Do you have any idea how fascinating the people are that you’ll meet at your next networking event?
Posted by Molly Wendell // in Networking
I went to a funeral a few years ago. My sister’s friend’s mom passed away. My memory of her mom was pretty distinct. She was a very nice woman who wore a flowered apron, always seemed to be cleaning the house and somehow managed to be taking cookies out of the oven right when we arrived (talk about some good timing!). She was dainty. Frail. Pleasant. But definitely not someone who would ruffle too many feathers or take risks in her life.
During the funeral, they talked about her life. Turns out, aside from her incredibly honed skill as a baker, she had another life that I, and many others in the room, knew nothing about. During World War II, she was part of the Underground, transporting weapons. Yes, our very own Mrs. Cleaver used to fill up her bicycle basket with machine guns, put a blanket over them, and ride past enemy checkpoints to deliver them to the Allied network.
If only I’d known. If only I’d known what a truly fascinating woman this was. But I had no idea. I simply assumed that she’d been into cleaning and cookies all her life. I really missed out on this one. I missed out on the opportunity to talk to this strong and fearless woman. To really get into some great conversation with her. To find out what drove her to do this. To hear the stories. Was she scared? Was the result worth the risk? What other daring escapades did she partake?
Now I’ll never know. Because now it’s too late.
But this whole situation taught me something very important. Everyone has something interesting. Everyone has done something fascinating. Everyone has something, be it people they’ve met or experiences they’ve had, that make them what they are today.
I remember being on an airplane – getting stuck with the window seat. I get uncomfortable in enclosed spaces. Fortunately, the middle seat was open. Unfortunately, a large man started walking down the aisle – heading toward my row. I thought for sure that he would keep on walking, but once he got to my row, he squeezed into the middle seat (plus some). I thought to myself. Hmmm, this could be a really bad flight, OR this could be the best flight of my life. It’s my choice. Right here. Right now.
And I decided to make it the best flight of my life. I introduced myself to my new seatmate (I mean if we were going to share a seat, the least we could do is know each other’s names, right?!). Then, I started asking Mike some questions about what he did. The conversation took some turns, and next thing you know, I come to find out that Mike’s first job out of college was being a professional black jack cheater! Wow!! Talk about interesting!! He told me how the hardest call he ever made was telling his parents that he’d just graduated from college, and landed a job. As a professional black jack cheater.
Hours seemed like mere minutes as we talked the entire flight. And you know what. I could have judged him. I could have decided that he wasn’t interesting at all. I could have decided not to engage in conversation. But here’s what happened instead. I learned some very interesting things about casino operations. I heard a lot of great stories. I had a great time. And I made a new friend.
You know how cats have nine lives. Well so do people. If I look back at who I’ve been over my lifetime, I’ve definitely morphed myself a few times over the course of adulthood. Someone who meets me today will see me as a very different person than someone who met me 15 years ago – when I was still pulling all-nighters working for IBM. I’m not sure which life I’m on right now…but I know I have plenty more to come!
I remind myself of this every time I meet someone. I always assume that everyone is a fascinating person, with a fascinating mind, a fascinating past and a fascinating future. My mission is to figure out what’s so very interesting about them. And you should make it your mission too! With this attitude, you’ll be amazed what different conversations you have with people, and how you can build deeper and more meaningful relationships. But do it quickly. Because it’s really hard to build a relationship with someone after hearing their eulogy!