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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