A few days ago I came across a quote shared by an account I follow on Instagram:
“Strive to be interested, not interesting,” the graphic read.
A subtle difference, but one that struck me deeply enough that it has played on in my head ever since. People who try to be interesting are the people who spend their time tastefully arranging everything from their Instagram posts to their musical tastes hoping that other people will give them the grace of their “like.” People who try to be interesting wear styles that don't suit their personality or body, buy name-brands they can't possibly afford, and carefully cultivate their tender feelings in a little greenhouse of public approval. Interested people, on the other hand, do things for their own sake. Interested people might, on the surface, do exactly the same thing as people who try to be interesting but there is a fundamental difference in their motive: those interesting wannabes do what they do to get attention and approval. The interested people do what they do because they enjoying doing it.
Interested people are largely un-self-conscious because they realize that life outside their own range of experience has something to teach them. They are not threatened people, but adventurous people. They explore the world because of their own curiosity. They try new things not because that is what popular bloggers do, but because they're curious. An interested person will create a playlist on Spotify filled with songs they like because they like them, not because they ought to like them. They'll go to Iceland not because it's the place cool people go, but because the tickets are cheap and the landscape swallows you whole and you can see the Aurora Borealis when you look up at night. Or they'll stay home in their small town and make waffles because they like their small town and its train-graffiti and the same waffle recipe they've had for years. Interested people keep up with new artists and playwrights not because they're afraid they'll fall behind pop-culture but because they are truly excited about experiencing the work of and learning about the fresh creativity brought to us by minds outside their own. An interested person doesn't need constant adrenaline because he's going to find something in everything – in dirt-bike ride, yes, but also in a Saturday morning trip to the farmers' market.
I want to be an interested person. I always have wanted that, yet in some moments the easier, "smarter" choice is to try to be interesting and I know I have sometimes chosen that. So much pressure is put on us to appear interesting. But to be interested? Here's something I've learned: the most interesting people are those people who are most interested. There is value in setting aside your desire to be liked for the liking's sake. There is value in shutting off your phone and watching a sunset without ever once reaching to take a photo. There is also value in taking the photo if you want, if that is the way you best enjoy it. There is value in letting yourself be interested and spending your time on pure, unfettered, unapproved curiosity in matters. To help all those who seek to be interested, here's a list of ways to get started:
#1 – Read a book (a real book): Read a book you disagree with. Read a book that was once banned someplace. Read a book recommended by someone you respect and read a book no one you know has ever heard of. If you've ever been interested in a subject, even in passing, find a book about it and start reading. For expanding your concept of the world, I recommend picking up a non-fiction title on any random subject you find mildly interesting. One of the best parts of reading is how one subject leads you to another, ever down a rabbit hole, until you look up and no longer remember where the trail began. It's such an intoxicating thing.
#2 – Go on a road-trip by yourself: Road-trips with friends are one of the most fun ways to get in good friend-time. But to see a town as a loner lets you experience it in an entirely new fashion. You're not distracted by socializing or deep conversations. You notice things you never noticed before and there's nothing that can quite equal the thrill of stepping out of the car and knowing you are, for the time, quite alone in the world. Going someplace doesn't have to mean a solo trip to Vienna like that taken by one of my friends. It can be driving two towns over and stopping in a restaurant whose doors you've never before darkened. It can even be riding the metro one stop past the farthest you've ever gone, or taking a different hiking trail in your usual park. Guys, if you want, it can even be taking your normal hiking trail backward.
#3 – Strike up a conversation with a stranger: this one freaks me out – the initial conversational break-through is one thing of which I'm still terrified. I mean, you're interrupting someone's solitude and that can seem like a huge Thing Not To Do. Look for someone who isn't entirely absorbed in their business and say something. The main thing is to get the conversation going. Maybe it'll peter out. Maybe it will be a story you'll tell at dinner parties for the rest of your life.
#4 – Try something new at least once a week: food, skills, art-forms, or music. Clothing styles, hair-styles, nail-polish colors, gum-flavors. You can interpret this anyway you choose. The main thing is to consistently introduce something that breaks you out of your chosen mold and helps keep ever before your eyes the idea that there is a whole world unexplored and that it begins outside your own ken.
#5 – Read foreign newspapers: one of my good friends swears by reading foreign newspapers online to supplement her American news feed. And it's true that while foreign news-service shouldn't be the total sum of your media exposure, it's a fantastic way to keep abreast of stories that might not break American radio-static. In addition to providing you with fresh news, reading foreign papers' takes on our news is a good way to determine how our national events are being reported abroad. I've yet to try this tactic, but I'm keeping it in my back pocket.
#6 – Ask questions: way too often I don't ask questions where asking a question would lead me into a whole new zone of knowledge. I might have a perfectly decent answer for whatever my original conundrum was, but you miss out on so much when you don't ask follow-up questions. Ask advice of your friends, even when you (think you) have it figured out. Ask what someone else thinks of a topic when you've expressed your opinion. If someone asks a question of you, give an answer and then ask it back. This way, you'll always learn new things.
#7 – Don't fear failure: I know successful people say this all the time but guess what? That's because it's true. Don't be afraid of failing. Don't be afraid of trying something and seeing that, yep, you're new at it. Don't let terror of un-photogenic results keep at bay the part of you that wants to do something. I want to get better at drawing portraits. Yes, they look like I put a picture of your face in a blender and then paper mache'd it back together. But if I don't start somewhere I will never improve.
#8 – Share your failures: This is top in my list of being interested. An interested person doesn't wait for everything to look or be perfect before they share their work. I like people who have the guts to tweet a photo of some art project that flopped, or a line they wrote three years ago and can't stand now. I like people who play an unfinished song on their ukelele for me, or start singing a ballad and forget half the words. I like people who talk about how they forgot to feed their goldfish and it died. I like people who admit that they burned the bacon this morning or left a lighted candle and forgot about it. I like them because their openness tells me something about who they are as a person: they're not a finished, filtered, sharpened Instagram shot. They're a picnic photo printed out and hung up even though there was a fingerprint smudge on the camera lens and sand had blown into the Oreos. They're into the moments, not what they want you to perceive of the moments.
Interested. Let's be interested. Interesting takes care of itself.