distinguish the events are the people involved, their thoughts, their opinions and their emotions. Those are the things that are infinitely interesting.
I may not do exciting things these days, but my life is more interesting than ever, because my ears are open.