When we are young, we have no control over who we hang out with - family, schoolmates, teammates, sorority sisters, co-workers, playdate-mates, etc. When we get older and wiser, we are finally able to choose the people we surround ourselves with. It’s taken me almost a lifetime, but I have realized that the quality I’m most drawn to is humility - and humor, but that’s another story.
I was born an extreme extrovert. My mother told me when I was a baby I would light up at the sight of a stranger’s face. My sister, an introvert, would cry. In elementary school, my favorite thing to do after school was to go knock on every neighbor’s door. If my friends weren’t home, I hung out for hours chatting with all the elderly neighbors - Mrs. Brookins and her white poodle Susie, Mr. Merritt and his pond full of tadpoles, and Mr. Sands, who would challenge me to see who could spit the farthest off of his front porch.
Fast forward a few decades and not much has changed. When I go to a party, if I don’t talk to everyone there, I come home sad, feeling I missed someone.
But as I get older, I’ve become more intuitive. Somehow, I’ve developed a keen negative energy radar. I have learned how to steer clear of Negative Nellie, Sarcastic Sally and Venting Vera. If I get stuck, I nod but all I hear is Charlie Brown’s teacher.
I search out people like Humble Henrietta, Positive Patti, Witty Wilhelmina and Funny Frederika. I’ve learned that if someone has to tell you how awesome they are, they are probably not that awesome. Psychologists say that it is deep insecurity that causes one to brag about oneself, but that factoid doesn’t make it any more fun to be seated next to the dinner convo dominator, Bragging Brenda.
A few years ago, I carpooled with a neighbor in the afternoons. He traveled for work and his wife was busy coaching. He was kind, always offering to pay me back if I took the kids to Chick-fil-A (kids always want to go to CFA after school, or especially after sports practices). I hung out with him at games and school events for two years before someone told me he had been a Blue Angel pilot - the No. 1 Blue Angel pilot!
“Why didn’t you tell me you were a Blue Angel,” I asked indignantly the next time I saw him.
He acted like it was no big deal, I think he said he thought I already knew. Actions speak louder than words. I’ve learned so much from him by the way he carries himself. He’s always interested in and caring about others, never focusing on himself. His wife is an inspiration, too, so generous with her time and talent.
I've been playing on a tennis team for over a decade with a sweet, unassuming gal. She’s got a killer spin serve and has great hands at the net. Some of the ladies on our team always look dynamite in the newest tennis fashions, but she and I laugh when we both show up wearing an old team uniform from seasons ago. She doesn’t always join us for lunch and she brings a change of clothes to the tennis facility, showers there and goes straight to her church to volunteer. The other day I found out her husband is a well-respected doctor in town.
I never knew.
My nephew works for the State Department. He has been a cultural attache in India, Serbia and Croatia. He speaks five languages fluently - fluently enough to be interviewed on television speaking those languages. Yet, when we see him at family gatherings, his is genuinely interested in all of my children, always asking about others and not wanting to talk about himself. He is funny and self-deprecating, as well as the best dancer in the family.
Intelligent yet unpretentious. Humble and witty. In today’s world, it can be hard to find people that exude those qualities. I’m making it my lifelong quest to seek them out.
My greatest goal in life is to be more like them.