The Most Important Word in the World

by Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical on May 4, 2011

The Most Important Word in the World

This article has been written as part of the “Most Important Word in the World” series; a collaborative project to inspire people to step outside their comfort zones and find adventure and friendship. Other contributors to the series are:  Wandering EarlNomadtopiathe Dropout DiariesDisrupting the RabblementBeyond NormsDo Something Cool, and A World of Inspiration.

When I was asked if I would contribute to the AWOI series on the “Most Important Word in the World” I was a little apprehensive.  You see I’m not the person that tends to step out and say ‘hello’ to people I don’t know.  I’m an introvert.  I’m the guy at the party standing against the wall looking longingly out at the dance floor wishing someone would come and ask me to dance.  I don’t have any cool and interesting stories about a time when I said ‘hello’ on the trail which resulted in an incredible adventure worthy of a National Geographic cover story.

But the more I thought about it I realized that what I do have to offer, and what I think is a great addition to this series, is the perspective of an introvert and how even a shy reserved person like me can step outside of their comfort zone and create exciting opportunities and adventures.

The cold hard fact is that the world revolves around the extroverted person.  They seem to always be the life of the party.  They know lots of people and they enjoy talking, even to strangers.  They seem to be more energetic and livelier.

How many times have you looked at what you consider to be a successful person and wonder what their secret is?  How are they able to get out there and mix it up, to be so social, and to make those necessary connections?

Here are a few things that I have learned over the years to become more social and yet not reach the point of being overwhelmed and shutting down.

The first is to be open and receptive to contact and conversation.  It may be that the ‘hello’ comes to you.  Be open to being approached and if the conversation is enjoyable go with it and see where it leads.  If it’s not your cup o’ tea then don’t be afraid or feel guilty about splitting the scene and moving on to the next potential adventure.

Another thing you can do is to travel with an extroverted person.  I’ve noticed that when I travel with an outgoing person I benefit from their forwardness.  They are the ones to say ‘hello’ and make the connections.  I feel better able to cope with the additional stimuli when I know that they will be taking the brunt of it and directing the show.  It’s a win-win situation for everyone.

Along these same lines is to hire a guide or go with a group.  I’m more apt to get involved and explore more when I am with a group of people.  Groups tend to be made up of people from all walks of life and may include both introverts and extroverts.  While it may take me some time to get warmed up, I have found that the group dynamic is typically one that I am able to cope with better than an instant one-on-one situation.  Of course all people are different and you may not feel comfortable in a group setting but it is an option to consider.

Of course you should always accept who you are and just enjoy the adventure.  It’s not a crime to be an introverted person.  In fact some of the most intelligent people are introverts.  We each have our own set of unique talents so concentrate on those and use your strengths.  Don’t try and go out of your way to be someone you are not.  It will typically end in a way that leaves you disappointed.  And speaking of those unique talents and interests you may find that others with similar interests are easier to approach.

Try and create social situations that are comfortable for you and yet push you a bit.  Sometimes it’s good to push yourself a bit.  Maybe not to the point where you feel sick inside and stress about it but enough where you can cope and yet feel that exhilaration of doing something exciting.  Maybe you talk to a shop owner about their business or try out a few words of the foreign language you just learned.  Make a connection that puts you out there a bit and see what happens. 

I remember one time in Indonesia I needed some cough medicine.  My wife said she would go to the local pharmacy and get it but I said that I would go by myself.  So I got up the courage and walked down and in my best Indonesian asked for some cough medicine.  I must have said it wrong or something because they really didn’t know what I wanted and stood there giggling.  We each struggled a bit trying to understand each other until another customer walked in who spoke a little English.  We all had a good laugh about that.  I got my medicine and had a small adventure that made me feel good about stepping out of my comfort zone.

Finally, don’t think of relationships as what you can get; instead think of what you can give.  We all tend to do better when we are giving rather than receiving.  It’s human nature to want to do good things and to be helpful.  In fact I become less introverted when I am able to help another person.  Seek out ways to offer help and watch the adventures unfold around you.

Regardless of whether you are more introverted or extroverted saying ‘hello’ to another person is just a great way to connect with interesting people.  And it’s also a great way to show respect and interest in the people in your host country.  So take a gamble, step outside your comfort zone a bit and say ‘hello’.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Matthew Bailey May 4, 2011 at 8:54 am

Great post Matt. Definitely a different approach then the others in the series. Maybe reading these stories will make you meet random travellers in Indonesia and create some great adventures. Or At WDS!

Great list for people to follow. Thanks for contributing!
Matthew Bailey recently posted..A Virtual Hello- Japan- and Baby Octopus Lollipops

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Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical May 4, 2011 at 10:29 am

Thanks Matt. After reading all the other awesome stories and the adventures I have been encouraged. It’s not like I don’t have incredible adventures as well…it’s just challenging for me to be forward. Once I connect with someone though, let the adventures begin! Part of signing up for #WDS for me was to challenge myself to make some new friends and connections. It should be a very interesting experience.

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Amy @ Nomadtopia May 4, 2011 at 9:19 am

This is great, Matt! Perfect way to round out the series. Saying hello doesn’t always come easily to me, either, and these are great tips. That’s interesting that you find you’re less introverted when you’re helping someone. I’d never thought about that, but it makes a lot of sense!

I think it’s harder for me when I’m in another country than at home… I would love to meet more locals, but sometimes I enjoy believing I can blend in and don’t want to blow my cover. (Wouldn’t work in Indonesia, obviously, but I can pull it off in Argentina!) I also find that now when I’m back in the U.S. I start random conversations with strangers all the time, just because I can (without worrying about whether they’ll understand me, if I’ve said the right thing, etc.).

Thanks again for sharing your experience and advice!

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Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical May 4, 2011 at 10:33 am

Thanks Amy! In all my times in Indonesia I have never approached a stranger to say hello. Part may be my introverted nature but another big part is the language barrier. Ordering up that cough medicine was a big step for me and I have to admit I felt pretty good afterwards. Being white and 6 foot tall I never blend in anywhere in Indonesia. Everyone where I go there are the looks and stares. As an introvert it can at times be disconcerting. But this time around I’ve connecting with quite a few people in Indonesia online and am looking forward to meeting up with them. And maybe that could be yet another tip…connect with people of similar interests online before your journey. I’m definitely more encouraged after reading all the great stories in this series. Cheers!

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Amy @ Nomadtopia May 5, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Yes, absolutely – connecting with people online is a great way to build a connection before you meet in person. Can’t wait to hear about your adventures in Indonesia this time around!
Amy @ Nomadtopia recently posted..How Strangers Become Friends

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Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical May 7, 2011 at 11:41 am

Thanks Amy. With two boys there will always be adventures. 🙂

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Niall Doherty May 4, 2011 at 9:33 am

Right on, Matt. I like your different spin on this. I believe the key is to step out of your comfort zone, and what that entails will be different for everyone.
Niall Doherty recently posted..Reviewing my plan of attack

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Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical May 4, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Hi Niall! One thing I have really been trying to do more of is step out of my comfort zone. Taking this sabbatical is stepping way way out for me. While in Indonesia I am looking forward to meeting new people and really getting to know the culture more. You make a great point here that what that may entail for me will be unique and different from others experiences. And that’s great because it makes it more personal and meaningful.

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The Dropout May 4, 2011 at 9:34 am

Wow, Matt, I’m even more impressed with your sabbatical plan now I know you’re an introvert. Very wise and thoughtful advice.
For one, I’m going to follow your advice to be receptive. Perhaps that’s one area I’ve fallen down in, writing people who approach me off as wanting something when, if fact, they may just have been trying to be friendly.
The Dropout recently posted..Attack of the Asian Baby Snatchers

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Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical May 4, 2011 at 1:22 pm

I’ve found myself thinking “what does this person really want” far too often rather than being open to someone who may just be curious and friendly. I hate getting trapped into that. I actually had a great conversation in Yogyakarta once with our driver. I didn’t even realize he spoke English until he started talking with me. We talked about his home town in Sumatra and what a great place it was and how I should go there to take photos. I also had a great conversation with our driver in Bali, who was also the owner of the rental company. He and his wife took us down to the beach and we all talked and watched the sunset together. So I guess if I really think about it I do have a few stories about connecting with people and most of them do start with the word ‘hello’. Being an introvert definitely has it’s challenges in our fast paced, sensory overloaded world.

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Earl May 4, 2011 at 11:27 am

Well-written finale to this series. If I had to guess, I’d say that the majority of people fall into the category you describe, if not all the time, then at least when they are in new and unfamiliar surroundings. So I think you’re speaking to a wide audience who can learn from these valid points, myself included.

And like you’ve shown, the result of a ‘hello’ is not always an adventure beyond one’s imagination, but more typically, a brief moment of adventure or interesting connection with someone. I think this is important to remember before we start to look at everyone we see as someone who may be able to drastically change our lives!
Earl recently posted..Air Travel Tricks I’ve Recently Learned

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Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical May 4, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Thanks Earl! Your comment really adds to and further clarifies this post. I’ve definitely found your comment regarding being in “new and unfamiliar surroundings” to be true, especially for myself. I tend to stay back, check out the situation and feel uncomfortable injecting myself into local situations despite often being very curious. I like to get a look at the bigger picture first and then get more granular if I feel comfortable with that. I’m definitely planning to step out a bit more and really try and integrate more into the Indonesian culture. Part of this involves learning to speak the language and another part is making sure I am open to new things. And if I am understanding your last point it’s to not try and force things just to make an adventure happen.

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Steve May 7, 2011 at 11:34 am

I used to be an introverted person who had trouble meeting new people. It’s one of those things I think you can build up. I think your tips are really good especially about traveling with someone who is extroverted. It makes it easier on you if you’re not very social. Plus, you get to see how they do it and learn the ways of being extroverted.
Steve recently posted..Why You Should Read Controversial Books

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Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical May 7, 2011 at 11:53 am

Hi Steve. I’m still pretty introverted but I’ve been pushing myself more and more. I’ve found that the times I do push myself I really enjoy it. My wife is very reserved as well and what is interesting (and probably expected) is that here in the US she is much more shy than I am. But in Indonesia, she is much more extroverted and I tend to hold back much more. So what things did you do to become less introverted or was it just a natural process for you?

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Mark Powers July 19, 2011 at 11:54 am

Wow- excellent post. I had apparently missed this one and am glad that you included it in your “7 Links” roundup! This might seem odd, but I feel that I have gone back and forth several times in my life between being that introvert and being somewhat more extroverted. As I look back while reading this, I definitely agree with what you’re saying. The more outgoing phases have also been those that have brought more connections, more opportunities and more “successes.” This is some really great food-for-thought . . . thanks, Matt!
Mark Powers recently posted..My 7 Links

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Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical July 22, 2011 at 12:39 am

You know Mark, I’ve noticed the same thing although as I wrote here I am much more introverted. There are some situations that I thrive in and am more extroverted and others where I am highly introverted. The extroverted phases usually take an enormous amount of energy but result in connections and friendships. The introverted phases are periods of self reflection. I think it’s good to have a mix of both.

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larry hensley January 5, 2013 at 7:57 pm

the most important word in the world is {responsibility} to accept what is your responsiblity.

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