There is this guy I know, if he reads this he will know exactly who I’m talking about, but I’ll keep it anonymous so that he isn’t flooded with people looking for sage advice.
He told me one time that “if you want to truly get to know someone, spend time with them while they are doing the thing that they are the best at.” This person has said various things like this to me over the course of our relationship and I rarely grasp the gravity of these quips until days, weeks, months or years later. Comments like, “remember, Alex, you are your friends.” Let’s just say – he’s smarter than me.
So, I really like this little piece of advice and I’m going to unpack it a bit since I’ve been thinking about it for years.
Want to truly get to know someone – this is a nice thought. It’s no small feet. It’s hard to truly know yourself (call me if you figure this out) let alone another person because people are incredibly complex. People project images of themselves and create stories to paint a picture for others to see. This is all part of getting to know someone, what does their painting of themselves look like. Then you can ask, why did they paint that picture of themselves in that particular way? That’s part of them too. What did they leave out? Also, adds to who they truly are.
I’m stealing this from the not quoted enough Margaret Atwood who says, “There’s the story, then there’s the real story, then there’s the story of how the story came to be told. Then there’s what you leave out of the story. Which is part of the story too.” Applied to people the story is the true them.
So, getting to really know someone means moving past their picture and their public stories. Some people tell lots of stories and some people tell only a few but seeing the true person beneath it all is a noble goal and a necessary act for truly fulfilling relationships, I think. Guards have to be dropped to let intentions and thoughts and goals and fears shine through. This brings me to the second part of the advice, “spend time with them while they are doing the thing that they are the best at”.
This is not to say when they are doing something that they are the best in the world at, but the thing that they are the best at in the world. See the difference? Not everyone is the best in the world at something, in fact, very few people are best in the world at anything. But, everyone has something that they are best at – that thing is usually something they love too – haven’t figured this out but they usually go hand in hand, am I right? (maybe another post for another time).
After my years of thinking about this, I conclude that this is a crude proxy for saying, “when a person is at their most confident, comfortable and uninhibited”. When people are engaged in things they love and are confident in doing, they can be as close to truly themselves as possible. Their vulnerability is balanced by confidence and their confidence lifts the fear of inadequacy that drives jealousy and egotistical competition.
This is no shortcut or trick to getting to know people. I’m not trying to say you should try to only be around people when they’re at their best, although that is an awesome time. Getting to know someone is hard work. It takes time and trust, and the fruits of this time and effort are worth it. Friends make us who we are. Our influences, mentors, and peers help define us and the importance of friends can’t be understated. In a world of quick hits, single click purchases and on-demand entertainment, taking the time to get to know the people around you cannot be substituted by any amount of money, likes, followers, or drinks.
Call a friend, go sit on the roof, talk about the way the world is, the way you want the world to be and how you’re going to push it in that direction.