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Want to Make Yourself a Gazillion Times More Interesting — and Successful?

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Want to Make Yourself a Gazillion Times More Interesting — and Successful?

Something amazing happened in American politics in 1992. A young man, nearly unknown on the national political scene, beat out the entire establishment to become president. One reason voters rallied behind the unproven Bill Clinton: he seemed cool. Commenting on candidate Clinton’s saxophone performance on The Arsenio Hall Show just before the election, comedian Dennis Miller made a brilliant observation: “I think the American people found it refreshing that we finally had a politician who could f#@*ing do something.”

Miller was joking. But he was onto something.

What do you think of when I say “politician?” Let me guess: someone older, probably a man, probably a lawyer, wearing a suit and tie, speaking a string of clichés most likely in a monotone voice. Am I close?

Most politicians don’t do anything besides politics. They make speeches. They campaign. They look the same, sound the same and walk the same. Before running for this office, they held that office. They’re one-dimensional. But not Bill Clinton. That guy plays the sax!

Most of us spend most of our time devoted largely to one pursuit—our career, our business, our art. And that’s great. But what about all of the interests we don’t pursue—adventurous hobbies, intellectual endeavors—because they have little or nothing to do with our primary focus in life? Would these pursuits distract us from our big goals? Or might they actually enhance them?

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Bill Clinton made himself a gazillion times more interesting—and successful—than most politicians in part because showed us he had pursuits outside of politics, pursuits that gave him a fresh perspective, a different way to look at things from the typical political lifer. It worked for Clinton, and it can work for you.

Here are three huge benefits of adding new pursuits to your life.

1. Broadening your interests makes you more interesting.

Have you ever had the experience of working with someone for a while—say, a sales rep at your company—and then later learning about a whole new side to that person? A whole other life they’re living? It makes the person much more interesting, doesn’t it?

Maybe you find out your sales rep is a former state tennis champion, or that he writes songs or studies astronomy in his spare time. The details don’t matter. What matters is, you used to see the rep as a one-dimensional figure. But now he’s a full-fledged person, three-dimensional, interesting.

2. Broadening your interests can make you more successful.

For a while I worked as a writer (first full-time, then as a remote freelancer) for a wonderful software training company called lynda.com. This is one of the most successful startup businesses I’ve ever seen. And I can’t say for sure that hiring well-rounded talent had any direct effect on the company’s success (or even that they were aware they were doing it), but consider these facts about lynda.com when I was working there:

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  • One of the co-founders was also a Hollywood animator, author and teacher. She wasn’t just an entrepreneur.
  • Their CFO held a PhD in Astrophysics. Oh, and she was also the CTO!
  • One of the company’s product managers was a highly accomplished marine biologist.
  • The president was a former professional musician.

And the company’s head of design was also an underwater photographer who traveled the world on diving expeditions, taking photos of real shipwrecks on the ocean floor.

These guys were living the well-rounded-life philosophy. When I was there, just about every employee was able to draw on some unique perspective, some rich experience that I’m sure made them more effective at their jobs than if they did nothing but work and watch TV.

3. Broadening your interests also gives you new insights, new ideas—and opens you up to new opportunities

A good friend of mine, Ben Cardinale, has enjoyed a successful career writing television in Hollywood. He wrote for Family Ties, The Single Guy, Champs and other shows, and he was a story editor on the critics’ favorite Brooklyn Bridge. He’s also sold scripts to DreamWorks and other elite Hollywood players. Ben has succeeded in Hollywood because he’s a damn great writer. His humor and observations relating to family and relationships are spot-on perfect. But why? What’s Ben’s secret?

It should be obvious by now: Ben isn’t only a writer.

Before Hollywood, Ben had a successful accounting practice, specializing in general contractors. Then Ben began to sense that the construction businesses he represented were doing the “real” work, while he was just accounting for it. So he jumped out from behind his desk and started his own construction firm. That’s two—count ‘em, two— careers under his belt before Ben became a writer. That’s a three-dimensional guy.

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Today’s typical wannabe screenwriter most likely graduated from an Ivy League school, where he probably wrote a satire column for the school’s paper, and it was probably pretty funny. He almost certainly hung out in an isolated little clique of other smart, over-achieving writers. All his friends had the same take on life. All had the same experiences and made the same observations. Then they all headed to Hollywood or New York to become writers.

That’s why so many sitcoms look and sound the same. These writers aren’t out there living life; they’re mastering the technique of sitcom writing.

Meanwhile, my friend Ben spent the first part of his professional life working the other side of his brain, crunching numbers as an accountant, gaining all sorts of different experiences from those of the typical would-be writer. After that, Ben built houses. The guy built freakin’ houses!

In other words, Ben lived life. And those experiences meant that when he came to Hollywood, Ben brought with him an authentic eye and ear for human nature. Most writers bring only smug sarcasm and a master’s degree in joke-telling mechanics.

Leonardo da Vinci might be the greatest artist in history. But he was also a great mathematician, who studied human faces obsessively—cataloging the distances between mouth and nose, eyes and chin. He was also a botanist. A geologist. An engineer. Think any of those intellectual pursuits gave him a fresh artistic perspective that helped make his paintings more beautiful and profound?

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Leonardo da Vinci, Ben Cardinale and my former colleagues at lynda.com all found that the more pursuits they added to their lives, the richer they were able to make each pursuit—and the richer life itself became.

I’ll sum up my advice with a quote from the great columnist (and singer… and radio talk-show host…) Mark Steyn. He’s speaking here to journalists, authors and bloggers, but his sentiment could be applied to any endeavor:

“Don’t just write there. Do something!”

Featured photo credit: Dynamic Movement, Free Runners, Waterloo Bridge/Andrew Moreton via flickr.com

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Last Updated on November 18, 2021

10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

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10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

We all fall into the trap of judging a person’s character by their appearance. How wrong we are! All too often, the real character of the person only appears when some negative event hits them or you. Then you may see a toxic person emerging from the ruins and it is often a shock.

A truly frightening example is revealed in the book by O’Toole in Bowman called Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Instincts Betray Us. A perfectly respectable, charming, well dressed neighbor was found to have installed a torture chamber in his garage where he was systematically abusing kidnapped women. This is an extreme example, but it does show how we can be totally deceived by a person’s physical appearance, manners and behavior.

So, what can you do? You want to be able to assess personal qualities when you come into contact with colleagues, fresh acquaintances and new friends who might even become lifelong partners. You want to know if they are:

  • honest
  • reliable
  • competent
  • kind and compassionate
  • capable of taking the blame
  • able to persevere
  • modest and humble
  • pacific and can control anger.

The secret is to reserve judgment and take your time. Observe them in certain situations; look at how they react. Listen to them talking, joking, laughing, explaining, complaining, blaming, praising, ranting, and preaching. Only then will you be able to judge their character. This is not foolproof, but if you follow the 10 ways below, you have a pretty good chance of not ending up in an abusive relationship.

1. Is anger a frequent occurrence?

All too often, angry reactions which may seem to be excessive are a sign that there are underlying issues. Do not think that every person who just snaps and throws his/her weight around mentally and physically is just reacting normally. Everyone has an occasional angry outburst when driving or when things go pear-shaped.

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But if this is almost a daily occurrence, then you need to discover why and maybe avoid that person. Too often, anger will escalate to violent and aggressive behavior. You do not want to be near someone who thinks violence can solve personal or global problems.

2. Can you witness acts of kindness?

How often do you see this person being kind and considerate? Do they give money to beggars, donate to charity, do voluntary work or in some simple way show that they are willing to share the planet with about 7 billion other people?

I was shocked when a guest of mine never showed any kindness to the weak and disadvantaged people in our town. She was ostensibly a religious person, but I began to doubt the sincerity of her beliefs.

“The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.”

Abigail Van Buren

3. How does this person take the blame?

Maybe you know that s/he is responsible for a screw-up in the office or even in not turning up on time for a date. Look at their reaction. If they start blaming other colleagues or the traffic, well, this is an indication that they are not willing to take responsibility for their mistakes.

4. Don’t use Facebook as an indicator.

You will be relieved to know that graphology (the study of that forgotten skill of handwriting) is no longer considered a reliable test of a person’s character. Neither is Facebook stalking, fortunately. A study showed that Facebook use of foul language, sexual innuendo and gossip were not reliable indicators of a candidate’s character or future performance in the workplace.

5. Read their emails.

Now a much better idea is to read the person’s emails. Studies show that the use of the following can indicate certain personality traits:

  • Too many exclamation points may reveal a sunny disposition
  • Frequent errors may indicate apathy
  • Use of smileys is the only way a person can smile at you
  • Use of the third person may reveal a certain formality
  • Too many question marks can show anger
  • Overuse of capital letters is regarded as shouting. They are a definite no-no in netiquette, yet a surprising number of  people still use them.

6. Watch out for the show offs.

Listen to people as they talk. How often do they mention their achievements, promotions, awards and successes? If this happens a lot, it is a sure indication that this person has an over-inflated view of his/her achievements. They are unlikely to be modest or show humility. What a pity!  Another person to avoid.

7. Look for evidence of perseverance.

A powerful indicator of grit and tenacity is when a person persists and never gives up when they really want to achieve a life goal. Look for evidence of them keeping going in spite of enormous difficulties.

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Great achievements by scientists and inventors all bear the hallmark of perseverance. We only have to think of Einstein, Edison (who failed thousands of times) and Nelson Mandela to get inspiration. The US Department of Education is in no doubt about how grit, tenacity and perseverance will be key success factors for youth in the 21st century.

8. Their empathy score is high.

Listen to how they talk about the less fortunate members of our society such as the poor, immigrants and the disabled. Do you notice that they talk in a compassionate way about these people? The fact that they even mention them is a strong indicator of empathy.

People with zero empathy will never talk about the disadvantaged. They will rarely ask you a question about a difficult time or relationship. They will usually steer the conversation back to themselves. These people have zero empathy and in extreme cases, they are psychopaths who never show any feelings towards their victims.

9. Learn how to be socially interactive.

We are social animals and this is what makes us so uniquely human. If a person is isolated or a loner, this may be a negative indicator of their character. You want to meet a person who knows about trust, honesty and loyalty. The only way to practice these great qualities is to actually interact socially. The great advantage is that you can share problems and celebrate success and joy together.

“One can acquire everything in solitude, except character.”

Stendhal

 10. Avoid toxic people.

These people are trying to control others and often are failing to come to terms with their own failures. Typical behavior and conversations may concern:

  • Envy or jealousy
  • Criticism of partners, colleagues and friends
  • Complaining about their own lack of success
  • Blaming others for their own bad luck or failure
  • Obsession with themselves and their problems

Listen to these people talk and you will quickly discover that you need to avoid them at all costs because their negativity will drag you down. In addition, as much as you would like to help them, you are not qualified to do so.

Now, having looked at some of the best ways to judge a person, what about yourself? How do others see you? Why not take Dr. Phil’s quiz and find out. Can you bear it?

Featured photo credit: Jacek Dylag via unsplash.com

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