Since one of the worst impediments to learning is boredom, any tips that trainer-teacher-learners can find in our quest to remain engaging to those we serve are extremely useful—which means that Jessica Hagy’s playfully engaging new book How to Be Interesting (In 10 Simple Steps) is well worth perusing.
It also does, however, provide an immediate (not-too-serious) dilemma for readers: If we are attempting to read it in public, we can’t help but be cognizant of and even a bit embarrassed by the possibility that people will see the title and either feel sorry for us because we appear to be suffering from severe self-esteem, or will be disdainful of us because we appear to be so pompous that we want to be interesting enough to be a center of attention.
As if anticipating this self-inflicted dilemma, Hagy suggests within the first few pages of the book that we move beyond our comfort zones:
“To ridicule. To risk.
“To strange events & conditions.
“To WILD IDEAS.
“To things that make you cringe.
“To strange vistas & new sounds…”
She’s right. It’s fun. And stimulating. And rewarding. As long as we ignore those pitying and disdainful glances and the bursts of laughter that come from colleagues seeing that particular book in our particular hands.
In many important ways, we are on familiar ground with How to Be Interesting. Each two-page spread combines the sort of sketchy drawings, handwriting and formal type, and informal guidance we find in Dan Roam’s Back of the Napkin (and other works) and Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. The two-page spreads also serve the same purpose that the deck of assignment cards serve in Naomi Epel’s The Observation Deck: A Tool Kit for Writers, with its format that encourages us to try a variety of exercises in whatever sequence appeals to us.
What’s more important is that, as I noted in a review of Mark Samuel’s Making Yourself Indispensable, the real value of books about being interesting/indispensable is that they remind us that we need to be thinking about those we serve as much as we are thinking about ourselves since our goal is to produce something of value to others rather than simply striving to make ourselves centers of attention. (After all, that would be boring!)
Step 2 of How to Be Interesting, for example, speaks to the artist in each of us:
“Share what you Discover.
“And be generous when you do. Not everybody went exploring with you.
“Let them live vicariously through your adventures.”
Those words help remind us that we engage in training-teaching-learning, writing, drawing, or any other creative endeavor that appeals to us because we have been lucky enough to have a vision that we correctly (or, in less lucky situations, incorrectly) assume will be of interest to others. Which clearly suggests that if we want to be interesting, we have to be ready for those times when we are inadvertently, woefully, and spectacularly uninteresting—but as every one of us involved in acts of creativity knows, there are no successes without failures along the way.
How to Be Interesting also helps make us more cognizant of how we learn (and how we transform ourselves) step by step as each tip/potential learning exercise builds upon what we already know—which means that the book itself can serve as an example of learning-as-a-building-process if we follow the process of applying its suggestions and tips to our own situations in an experiential fashion rather than attempting to passively absorb them by quickly reading them and then moving on to something else.
It’s worth noting that there’s nothing revolutionary in what Hagy is fostering; anyone who has been involved in creative endeavors for a considerable period of time will be able to look at each of Hagy’s suggestions and cite other sources for similar ideas. But that’s not the point. What is important is that Hagy has compiled this information into an expression of her own dreams and visions, and offers them to any of us willing to find value in applying those dreams and visions, as seen from her own perspective, to our situations and lives. In the process, she reminds us that although there may be nothing new under the sun, each of us brings our own unique set of experiences and dreams and visions to what we do. If we effectively share those with others as Hagy encourages us to do, we will have reached the goal suggested by her title and her suggestion that each of us work to “put your own spin on it.”