What To Look For In People


(I’m writing something every day for #100days. This is post 10/100.)


The older you get, the more quickly you are required to make judgments about the people you meet.

As time starts to compress, you have to make decisions about strangers and their potential as partners, friends, colleagues, bosses, or providers in an instant.

At some point, it becomes impossible to give everyone the necessary time to lay bare their true personalities.

So you have to create filters.

When we’re young, our filters are extremely unsophisticated.

That person is my next-door neighbour, therefore they’re my friend. That person plays the same sport as me. That person likes Maths as much as I do.

The bad news is, those filters don’t get a lot better over time. As an adult, you fall into easy traps.

If someone went to a famous college or worked for a famous company, we assume they are smarter and more competent. If someone is well-dressed, we assume they are rich. If someone is rich, we assume, they are smart.

Most of our filters are just awfully, distractingly, completely broken.

Politics, education, travel, cars, wealth, fashion, job titles, all turn out to be terrible proxies for quality in another human being.

You have to find a different set of filters to surface the right people. Here are some that work much better.

Passion

“I want to know what passion is. I want to feel something strongly.” ― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

People driven by passion are almost always more alive, always more interesting.

Passionate people are colour to life’s monochrome. And it doesn’t have to be shared passion. Your enthusiasm for birds or bees or beer or bratwurst is interesting to me if it’s something you’re truly passionate about.

Always look for passion in the people around you.

Curiosity

“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” — Albert Einstein

Curiosity is the foundational social skill. Shy people need only learn this one thing to succeed. Everyone’s favourite topic is themselves. Genuine curiosity in others is the hallmark of good company.

But curiosity’s value isn’t restricted to social situations.

Curiosity about life, about its boundaries, all drive the most interesting questions to be asked and most satisfying work to be done.

Persistence

Life always gets hard, and making it what you want is never easy.

In most cases, the answer is persistence. Persistence, as a lived experience, is mostly dull and miserable. You advise people to be persistent, but actually doing so is much more difficult.

Persistence though, is usually a test of something else — how passionate you are, how curious you are, how deeply you believe. The size of someone’s passion and curiosity and belief can be measured in their persistence.

Humour

“To have a sense of humor is to be strong: to keep one’s sense of humor is to shrug off misfortunes, and to lose one’s sense of humor is to be wounded by them.” — Paul Graham

Humour is magnetic and, without cruelty, one of the highest human expressions. Filtering for it in others almost always uncovers more than just the joke. Finding laughter with people, the real, bottom of the belly kind is a sure sign you’re in the right place.

Surprise

“The secret to humor is surprise.” ― Aristotle

Repetition leads to boredom. Expectation leads to eventual disappointment.

The best people are surprising. They teach you new things, they force you to confront new ideas, they take you to places you wouldn’t ordinarily go alone.

Surprise generally shows up later into friendships, and becomes a necessity in maintaining them over time.

Rebellion

“Tell me something that’s true, that almost nobody agrees with you on.” — Peter Thiel

Being original, by definition, means being different. And to maintain that difference for long enough that it is validated with truth takes a certain amount of rebellion.

Rebellion is like water, enough is vital, too much can kill you. So filter for some and not too much in the people around you.

Humility

“It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

An oncoming car swerves into your lane. Your parent gets cancer. You get sued. Your company gets shut down.

It is impossible to predict what’s next. Which is why being too sure is never a wise thing.

The best people live knowing that tomorrow, everything could change.

Creative Confidence

To do great work, to be the best version of yourself, you must, at some point, start. And when you start, you will inevitably be mediocre.

With confidence, you may have enough momentum to push through ‘the gap’ until you get good. And when you get good, you get to share what you made with people that love and need it.

But it all starts with that confidence. That willingness to continue. That fearlessness that even though what you do, right now, today, isn’t all that good, that you maintain the confidence to bridge you to what’s next.

Enthusiasm

The days are long, the years are short and enthusiasm, like sun to flowers, keeps you going.

Enthusiasm is a vaccine for getting discouraged.

Find enthusiastic people. Find people who are encouraging. Find people who water the soil. Sometimes, their enthusiasm will be all you have.

All of these things — passion, curiosity, persistence, humour, surprise, rebellion, humility, creative confidence and enthusiasm — really matter.

But there is one filter, like a valve in the heart, that must be working in order for all the others to come into play. Honesty.

Honesty

“If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.” ― Virginia Woolf

Honesty is the single most important filter in human life.

You can live without surprise, you can overcome a lack of creative confidence, you can learn how to be persistent.

But you cannot abide dishonesty.

Trust is an exchange of two glass spheres.

You carry yours for the other person. They carry theirs for you.

If they break the sphere, and the glass shatters everywhere, there is no piecing it back together.

Dishonesty invalidates all else that follows.

Curiosity, compassion, humility, passion... Without honesty, these are all worthless.

And as much as these qualities make good filters for the people around you, they have even greater value as aspirations for how to be.

  • Be honest above all.
  • Live with passion.
  • Follow your curiosity.
  • Persist.
  • Find humour in life’s turns.
  • Occasionally surprise those you love.
  • Be unafraid to rebel where truth is the reason.
  • Display humility.
  • Have confidence in your creativity.
  • Be enthusiastic for whatever you must do.

These are filters for people. And more importantly, a guide for living an excellent life.