You’ve probably heard this quote, right? “Go where you’re celebrated, not where you’re tolerated.” Hey, sounds like great advice, right?
I mean, it’s fantastic. Wonderful. Greatest idea ever!
How do I do that?
Because, maybe you’re looking around and you’re thinking: I can barely tolerate my co-workers and my boss doesn’t even notice me. How am I possibly going to find people who will celebrate me? That’s a good question, and it does not have a straight-forward answer.
I am autistic. Now I have learned a lot of ways to put on an act, so that most of the time people don’t really notice. However, sometimes who I really am comes through.
I remember once when I was on a date with a woman and we walked by a situation where a man was wielding a knife in front of a small group of people. He was maybe 12 feet away. I looked at him and I said, without a hint of any emotion whatsoever, “Oh, look, he’s got a knife.” I could tell he wasn’t dangerous. He was still talking, he wasn’t moving aggressively, and he certainly didn’t even notice us. There was no chance he was going to attack us, and very little chance he would attack the group of people he was confronting. If I did or said anything, it would only increase the possibility of some form of violence. So I didn’t react.
Looking back on the event, my total lack of emotion in that moment was almost as disturbing to my date as seeing a guy wield a knife. In her mind, the date probably ended right then and there. She didn’t understand how I could see a situation like that and be unaffected.
And for most of my life, I’ve seen my unemotional responses to events that really freak other people out as a drawback–as something that separates me from everyone else, and not in a good way. Everyone else can be empathetic and emotional. Why can’t I?
Recently I scheduled a visit with my friend Tom Bilyeu in Los Angeles, and his wife Lisa. Tom and I were best friends way back in middle school and high school, and we are each other’s longest standing close friend. He has become fantastically successful and wealthy. He co-founded Quest Nutrition, a billion dollar company, and recently started the studio Impact Theory.
Anyway, when I came to his Beverly Hills mansion to visit, at exactly the time he and I agreed on, they were filming at his house. I just sort of walked in and some of his employees looked a little confused. One of them asked me if I was supposed to be there. I told them that I was Tom’s friend and then I saw Lisa. She walked up the stairs and said, “Oh…Lauren. I didn’t know you were coming today.” I didn’t react. I usually don’t react to things. Later on she told me, “You know, it’s so nice that you don’t get offended that Tom didn’t tell anyone you were coming.”
After talking later in their kitchen, Tom said something to me that I wish my 14 year-old self could hear. “You know what’s so good about you as a guest, Lauren? You’re not fragile.” Lisa chimes in, “Yes, like if we tell you ‘don’t come this week’, you won’t care.”
See, here is a hint about a lot of really wealthy people. They are unbelievably busy. It’s almost impossible, if you aren’t in their position, to imagine how many people are constantly putting demands on their time and, more importantly, on their well of emotional energy. For these two people, my lack of an emotional response to the same things that would deeply offend most people is a blessing.
The same trait that other people are frightened by or at best merely tolerate, Tom and Lisa value for its own sake.
I don’t like giving advice that I haven’t followed myself. I think the internet is full of enough people who are constantly telling you to do things that aren’t really what they did. So I’m not going to give you the “normal” advice here. Instead, I’m going to tell you what I did that changed my reality, and led me to consistently be in places where I am celebrated, not merely tolerated.
For me the most important step was learning to really LISTEN to other people when they talk. The overwhelming majority of people are terrible listeners. No offense, but you are probably in that majority. When I say listen, I mean really listen. Pay attention to the words, to the tone of voice, to the body language. Perceive the emotion and the intellectual content of what someone is saying.
If you think of yourself as a good listener, here is a test. Listen to what someone says. Then, repeat back to them what they said. Do so without ever using the word “I”. See if they agree that you got what they said right. When I first started consistently doing this, I was shocked at how often I had it wrong. I had to practice listening to people literally hundreds of times before I started to be able to repeat to someone what they had just said correctly.
Hundreds of times.
Now I’ve gotten better at it. But back to the main point. Going where you’re celebrated. See, what I learned from actually listening to people, is pretty basic. I learned what they REALLY wanted. And strangely, it was only through that process that I figured out what I myself really wanted.
I have recently started to believe that maybe, just maybe, in the old days when I was a bad listener, maybe I wasn’t really listening to myself either.