He didn't have a lot of friends. He'd spend recess and lunch walking around the outer walls of the fence line and I had no idea if he was looking for pet rocks or strange bugs.
I knew him because he lived down the street from me. If that hadn't been the case, our paths might never have crossed.
Years later, I remember seeing him around high school, and he still lived on my street. But we didn't connect much.
I'm sure, deep inside, I thought I was better than him. I had great grades. I lettered multiple years in multiple sports. And I still remembered him as the lonely kid in elementary school that spent recess alone.
I once saw his nice car and it surprised me. I hadn't thought his parents would spoil him that way.
You know the truth? He had way more money than me. He had way more friends than me. And he was living a life I knew nothing about.
See, later I found out he was one of the largest west coast distributors of drugs.
My freshman year, I met a really short kid.
It was one of those after school, welcome-back-to-school dances you had in the gym. He walked in after a bunch of us were already hanging out.
I wasn't in a super popular group, but I was hanging with soccer friends. It must have made me feel pretty confident, because when he walked in, I made a joke.
I don't recall it now, so many years later, but I remember it related to his height and the fact that he looked really young. My friends laughed and he walked the other way.
I know, it makes me sound like a bully. You'll have to take my word for it that I wasn't one. But in that moment, I was “in” and he was “out.” I had friends and this kid looked 10. I couldn't imagine him knowing anyone.
And it turns out I was partially right. He wasn't close with a lot of the kids in our grade (he was a freshman too), because he spent most of his year away – on set.
He was a child actor and his young looks got him great parts in tv shows I watched every afternoon.
We met in an elevator. Heading up to a lunch seminar.
As we rode it up several floors, I asked her about herself. Her answers were find but her body language said she really didn't want to be there.
As I probed a bit deeper, she confessed that she didn't really want to be here. Her answers included a lot of things going on back at her office, but included the fact that she'd never even heard of the speaker before.
She was preoccupied, so I'm glad she didn't ask me questions. I'm really glad she didn't ask me if I knew the speaker.
But I could tell she was a bit surprised when they introduced me as the event's speaker.
We don't know who's who. So act accordingly.
I know this lesson. You know this lesson.
So you're likely wondering why I'm telling you this. Well, as I prepare to speak at another event later this month (if you're into WordPress and business, check out Pressnomics), I start looking over the attendee list.
If I'm lucky, the people's avatars will match what they look like, so I have a chance of recognizing people.
But my default, at any event, is to look for people I know.
My default is to find comfort.
My default is to find a place where I'm “in” and not “out.”
But I have no idea if I'm standing next to someone who's important (or the next Jesse Pinkman). And since I can't predict what people will become, or even who they are right now, I have to stifle my defaults.
So I engage each person I meet with wonder.
Asking for their story. Remembering each moment. You never know when I'll get to write a story years later (that I went to high school with actually two famous movie stars).
And the other ancillary benefit is that I'll meet some genuinely awesome people.
All because I knew better than to follow my defaults.
I learned that I just don't know. So I act accordingly.