One of the keystone lessons I’ve learned in life is that in order to be successful you have to be around other people. Whether you need advice, are looking for ideas, or are trying to sell a product you need to be around others. Sadly I’ve found many smart people have a tendency to languish in isolation. They feel that they are so smart that someone will swoop in and whisk them away to an amazing opportunity while they are sitting at home watching Netflix. The problem is that if no one knows you exist, they will never come looking for you. You need to socialize and be around others so that you have the potential of running into people that can open doors for you.
When I say this many times folks look at me like deer caught in headlights. The idea of being around random people and coming up with small talk is down right frightening to them. Even if they get the courage to go to a Meetup of such they end up standing in a corner, quietly nibbling a snack, desperately waiting for the even to be over.
As an aspie I’ve had this exact problem. I know what it’s like to know that I needed to interact with strangers, but to be scarred to even show up. A trick I learned years ago was to find something to do. By volunteering to perform a function for an event you give yourself a reason to be somewhere, a reason to talk to people that’s not awkward, and the ability to be pulled into conversations when you don’t know what to talk about.
For the past five days I’ve been playing camp cook for a group of my wife’s friends. My wife is a follower of Rupert Spira and is deeply interested in the concept of non duality. She wanted to get a group of her friends together and spend a week at a camp up in the Adirondacks. The thing is I love the Adirondacks, support my wife talking with friends that have the same interest, but have around zero interest in non duality. As a bad Buddhist I’ve read a bit about it, but can’t figure out why it’s overly interesting.
So when my wife was planning the trip I had to figure out how I was going to enjoy myself, and be part of the group while not really caring about the prime topic of conversation. Thinking about it I decided to be the cook for the week. By being the cook I give myself something to do, I have a reason to disappear when I’m bored, and I get to be the cool husband that can make a tasty meal. (Which apparently is a bit more rare than I would have figured.) I genuinely like to cook so this works well for me.
By being the cook topics of conversation came up for me that had nothing to do with the meaning of existence. I decided to cook all vegan so I chatted with people about fake ricotta cheese. We talked about eggless cookies. Debated whether protein or fiber was more important for health, etc. Additionally since I had the opening I could talk with people about the things they knew that I actually cared about. We had a champion equestrian athlete that I was able to mine for curios stories on the nasty ways people get hurt and die in her sport. We had Canadian snow birds that spend half their time in the US and half in Canada that I could poke on what the real differences between the US and Canada from tariffs to health care. We had a truck driver that focuses on niche deliveries who’s company gets paid three times the industry average because they learned how to play the logistics system in the US. And I randomly questioned other folks about what piqued my curiosity. At the end of the day I learned enough to write two weeks of posts while saying almost nothing about non duality.
One of the skills that I’ve found to be vital to be a successful aspie is to be able to find ways to be useful even when I’m uncomfortable. By taking tasks that make other people’s lives better you give yourself a reason for being included while not having any clue what people are talking about. I had a fun time. Our guests enjoyed my cooking, and I had to spend very little time sitting around with a fake smile miserably pretending to care about something I’m not interested in.
Think about this for yourself if you are uncomfortable in social situations. Many Meetups and tech events need volunteers to help do everything from setting up tables, to handing out name tags. By giving your help you gain access to the ability to talk to people for a reason, and you become valuable to the organization. If you act as the bartender for the evening everyone in the room will come to you at some point, and they’ll all be very happy to have you serve them. If you’re going to have a party with friends being the cook is a great way to be a center of attention without needing to be overly personable. Being the gatekeeper to fresh hot cookies, or hamburgers is a good place to be. You get to talk to people in a way that is more comfortable and relaxed, while they get to meet you and plug you into their memory as someone that made their life more enjoyable.
And of course by doing something interesting you become a topic of conversation after the event. “You should have tasted the vegan lasagna this guy made. Tasted like real cheese! He’s the husband of a friend of mine that follows Rupert. He runs some site called Failed Normal…”
At the end of the day it’s not what you know, it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you. The conversations that will change your life are the ones that you will never know happened. Two decision makers talking about what they did last weekend both pondering how to move their balls forward. “You know there was this guy who baked the best chocolate chip cookies at the meetup last night. He was working on some point to multipoint blockchain based communication. I think you should talk with him. I’m pretty sure Bob can get you his information…”