“Hello, my name is ____ and my biggest insecurity is ____”

If I were the master of social etiquette, that would the standard introduction.

“Hello, my name is ____ and my biggest insecurity is ____.”

I don’t like small talk, or more specifically I dislike superficial conversations. I don’t keep up with the Kardashians, I didn’t see you drunk at “that one party,” I don’t care about your new $200 cardigan, and no, for the hundredth time, that outfit does not make you look fat.

Within ten minutes of meeting someone, I can gauge with surprising accuracy whether we’ll ever talk again. I can generally tell whether or not we’ll become friends. So, what’s the big secret?

In my experience, the biggest predictor of lasting friendship is openness. The best way to secure a friend is to ask the right questions, to be sincerely interested in their story, and to reveal yourself.

What are the “right” question? Ask someone about their interests, their passions, their dreams; ask what makes them come alive. People generally like to talk about these things, but we often don’t think to ask. It’s easier to play it safe and talk about popular culture and noncontroversial topics. But what’s there to gain from that?

If you’re asking the right questions, it’s easy to become truly interested in someone else’s story. Listen to what the other person is saying and respond to what they share; let them know that you’re paying attention and that you care. The most engaging conversations involve opinions, disagreement, discussion, and dreams. Don’t be afraid to go there.

Along with learning about someone else, it’s important to be open and reveal things about yourself. No one really cares what you favorite pizza topping is. When it comes down to it, people want to know how they can fit into your life. Are your beliefs regarding politics, spirituality, or knowledge compatible? Are you able to understand and accept one another’s’ beliefs? Just because you both like pepperoni and the color blue, that doesn’t mean that you’re soul mates. I think we need to take ownership of who we are. We need to accept our gifts and challenges and learn to wear them on our sleeves.

Lately I’ve had this strong inclination to share my fears and insecurities with people I’ve just met and those with whom I’ve had a more surface relationship in the past. Although I have yet to act on the urge, it’s a liberating feeling. Being able to not only associate with, but also reveal the darkest parts of yourself is huge.

Be vulnerable; be open; be yourself. If someone reciprocates and opens up to you, they’re a keeper. If they run for the hills, they probably wouldn’t be able to handle you anyways.

If someone doesn’t ask the right questions, make good conversation, or reveal themselves right away, how can you know they’re capable of doing so in the future? I’m a very private and reserved person, so I would expect this idea to push me way out of my comfort zone. However, ironically, I find the concept of openness to be strangely comforting. If I can’t be myself when I first meet someone than I won’t ever fully open up.

How different would relationships be if people were open and honest from the outset? What if people were comfortable reveling their fears, insecurities, and weaknesses? What would be gained if perfunctory conversations were replaced by honest and sincere interactions?

I think the quality of interpersonal relationships would improve drastically. I think meaningful interactions would also boost people’s self-esteem and encourage them to embrace and further develop their authentic selves. I believe sincerity and openness are the keys to a healthy and lasting relationship, and I believe that everyone has the power to bring that to the table, to improve the quality of each interaction and, subsequently, the relationship.

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Inspiration, Potential, and a New Friend

My parents always told me not to talk to strangers. I think every level-headed parent teaches their child to be careful. Yet, for me, this instilled a sense of fear rather than caution. I hardly talked to anyone when I was younger, and this continued well into early adulthood.

However, over the past few years my desire and ability to talk to strangers has increased exponentially. My philosophy has changed a bit; caution is important, yet interpersonal interactions are one of the best ways to learn something new, to gain a new perspective. Talking to someone new is challenging for me and most conversations involve a lot of awkward silence, but they are often worth the effort if I simply take that first step.

I’ve continually refered to my blogging circle as my friends, my motivation, my inspiration. I feel as if we’re all part of this elite group who simply know that each person is a vessel of potential; we’re part of this special group who incessantly pursue their dreams, who love learning new things and acquiring wisdom. I think it would be an absolutely phenomenal experience if I could sit down in a room with all of you, with each of you individually and talk about life, dreams, and wisdom.

The other day, that dream came true for me, on a smaller scale. For the first time, I met one of my blogging buddies in person. Chris is an incredible person with an inspirational passion; Chris is a guy who is turning his dreams into a reality. Over the course of the next year, he’ll be traveling all over the Americas – visiting 35 countries, capturing 35 portraits, and sharing 35 stories. I highly suggest following his journey at Dream to Reality! When he said he’d be in town and suggested we meet, I couldn’t say no.

We went back and forth referencing our favorite TED talks and blog posts by Chris Guillebeau and Tina Su, sharing our experiences and philosophies on life, talking about our dreams and lessons we’ve learned. We covered spirituality, politics, the educational system, relationships, society, and every other topic you aren’t supposed to talk about. I felt as if I were having a conversation with an alternate version of myself. We climbed Camelback Mountain and as we watched the sun set and the moon rise, we discussed the effect of social comparisons, our hesitations, and our dreams. It was nothing short of incredible.

A few days later, I read that twenty-three year-old Nate Damm just completed his walk across America. This serves as yet another awe-inspiring example of the fruits of  perseverance and the rewards for following your heart. How can anyone read these types of stories and not feel driven to action?

I tend to keep to myself, but hearing about experiences has inspired me to 1) make an effort to meet more like-minded people in real life because they do exist and 2) fearlessly pursue my own dreams and passions. It will take faith, courage, and tenacity; it will involve defying conventions and facing resistance; yet seeing just one or two other people passionately chase after their dreams is all the inspiration I need.

Rather than standing back and looking on in awe as others achieve their dreams, I need to join them. Each of us is extraordinary; each of us has so much potential. As children we’re told that the sky is the limit and anything is possible; as adults, I think we need to be reminded that we can do anything we put our minds to, that life is our canvas and our legacy.

The Topic of My NaNoWriMo Novel

I’ve decided what I’m going to write about for my NaNoWriMo novel. I’ve had a pretty mild and uneventful life, but I have one particular negative experience that I feel has affected me more than any other and I’d like to take a Polaroid of that moment and those emotions and then extrapolate it into some intense alternate reality. I’d like to insert a version of myself into a highly melodramatic young adult angst story and see how I would react. I think it would be very interesting and relatively easy, since the main character would be loosely based on my own personality.

For those interested in NaNoWriMo, you’re supposedly allowed to work on plot outlining and crafting your characters beforehand. I’ll be doing that over the course of the next month, as time allows.

My favorite fiction writers are Roberto Bolaño, James Frey, and Anne Lamott, so (although I haven’t written much fiction) many elements of my writing are influenced by and mimic their styles. Bolaño is deeply descriptive and poetic, Frey is writes in a brash stream-of-councisouness style, and Lamott is raw and honest with a self-deprecating sense of humor. I think the contrast between an eloquent writing style and heartwrenching raw emotion would make for enthralling book, a story that’s somehow both jarring and gentle; I’m not saying I’m capable, but that’s my aim. Who knows, maybe I’ll surprise myself.

I don’t typically let people read anything I’ve written until it’s entirely done, but considering I’ll need to average at least 1,667 words of a coherently flowing story each day (including Thanksgiving and my birthday), I may share favorite lines or sections as I go along (NaNoWriMo: Exceprt 1, etc.) and hopefully get some good feedback; that or I may have to “cheat” and share more quotes, pictures, and brief thoughts, as I want to complete my Post-a-Day Challenge as well. Regardless, I’ll be around and keep everyone up to date with my progress.

For those not participating in NaNoWriMo (or even those who are), I think it would be fun to get involved indirectly, so if anyone has character name suggestions, interesting plot elements they’d like me to incorporate, or anything else they’d like to contribute, I’ll take these things into consideration if I think they align well with what I’m trying to achieve. I’ve always been a “good girl,” so I might also have questions along the way about how a character would react in a situation or what a particular experience might be like. (By sharing your ideas, you’d be giving me the right to use them without compensation. However, your ideas would be part of a novel…how many people can say that?)