I Feel So Used (and You Should Too)

I Admit It
One of the first things I think when I meet someone is ‘How will this person be useful to me?’

It’s not really a conscious thing — it’s more one of those reflexive tendencies that everyone has but only a few over-analyzers take the time to acknowledge. But it’s definitely happening, and this initial impression can have a drastic impact on what kind of relationship you will form with someone new.

I understand it sounds really cold to just flat-out say “I’m using you and you’re using me,” so let me clarify. While it’s true that we may consider personal gain first, all healthy relationships will involve a balance of benefit for everyone involved. Each and every participant will be benefiting about the same, and therefore the ‘greediness’ will in fact allow for balance, rather than creating a benefit deficit for any one person.

Consider This
I walk into a gallery opening and strike up a conversation with a well-dressed 40-something from Spain. We discuss the art on the walls, his business and my business, exchange cards, and I introduce him to someone else I know who’s also at the gallery.

What just happened? On the surface it was just another interaction at a networking event; it happens every day in every city in the world and few people think twice about it.

But if you do take a second to think twice, you’ll realize that I started the conversation with this particular gentleman because I was looking to establish a familiar group of friends at this gallery for this night (which makes it easier to network, as most people at events full of strangers are just looking for a group to take them in). He may have spoken to me for the same reason, or he may have spoken to me because he works in the broadcast industry and I’m in his demographic (which provides him with direct feedback from a potential viewer).

In discussing the art I may be able to tell him about the influences of the painter (thanks to my Art History minor in college) and he may be able to tell me all about his hometown in Spain (which is information a travel-curious person like myself craves). By asking him about his business, I was trying to learn about a trade different from my own (which is incredibly valuable for a generalist like myself) while at the same time finding out if he needed my services. In discussing his and my businesses, the Spaniard was gaining insight into what kind of industries and methods of communication are ‘in’ for a demographic he needs to keep up with, while simultaneously adding another potential contractor to his call list in case his studio needs someone to create motion graphics for their next project.

To top it off, by introducing the Spaniard to another friend at the gallery I have gained points in the eyes of both people, while they have both gained access to new contacts and resources handpicked for them by a person who already knows something about what they are looking for. We’re all making use of each other for our own purposes, but everyone is gaining equally.

And this is the main difference between being a good networker or friend or half-of-a-couple, and just being so-so at it. Being socially talented means you are able to recognize the exchange of value and make sure that others are compensated when they give of themselves for your gain.

In Other Words…
If you want to have an ample supply of people to use, be as useful as possible.

This isn’t as easy as it sounds. It’s actually incredibly tricky, because when you exchange social value, you’re not trading dollars for dollars. In fact, every single person is using a thousand different kinds of currency, and sometimes a few bills of each kind are used in a single relationship.

Also Consider This
When I’m in a relationship I might use my partner as a networking wingman, sounding board for new ideas, accomplice for ridiculous schemes, professional contact, and muse. She, on the other hand, might find more value in me as an emotional support system, comrade-at-arms for obscure causes, mentor (or mentee), productivity taskmaster, and taxi driver (if she doesn’t have transportation and I do).

Both of us would have very different needs, but so long as they’re all being fulfilled, the relationship should remain healthy because the balance has been maintained.

Bad Relationships
Most of us are familiar with what happens when this balance gets out of whack. One person or the other starts to feel used or like they are investing more in the relationship than the other. Feelings may be hurt, bonds may be broken, and the relationship itself could cease to exist (or, even worse, mutate into something hateful rather than useful). This should be avoided at all costs, and if you feel that any relationship is starting to go down this road, it’s time to figure out how balance can be reestablished.

If the only use you can derive from someone else is the comfort of their presence, it may be time to transform the relationship into a simple friendship, rather than getting married or starting a business together. Be aware of the balance in existing relationships, and make an effort to create more effective and mutually beneficial relationships with everyone you meet, and you’ll see immediate results. It will get easier and easier to keep up with the complex social dynamics of any interaction.

Also take the time to be more useful, and you’ll find that it becomes easier to identify the people in your life who are really valuable, and those who are just along for the ride.

Update: May 30, 2016

Wow, this is crazy. I actually use a very similar analogy (exchange of different types of currencies) in my book, Some Thoughts About Relationships, to describe how to maintain this balance (I didn’t realize I had come up with that this early on).

I also say ‘consider this’ a lot, which foreshadows my series, Consider This (though that’s part of why I decided on that monicker: because I use that phrase a lot).

I remember that people were really turned off by how I coldly described these types of things, but I still feel that it’s important to understand these foundational relationships so that we can better enjoy the benefits of them. If we can pull things apart in this way, we’re more capable of enjoying the whole, and maintaining its stability.

Blog, Project

Be My Guru

I’ve never had a mentor. Not in the usual sense of the word, anyway. I didn’t have that one person who excelled at everything I cared about, blazing trails that I hoped to follow, telling me “Someday you’ll be as successful as I am, if you play your cards right,” and “No, no, let me show you how it’s done.”

I do have unusually supportive parents, and I’ve been fortunate enough to learn under some really amazing professors in the past, but I’ve never found the already-wise Plato to my still-learning Aristotle; the streetwise Artful Dodger to my naive Oliver.

I don’t know if it’s a matter of no one having stepped up, or if I just haven’t come across the right person yet.

Or maybe, just maybe, I’m not mentorable at all.

A part of my personality that is both boon and bane is my tendency to learn from everything and everyone. I get the biggest kick out of conversations with absolute strangers, and the lessons I can take away from a novel experience are sometimes life-changing.

On the flip side, I have a very difficult time trusting the opinions and knowledge of individuals. Sure, if Sir Richard Branson were to lecture me about diversification or if Seth Godin offered to teach me everything he knew about building a brand, I would absorb everything I could, take detailed notes, and very likely change the way I do certain things.

But I would not strive to become a Branson or a Godin. Branson and Godin already exist. I’m Wright. I’m different.

It was due to this realization that I decided to add a somewhat novel, community-driven aspect to Exile Lifestyle when I first conceived of it back in April. I wanted to give my readers the ability to tell me where to live. I knew the kind of readership I wanted: people with ideas and opinions who I could inspire and who would inspire me in return. People who knew things I didn’t know and could easily spell words I couldn’t even pronounce. I didn’t know how this relationship would work then, but after almost 6 months of writing this blog, I know what I want.

I want my readers to be my mentors, my gurus, and to reciprocate the best I can.

And so far, you folks have not let me down. I’ve gained a massive amount of insight on topics ranging from celebrities to hand-to-hand combat, the Law of Attraction to tipping; Label Theory to online dating. I hope I’ve given back even a fraction of what you’ve given me.

Voting Results
In regards to you telling me where to live, after a month of voting and anticipation, the results are in and another stellar bit of crowd-sourced gurudom has been performed.

Around the 15th of January, 2010 (about 3 months from now), I will be moving from Argentina to New Zealand.

What I currently know about New Zealand is limited to the jokes I’ve heard on Flight of the Conchords, the landscapes I saw in the Lord of the Rings movies, and the few descriptions I’ve been given by extreme sports enthusiast friends who have visited in the past. Otherwise, I’m totally ignorant about Australia’s noble-neighbor. What do they do for fun? What’s their currency? How do they live?

These are things that I’ll be reading up on before I go, but I would love to get your input, as well. Shoot me an email and let me know where I should visit while I’m there, whom I should meet, and what I should do. While you’re at it, tell me a bit about yourself! I love meeting new people, and chances are if you are reading this blog we’ll get along swimmingly.

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow
As I continue to build my life here I Buenos Aires, I’m acutely aware of the fact that I will soon be saying goodbye to all the amazing friends I’ve met and the city I’ve come to love. In less than a month I’ll be moving to a different part of the country — someplace a little less urban — so that I can take in more of the beautiful rural landscapes that make up most of Argentina. There will be a whole new set of challenges to face, cast of characters to meet, and lessons to learn. Starting over won’t be easy. Not one bit.

Through it all, though, I have you — my mentors, my gurus — to help stimulate my mind with a clever comment or pick me up with a kind email. I may not have an Ayn Rand to my Alan Greenspan, but I do have a steadily growing audience of intelligent and thoughtful people who take time out of their day to read my words.

I think I got a much better deal than Mr. Greenspan.

Update: May 30, 2016

First, the elephant in the room: at this point in time, I had no idea how most people (including Ayn Rand) interpreted Ayn Rand’s work. I drew very different conclusions from a lot of what I read of her’s, and as such, tended to mention her quite a bit. It wasn’t till I started watching some of the interviews she did and reading some of her essays that I was all, “Oh wait, oh hell, oh no.”

Second, I’ve been asking readers to email me and say hello / tell me about themselves from essentially Day One at the blog, and that’s turned out to be one of the better choices I made.

Third, I still wonder about the mentoring thing, sometimes. I didn’t realize until I was writing about the experience later that one of my clients back in LA was trying to be my mentor. He asked me to be her protégé, which should have made it obvious, but there was a lot about that time in my life that I didn’t really grok, except in retrospect. At this point, though, I wonder what that relationship would even look like, and if perhaps I’m better off having taken this path, feeling so strongly as I do about being me, rather than trying to be a copy of someone else. I’m guessing there’s probably a way to do both, but I don’t really see that too often, in practice.

Fourth, I really enjoyed the rest of Argentina, outside of BA. I think I talk about that more in future posts, but I wanted to mention it here because the overland trip around the country and longer-than-planned stay in Ushuaia, at the end of my stay, were truly kick-ass ways to spend my time.


Between You and the Very Hard Ground

This is a guest post by miss Annette O’Neil who runs Clever Ginger Creative and who splashes her colorful prose all over the carpet, walls, ceiling, etc. at her blog, Here There Be Tygers. Take a look at her work and be inspired: I’m a big fan.

It’s a lot like the first day of school, actually.

Someone helps you put on a heavy backpack, gives you a bit of grave advice, cheerfully wishes you luck, and watches you climb the stairs to get into the vehicle. You squeeze into a seat among the jostling crowd, every member of which is much, much cooler than you are. You fold your hands in your lap, and you look out the window.

And then you take off.

Skydiving is a funny thing.

The first time you manage to convince yourself to go near the door (basically, a gaping maw of sky that’s roaring with what seems to be hurricane-force wind), you have to speculate to yourself why you’re standing there. After all, you were the one who ambled up to the counter at the dropzone below, slapped your credit card on the desk, listened to the safety briefing, strapped yourself into the gear, and showed the nice instructor how nicely you arch your back for aerodynamics. You did these things because you knew that somewhere between this plane – thirteen thousand feet over a bit of very hard ground – and the aforementioned very hard ground, there was something you wanted.

So now you’re here, and there are some pairs of eyes looking at you (and the little green light by your head) rather expectantly.

So you line your toes up to the edge, give the handle on your pilot chute one more little tap, and here goes nothin.’ Whoosh.

The first few times you do it, it’s much the same. You think about it before you drift off (that thing that happened to that guy, when his gear acted up and his reserve didn’t quite take and they had to scrape him up with a spatula and a wet/dry vacuum), but you wake up wanting to jump. And soon, you always wake up wanting to jump. ‘Cause you and that guy – well, you’re different. And if your gear acts up, you’re pretty sure you’ll get it sorted before they have to break out the spatulas. And if you don’t? Well, you sure as hell got on that plane. And that’s saying something.

Radical lifestyle design is like that, too. When you start out, it’s a lark. When you realize it’s not a silly fancy and you start taking steps, it has all the playful look-what-I’m-doing fun of playing dress-up in a skydiving jumpsuit and wiggling into a rig. Most of us in the LIP community actually get on a plane to seal the deal, and it’s much like that first jump: suddenly, every glorious/badass/wet-dry-vacuum-manifesting aspect of the thing becomes critically evident.

It’s at the door that you get to make your choice. Do I live this, right now, and embrace everything that it actually is? Or do I step back, and live vicariously?

Here’s the thing about living vicariously: you can watch Indiana Jones a thousand times, but it’ll always end the same way. And you, I’m sorry to say, are never in it.

I have an idea.


Update: May 30, 2016

Was still accepting guest posts at this point. All I’ll add is that I never really wanted to skydive, but I finally did while in New Zealand. I’ll save the commentary for that until later — I’m pretty sure I wrote something about it shortly after the dive.