There once was a student with big ideas and no friends.
He desperately craved the respect and admiration of his peers, but nobody paid any attention to him or what he had to say. Whenever he would share his research and art, it was ignored.
Losing all hope, he went to his Philosophy Professor—his mentor—and asked him for advice: “How can I get people to follow me, Professor? Everybody ignores me.”
His professor replied, “Have you tried making yourself a more interesting person?”
The student was stunned. With tears welling up in his eyes, he slammed the door to the professor’s office and ran out in a huff.
Now, what the professor said to the student in that story might sound like a terrible thing to say. Nobody in their right mind would react well to being told, “make yourself more interesting.”
…unless you consider a slightly alternative definition to “interesting”—perhaps the way Lawrence Weschler does.
For Weschler, ‘interesting’ means: “to practice the continual projection of interest.”
In other words, to always be curious and attentive to the world and everything in it.
You are always learning about the world because the world interests you. That attentiveness and curiosity make you interesting.
Airplane safety states that in case of an emergency, you should apply your own oxygen mask before helping others—including children, disabled, or those who need assistance.
“Help yourself before you try to help others.”
The thought behind this is: if you really want to help your loved ones, the best thing you can do for them is to first help yourself.
By applying your own oxygen mask first, you are ensuring that you will be in full command of your faculties.
This way, when you try to help, you will actually be helping rather than potentially hurting yourself as well as others.
So, tell me…
Do you feel like you are an interesting person with a lot to offer to the world?
Do you feel like your book should be read by everyone? Or your movie should be watched by everyone? Or people should listen to what YOU have to say?
Great! If you do then you have some terrific self-esteem. (Which is a good thing.)
But you also need to focus on improving yourself before you focus all of your attention on improving others.
Like in the example of oxygen masks and airplane safety, you should always focus on yourself before you focus on everyone else. The way to make yourself more successful with others is to first make yourself an interesting person.
Some artists and writers try so hard to spread their product that they are blind to how they come off to others.
Like the student in the story, these artists crave recognition for their efforts, but their ambition blinds them. Surely they think they are being wronged here—everybody else is just ignorant.
Well, I’m sorry to say that things often don’t work out that way.
If a product is uninteresting—because the source is uninteresting—the product will be ignored; or worse, it will be treated as spam.
The artist who tries to (figuratively) apply oxygen masks to others before applying their own often hurts others. And this applies to you as well.
You will hurt others if you try to shove uninteresting content (shit) down their throats. You may not be physically hurting them, but you are cultivating a negative image for yourself. And that’s bad. Because a negative image lasts a lot longer than a brief episode of having (literal) shit shoved down your throat.
Nobody likes that person who begs you for “likes” on Facebook. Or those people who message you asking “follow me back?” on Twitter. Or my personal favorite: the person who demands you share their articles. “Because it needs to be seen.” (Psh, as if…I’m flagging that shit as spam now. Obviously it wasn’t that good or I would have shared it.)
That kind of behavior is just pathetic. You’re better than that. Begging for likes and followers on social media is the online equivalent of panhandling on the street. For rimjobs.
Have some self respect. Don’t beg, don’t demand, and don’t plead—if your work resonates with people it will get seen. Don’t you worry about that.
And for the love of God do not like your own statuses or favorite your own tweets. That’s just disgusting. (Do you enjoy masturbating in public like that?)
We need to focus on making ourselves more interesting people for our own sake.
We need to find interests that we are passionate about and produce—ideally—high-quality content that exudes those passions in some constructive way. If you can figure out a way to do that you will make money.
Austin Kleon once said that “You need to find the hole in the field you are trying to enter, and fill it.”
Innuendos aside, I think this advice by Austin Kleon is spot on. This “fill in the gap” mentality is what we should strive for as artists.
It might be unrealistic to think: “I’m great. And I love professional basketball. So I am going to start writing about professional basketball and become the authority on everything and anything relating to the NBA.”
That is a great goal, but it is very lofty and ambitious to think that you can simply become the writing authority over the entire National Basketball Association—especially if you are not a former player, coach, or best friends with the Chief Editor at Sports Illustrated.
Your goal is not impossible, but the odds of becoming the authority on the NBA are pretty slim-to-none from the get-go. You will need to find ways to be creative if you want to succeed.
Maybe you could start by covering local basketball games in your city? Talk to a local community newspaper and see if they’ll let you become the go-to basketball guy in your area!
Or maybe start by watching all of the Professional basketball games in the Euroleague and start writing about that to establish an authority for yourself. Become the expert. Maybe you will discover some young unknown superstar that will take the NBA by storm and you—being the first to discover him—will reap the benefits. Who knows what might happen if you put yourself out there?
With writing, as I’m sure it is with many other creative disciplines, you often create your own credentials.
Rarely is someone going to give you permission to do something you are interested in. You will need to take the initiative on your own.
Take your interests and study them voraciously. Devour every book, article, and interview you can get your hands on.
Find the top five experts in the field you are trying to enter, and read everything they have ever written and listen to every word they have ever spoken.
Once you have accomplished that, you are half-way there.
…Livin’ on a prayer!
Now that you have new-found mentors, you need to take it a step further.
Who were their mentors? Why were they their mentors? If you truly idolize these people, these are questions worth answering!
Take a further step back in time and find out who made your mentors who they are/were? Who were their biggest influences? This works for any field. For example, let’s tackle something simple like….reading books.
Let’s say your three favorite authors are John Irving, J.K. Rowling, and Stephen King. Let’s say you have read all of their books, and you are now ready for more. What do you do? (I’m already impressed by you thanks to this imaginary situation. You’ve read all of Stephen King’s books?!)
Rather than looking for book recommendations from just anyone, why not consult your mentors?
For example, did you know that J.K. Rowling’s favorite living author is Roddy Doyle? I didn’t either until that last sentence. But you bet your ass I’m going to go buy one of his books right now!
John Irving’s favorite books are no secret. They can be found here. (Spoiler: he reads a lot of 19th century novels. He loves Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy.)
And Stephen King regularly tweets about the books he enjoys.
Stephen King reads for 4-6 hours every day. He makes lots of book recommendations—in case you were worried that he spends all his time writing. (Side note: “Red Moon” by Benjamin Percy is FANTASTIC. I also recommend that awesome werewolf novel.)
Once you have done your homework thoroughly, it will be time to take your first steps out into the world as an interesting person. Those first few steps will be treacherous and tough. But if you stick it out, it will be worth it.
With writing, at least, I have found that you can usually create your own credentials. If you can write with authority, and your language is clean, your facts are accurate, and your audience is engaged, you might just make it in this business.
But always, always, always consider your audience! Even interesting things from interesting people can fall on deaf ears if told to the wrong people.
Understand who you are dealing with, and try to engage with them through your art. Be who you are and it won’t be hard.
After all, you’re an interesting person now.