If you had asked me six months ago to describe how it feels, I'm not sure I would have said liberating. But that is how it feels to me, now, and every day that I find myself doing it.
Listening to other people talk is liberating.
Let me clarify. Talking to people one on one, hearing their story, getting to know their history, their past and how they ended up where they are is one of the most liberating things I've ever learned how to do.
I'm not saying I'm perfect at it. It's a sliding scale whose length I probably couldn't even fathom. And to say right now that I think I'm getting good at it is probably an incomparable overstatement.
But I believe it.
You see I didn't really have a choice.
When I launched my business just under four months ago I had a list of all the things that I thought I would have to do, the skills I would have to learn, and what selling my business would look like.
Nowhere, and I mean nowhere, did I write down "Get good at listening to others."
There's a great line in the movie Fight Club where one of the characters is talking about what it's like being a part of a support group for people with terminal illnesses.
"When people think you're dying they really listen to you instead of just waiting for their turn to talk."
I think about that line a lot. Because it's insightful. Because it's true. And because it is incredibly relevant, for me.
You see I'm somebody who loves to talk. I have always loved to talk. At first it was because I just talked a lot. And then it was because I wanted/needed attention. And then it was because it was how I thought I was supposed to exist. And then as I have gotten wiser at 1/4 of the speed at which I have gotten older, I have realized that I actually do have some things to say. I believe I do anyway, and it feels important for me to share them with others.
It is why I started writing a blog, why I write plays and scripts and all the rest. I do it because I think I have something to say.
Even writing that writing that now feels incredibly narcissistic. Which prompts another favorite quote:
"People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."
It is something I've always believed if not always understood.
I have spent a large portion of my life sitting with raised pulse, waiting for an opportunity to contribute, for the opportunity to say something, to contribute, for whatever reasons. Most times, in group situations it's incredibly difficult for me to sit quietly. Impossible to do that and be still.
So when I struck out on my business venture it felt like the way that I was going to get clients was by climbing to the top of every bell tower, megaphone in hand, and screaming about the things that I do.
And I tried that at first.
Amazing how few people responded. I'd probably be disappointed if I found out how many people actually heard me, and downright depressed if I knew how many of those paid attention.
To be honest, I know it's only been a short amount of time since I've started this business, but in the last 6 weeks or so, something has changed. And I am trying to listen to people more. Trying to listen. To pay attention and to get a grasp of what people have to say, of who they are.
It is absolutely phenomenal.
As a tactic for a acquiring new clients, I'm not sure it's something that works, but I am having interactions that are so much more meaningful with complete strangers that honestly I don't care if they become clients. And maybe I'll regret that if I run out of money. But the stories I am hearing...
I am struck by so many feelings.
One of them being that I can't believe there are so many people with such interesting, amazing, diverse and unique backgrounds that are constantly floating around always at arms reach.
People talk all the time about how everybody really has a story. And it sounds nice. A way of validating every single human life. Showing that everybody has worth and value and significance.
But I'm realizing it's true. And it's scary.
Because the other feeling I'm experiencing is that of insignificance. So many people who are so incredible are just always at arms reach. I feel suddenly like I'm taking my whole life for granted. Like every single time I've felt like I had nothing to talk about with somebody it has been my own fault. My own inability to connect, to understand, to relate. It has been me being self-centered and oblivious.
Admittedly it would probably be hard for anybody meeting a stranger for the first time who might be a potential client in the future to focus only on the human element of that person instead of whether or not they are interested in buying, if you are close to getting them to a sale, if you are saying the right things.
But that's exhausting. For me anyway.
And building a business is exhausting enough on its own. I'm not looking to compound that. And I'm not looking to build something on sleazy practices and manipulation. Which brings up a third quote which I will attempt to paraphrase and thusly butcher.
"What does a man gain to inherit the whole world but lose himself."
I'm not looking to lose myself. Hell this whole journey has ben a venture to build a bigger better version of the self that I think or thought I could be. If I couldn't enjoy a recently purchased polo shirt that a cashier had forgotten to charge me for without bringing it back to pay for it, there's no way I'd be able to enjoy success if it wasn't done from an honest place.
So where does that leave us? Or more specifically, where does that leave me?
You may remember that last December/January I was exhausted and very tired of creating New Year's resolutions so I opened myself up to the universe and embraced 2012 as the year where I offered myself to others.
This year I was so focused on this business that thinking about anything outside of that made me short of breath. For that reason and others this became the year of gratitude, of appreciating the unbelieveable amount of things in my life I had to be grateful for.
And like a compass that guides one to true north, that is where my gaze has returned. My true north in this year, in this experiment in entrepreneurship, has become listening to others. Letting go of my preconceived notions. Of my worries. Of my obsessions with time. Of my need to tell my story. And to just lose myself in the truth of others. A truth, that day after day, in a way that grows signifcantly, constantly amazes me and wraps me and my frenetic heart in a blanket of warmth that I refuse to let go of.
No matter who it is I meet or what they have to say, I am liberated by being able to focus in on them, and listen to their story.
And believing that maybe in some small way I can contribute to or be a part of that story.
But even that is ancillary.
Listening just feels good.