“I don’t need new stories. I just get new friends” – M. Fryia
Last week we promised a theme for every month, well it’s the first Tuesday of the month and time for a new theme. The focus for the next 30 days is on Preparedness and we’ll be attacking it from all sides, starting as always with Mindset.
As his strength coach, I’ve asked the very best hockey player in the world what hand he shoots. I’ve sent a resume after a Churchill-esque amount of wine full of more spelling errors than properly spelled words. I’ve showed up to fights without a jock – in case you aren’t well versed at combat arts it’s a pretty important piece if you’ve even thought about procreating one day in the future.
See what I’m getting at?
Despite living and working in professional sports, an area of the world that requires maximal preparation – think of a 4-year Olympic cycle, or the 12 weeks leading up to a boxing title fight – I was often unprepared. I believed the action to be unimportant, an ‘I’ll figure it out when I get there’ mindset combined with some leftover childhood, ‘it’s cool not to try’ attitude was likely the culprit, and as a result, I suffered. Did I fail in those endeavors? No, not usually but it took me a lot longer to get where I wanted to go.
That all changed with dinner parties.
I alternate between excitement and anxiety every time I’m invited out for dinner with a group. I love the camaraderie that comes with long tables full of people who are well-fed with glasses of wine in hand but also shift uncomfortably in my seat thinking about what we, and I, will discuss. After all, it’s just a dinner, and you should show up and see where the conversations go. Well, kind of… If you attend a dinner party, even if it’s with only a couple of your oldest friends, and don’t bring new stories or interesting ideas you owe the host an apology and best offer to put on the next dinner to make up for the blunder.
I realize that this sounds ridiculous. After all, I just told you that we were going to discuss the importance of being prepared, but I can’t think of a better and easier example than dinner parties.
Every time you’re asked to attend a dinner, you are being invited to join in an experience. You are not being asked to sit and eat. You can do that by yourself at home in your underwear with a cell phone in one hand and two-day-old pizza in the other. No. You are being asked to share and engage. Someone offered to cook for you or take you out, and in exchange, you owe them a level of stimulation and intrigue.
Know what interests them, do some research, and ask intelligent questions. If you don’t what their opinions are then ready your own and be ready to discuss them at length, free of malice. Have interesting personal stories to tell, combine them with things you’ve read, watched, or heard.
It doesn’t mean that you have to dominate the room, but it does mean that when you’re called on, you can contribute in a meaningful way. You’re prepared for your dinner companions.
This exercise comes from a chef I spoke with, and I love it because it teaches you a few invaluable lessons. Firstly, it better to be prepared. Remember that famous quote that your coach would repeat ad-nauseam, or perhaps it was laminated on a poster in a classroom.
“It’s better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one than to have an opportunity and not be prepared” – Whitney M. Young Jr.
Whitney wasn’t wrong. Seizing opportunity is intoxicating; it breeds confidence both in yourself and in others and helps create more opportunities. It might be more pertinent to change the quote to “It pays to be prepared…” as many great careers have started with unexpected breaks followed up by exceptional performances.
Eminem is arguably the greatest rapper of all time, a kid from Detroit he got his start when one of Jimmy Iovine’s interns saw him rap battle. He brings Jimmy a cassette, Jimmy shows it to Dr. Dre, and they fly Eminem out. On the first day, on the first beat, sitting in Dr. Dre’s basement, Eminem starts spitting out lyrics to “My Name is”, the first single from The Slim Shady LP which has sold over 18 million copies world wild.
The tricky thing about exceptional performances is that they don’t come innately, we do not rise to the occasion but sink to the level of our preparation. Eminem – Marshall Mathers – had been cutting his teeth in every possible scenario leading up to the opportunity, from rap battles to empty shows, he was prepared for the moment and now lives the life he wishes because of it.
Being prepared also drives you to learn. If every time you show up to dinner, you commit to bringing something new, you have to do the learning new stuff part beforehand. This cycle is addicting. The more you learn, the more people enjoy being around you and speaking with you. That reinforces confidence and improves the likelihood that you will continue learning and growing. How we conduct ourselves in one area of our life carries over to all others. Preparation, like everything else, is about repetitions and like all things that require repetition it’s monotonous and I (we) often don’t enjoy doing it. So, change the game. We make it about dinner and others, and that action of bringing new stories to the dinner party can begin to alter and improve your life.
If you want to learn how to be prepared, and in the process improve yourself start showing up to dinner parties with stories worth telling.