When I was a younger man, I was often starstruck.
I had the good fortune early in my career to meet people who, in their circle, were famous or at least respected. And because I was insecure as hell, I would try to show them how much I knew and that I wasn’t just a punk kid who had bluffed his way into the room. (Despite my being a punk kid who had often bluffed himself into the room.)
Maybe you have seen people like that – eager to show their worth, eager to show they belong, and so they hog the space and generally look desperate.
That was before I learned that relationships are more important than fame and that relationships take time to develop and nurture. I would try to tell the person everything I knew, and I would end up verbally vomiting on them.
One day somebody took me aside and told me what I was doing. Then they gave me a powerful piece of advice.
“If there is someone you know well, you don’t worry about telling them everything you ever want to tell them, because you will see them again. Your problem is that you are afraid you will never see this famous person again, so you have to tell them everything, and instead of looking wise, you just look desperate. So don’t tell them everything the first time you meet them. Act like you have been there before, and like you assume you will be coming back. This increases the odds that you actually will be.”
Since I have been in Jackson, I have been trying to intentionally place myself in situations and circles I would not normally be in. I am seeking out unlikely friendships and attempting to avoid homogeneity in my relationships.
Which is why at 5:30 on a Tuesday morning I am in a living room in a part of town I don’t live in, surrounded by people who are much more conservative than me in any way you can think of – theologically, politically, socially – and we are there to study the sacred text we are all committed to, although we often derive different precepts from it.
It’s hard for me.
There, I said it. It’s hard to wake up at 4:30 AM to go sit with people who think very differently than you do about issues that matter to you a great deal. But what I have consistently found is that no one person (or even ideology) has a corner on all the wisdom there is in the world, and so I find myself taking notes and jotting down ideas that I hear in that room that I would never have considered otherwise.
I had a mentor once who told me that you could learn anywhere and from anyone.
“Take what is useful, and ignore what is not. Eat the meat, and spit out the bones,” he said.
I once knew an older man who went to the casinos outside Memphis every day. He would take $300, and he would play the $5 craps table, and he would play very safe bets and when he had doubled his money he would quit for the day. And then tomorrow he would come back, with $300 and do it again. If he got down by $100, he would quit for the day.
He made good money. When I asked him his secret, he said “Money management. Most of life is just money management. Deposits and withdrawals, credits and debits.”
I know nothing about casinos. Or craps. Or even money, really. But I do know about relationships. And I am here to tell you that relationships are like a checking account.
We make deposits and withdrawals into our relationships with other people. I smile when you walk in? Deposit. I share something you wrote on Facebook? Deposit. I help you move? Big deposit.
We have a disagreement? Withdrawal. I ate all the chips and didn’t tell you? Withdrawal. I don’t show up for our lunch date? Withdrawal.
We all do this. We all have debits and credits with each other, and while we don’t keep score, per se, it is obvious when someone only makes withdrawals. We avoid those people. We get tired of them quickly.
The truth is, some people only withdraw. The guy who only calls you when he needs your help. The person who only critiques your work, but never affirms it. The guy who “just wants to play devil’s advocate.”
Those people are not automatically bad people. There are probably lots of accounts they routinely make deposits into. But that account they make deposits into isn’t your account.
In your account, they are overdrawn.