A couple years ago, I was invited to a party with a lot of college professors. I found myself sitting next to a professor emeritus.
I was nervous to go to this party, because I didn’t know many people. I’ve always felt out of place around highly educated people. I had to find a way to justify my presence.
I would start talking; explain some of the more interesting stories about myself. I would want to come up with something impressive I had done.
I could go the other direction too, come up with stories that explained why I was behind and backwards. I found that if I made them colorful, people would listen and possibly forgive my awkward ignorance.
That was the hope anyway.
But it could be exhausting, making sure to get in my stories of explanation, and I could find myself the one doing all the talking. I wished that I could find another person who would tell me about themselves. Because what I really wanted was connection.
As I was getting ready for this party, I told myself to tone it down. I wanted to listen to other people.
At the party, I was introduced to people, and I was trying to start conversations. And then I encountered this professor emeritus. We exchanged names, and I asked, “What do you do?”
“Oh, I used to teach. Tell me what you do.”
I told him, and he was so charmingly interested. I tried to ask him more about himself, but he was so interested in my stories he had no time to tell his own.
I didn’t hog his attention the whole night. In fact, I saw him move around the room, and engage person after person in rapt conversation.
He was really interested, and people really wanted to tell him what they were up to.
I remembered self-admonition to tone it down. But when I saw this guy in action, I could see what I was trying to achieve.
He was more interested than interesting.
I mean he wasn’t trying to be interesting to these people at the party. He didn’t have anything to prove.
He was interested. He was interested in me, and in hearing what all kinds of people had to say.
And it was easy to tell him, because he really wanted to know.
Which means, years later, never having met him again, I remember this man. He made a lasting impression on me.
And it wasn’t even his goal.