“You have to tell people what you’re interested in.”

A couple of weeks ago, I was standing on the sidelines of Jack’s ballgame, reading a book while the teams warmed up.

One of the dads came over to say hi. He eyed my hardcover.

That’s a pretty big book for a ballgame, he said.

Well, I have to finish it by Friday.

What page are you on?


This book was pushing 500 pages, plus it had those gorgeous deckled edges that make any book look longer than it is. He raised his eyebrows. Is that even possible? 

Yeah, I said, sheepishly.

Book club? he asked.

Nope, I answered. Work.

Love your work or hate it?

Oh, love it, I said. Definitely love it. What about you?

I’m a physician, he said, and then he went on to explain a bit about his field, and how he got into it, and why it wasn’t as satisfying as it used to be.

This is going to sound awkward, he said, but I was just listening to this podcast, and it said that you have to tell people what you’re interested in, because you never know who can help you.

He was clearly nervous. Apparently he wasn’t in the habit of telling people what he was interested in.

But he told he told me about his work: about the business he just started, on the side, because he needed a new challenge.

And as it turned out, I could help him. I know all about that business, and I know people in that business, a business that thrives on contacts (though really, don’t they all?). And importantly (I suspect) I understand that business, and didn’t think he was crazy when he told me what he was interested in.

I’ve been thinking about that conversation a lot since we talked. Because I agree with him: you have to tell people what you’re interested in, because you never know who can help you. It’s obvious to me how many good things have come about—jobs, friendships, opportunities—because someone else knew about that interest, and offered to help.

And yet: I tend to keep my cards close to my chest. It’s an introvert thing; it’s who I am.


Will that conversation turn me into a blabbermouth? Probably not. But it has given me something to think about.

Do you regularly tell people what you’re interested in? I’d especially like to hear about help you’ve given or received along these lines. 

P.S. This whole conversation reminded me so much of this book.

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  1. Susan in TX says:

    This conversation reminded me of Tim Sanders’s book Love is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends. He’s a big proponent of sharing your great contacts with others and not keeping them to yourself. A very interesting/encouraging book that I read after reading seeing it referenced in David Allen’s Getting Things Done. I loved a lot of Sanders’s points, and I’m currently not in any form of business.

  2. I’m in that boat right now, and I’ve found that I struggle with it, even though I NEED people to know what I’m interested in. I decided to make the switch from nanny to personal chef, but the thing about personal chef jobs it that there aren’t a lot of sources that advertise them (and those that do typically involve clients who want a professionally trained chef). I have one online source under my belt, but I knew my best resource would be my own community. I’m not shy, but I HATE talking about my own needs (I feel like I’m shoving it in people’s faces). Still, I bit back my nervousness and starting telling a bunch of people about the kind of job I’m looking for. It felt SO awkward…but it’s paying off! One of the people I spoke to is looking for a chef himself! And I’ve actually cooked for him before! 🙂

  3. Rebecca says:

    I still have a very hard time saying that I’m an artist, because that means different things to different people, but I agree with you and I’ve started being a wee bit more confident when I proclaim what I do. Can’t say I have a lot of contacts yet but I’ll get there?

  4. Hannah says:

    Oh, it’s so hard for me to share, too, sometimes. I’m also an introvert, and it feels like exhibitionism to tell people (especially those I’m not close to) things like that. But what’s the harm? It could be helpful, for them or me, in the end. I need to do better with being open.

  5. This is one reason I plan to post a new List of 100 Dreams soon. I have things I’d like to do, and putting it out there means people who have ideas and suggestions might be able to help me! How awesome that you were able to help the fellow parent just by a random sidelines conversation.

    • Anne says:

      I love reading others’ lists of dreams, but I cringe about posting my own. Thanks for the nudge. 🙂 (Can’t wait to read your updated list!)

  6. Rachel says:

    Such a powerful phrase! I’m a big proponent of networking, but rarely talk about my interests with others. I don’t like talking about my job, but there is such a difference between work and interests!

  7. Tricia says:

    My brother-in-law’s future brother-in-law is a general contractor. I’ve met him only at parties & he seemed very quiet & reserved. I mentioned this to my sister one day & she said, “Oh I thought so too, but he just hates to talk about his work.” Isn’t that the second question we ask people? What’s your name? What do you do? And then we inquire further into that. So I said, “Well, does he like to talk about something else?”

    “Cars. He likes to talk about his cars. Ask him about that.”

    The next time I saw him I was prepared to ask him about something he’s actually interested in. I think it goes to show that it’s important both to tell people what you’re interested in & to dig deeper into what others are interested in if you want to get to know them.

  8. Kathryn says:

    Good timing on this post. I just shared my idea for a business one day with some friends over the weekend. It was strange to talk about it, as I haven’t fully fleshed out the idea myself. But they asked a lot of questions, and I received some great feedback. It does help to share! Try it in a “safe” group of friends first.

  9. Did you say, “well I won’t be able to finish if you keep talking to me” 😉 Haha!

    But seriously, yes, telling people I write, and putting my writing out there, was very scary at first. I felt very exposed. But it’s now a comfortable part of my identity. I had to take the hard first steps though.

  10. Katia says:

    I can definitely relate to this. I also keep my cards close to my chest. Actually, I was brought up to not share much about myself, to keep my life private, and although I do prefer to stay quiet, I do try to make an effort to venture outside of my comfort zone to speak with people about their interests and my own. What I find difficult is to move beyond the small talk. When I’m around people I don’t know, I second-guess myself or my mind goes blank and I can’t figure out how to start a conversation that will go beyond the usual small talk. It sounds like the man you spoke with has a knack for getting straight to the point of the conversation. I could pick up a few tips from him. 🙂

  11. Hannah Beth Reid says:

    I love this idea! Once again, a book came to the rescue by providing a conversation starter!
    I either over or under share and am seeking the balance. Spring is a season of small talk events: graduations and graduation parties, weddings, being out and about at the park, etc., so I find myself needing to make conversation with people I don’t know well (or at all) and we can’t just jump in because we don’t have a starting point.
    Thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts.

    • Anne says:

      “I love this idea! Once again, a book came to the rescue by providing a conversation starter!”

      I hadn’t thought of it like that but of course you’re right! Thanks for pointing that out.

  12. Brittany says:

    Such wise words..but yes difficult to actually execute. When I first started blogging I was so weary of having anyone I know IRL to know about my blog. I’m still not entirely sure why–nerves, paranoia, judgement? Probably all of the above.

  13. Anne says:

    No, I do not regularly share what I’m interested in. No way. I’ve started to a little bit, but…..I recently shared what I knew about auditioning for community theater with a young adult, and I connected my husband with another graphic designer at a graduation party this past weekend! I like making those connections. I like seeing people take the next steps. (My #2 strength on Strengthfinder was Cheerleader. Made a lot of sense!)

  14. Tim says:

    I really enjoy helping people pursue things that I know about. One of my son’s friends interned at the courthouse and then a few months after that ended asked if we could meet to talk over what a legal career might mean for her. It was a super time for talking through all the things she’s interested and whether going the law school route was a help or a hindrance to that. I always tell people thinking of law school to consider it as training for possibilities reaching far beyond merely practicing law, and she was already considering a multitude of possibilities. I’ve had this conversation with people a lot over the years.

    So yes, I want people to talk about what they’re interested in. Even if it’s a field I know nothing about, I’ll learn something new form someone who’s enthusiastic about the subject. That’s usually a good way for me to broaden my own horizons.

    • Anne says:

      “Even if it’s a field I know nothing about, I’ll learn something new from someone who’s enthusiastic about the subject.”


  15. Betsy says:

    Wow, I admire his courage! I’m really, really not good at talking about my introverted self. I regularly dream up business ideas, but when I think of how many people I’d have to talk to to make it happen, I just shelve the idea.

  16. Shannon Miller says:

    I’ve recently started doing this very thing because I believe it’s important to be authentic with others, but it is so hard for me. I love hearing people talk about what they’re interested in, but I’m much more comfortable keeping my cards close to my chest! The thing that has helped me is remembering that I may be able to help someone else. A few months ago I mentioned a book I was reading on educational philosophy and it led to a conversation with a mom I don’t know well who is desperate to homeschool her child but didn’t have any idea how to get started. Feeling like I’ve helped someone is highly motivational for me.

  17. This is so hard for me, but it’s been so important. I was laid off two weeks ago today from my newspaper job. I came home that day with my bag of things slung over my shoulder and pulled out a stack of vinyl and sat down to let it all sink in (and plan my next steps because I can’t help it – that’s my “Achiever” personality at work). The album that had been on the turntable that I absently hit “play” on was Torres’ “Sprinter,” and the song “Son You Are No Island” captured me: I knew I had to let people in, let them know what I was interested in.

    So I’m working on that.

    I haven’t made a big public announcement. I’ve mostly just quietly let people know what happened over the past week. But already I’ve been overwhelmed with freelance writing opportunities and requests for help with social media strategy and media jobs to apply for and encouragement. People really do want to help. Let them know.

    • Anne says:

      Wait, WHAT. Okay, now I understand a lot of what you’ve been saying this week on social media ….

      First of all, I love that your coping strategies involve a stack of vinyl. And second, I’m already thinking through if there’s any plum openings I can connect you with. If I think of anything genius you’ll be the first to know, and if think of any way I can help let me know STAT.

      This is easy for me to say from behind my screen 300 miles away but I’m wishing you all the good things, and can’t wait to see where you land. Next steps are terrifying but exciting.

  18. I think most people know what I am interested in (books/literacy) but I am also an introvert, so I find it difficult to put myself out there to get the help and jobs that I want/need. I’ve been making more of an effort to put myself out there, which is one of the reasons I started my blog. It’s hard, but I’m slowly convincing myself that the worry and nervousness will all be worth it eventually. 🙂

  19. Bethann says:

    Oh yes to everything in this post! I too hold my cards too close and I really need to let others know what I’m interested in! Thank you for this discussion starter!!

  20. Karlyne says:

    I think the reason I don’t often share about myself is that I’m afraid of being boring. I’m a very accessible person for others, and so I tend to know a lot about them. But I doubt that there are many people in real life who know a lot about me!

  21. Bonnie says:

    I am an introvert and an HSP so sharing doesn’t come easily to me. I despise small talk but am good with genuine conversation, so I AM good at drawing other people out on things.

  22. Heidi Scovel says:

    I had a similar experience this past week! I had an opportunity to be in conversation with someone I was barely acquainted with. We talked of many things, but when I mentioned that my husband is in a particular field of work she asked if he does hiring. I said he doesn’t. She said she has a nephew who is a great kid and needs to break in to the field. My husband doesn’t do hiring, and her nephew doesn’t live in the same city. BUT, it turns out that I knew of ONE job opening in the city where her nephew lives and my husband has connections at the company. We helped everyone get connected and five days later he had the job!!

    Personally, I probably over-share, but only in my comfort zone (which is where I hang out 99% of the time). 🙂

  23. Elizabeth K. says:

    I’m going to remember this the next time I’m visiting/talking with people. I hate small talk, and I’d rather just dive into a conversation that’s meaningful. This would be a great thing to ask (“What are you interested in lately?”) that wouldn’t be too heavy of a topic and would be a better question (I think) than “What do you do?”


  24. Nadine says:

    Yesterday I walked from frustration into a favourite prof’s office and told her she had to tell me not to drop out of school. She quickly told me not to drop out of school. Then we talked about why I’m in school and why it’s necessary I stayed. And then I posed a question to her about which program she suggested I take. She quickly posed five questions back, not giving me an answer from her, but trying to get me to find the answer in me.
    I needed to ask her what she thought would interest me because then she could help me ask myself.
    Somehow this links to this post yes? 🙂

    • Anne says:

      “I needed to ask her what she thought would interest me because then she could help me ask myself.”

      It definitely connects! I am so grateful for those people who help me ask myself the hard questions. That’s a great thing to point out here. 🙂

  25. Dana says:

    I am an introvert and a pleaser by nature and a very polite Southerner by nurture so I am always reluctant to talk about myself to people until I feel safe sharing with them . I am trying to get better about this but it feels pushy and intrusive. It is also hard for me to say I am a writer because the first thing that is asked is “what have you published?” , which leads to me saying nothing yet ( although I am getting closer!).

    I have a new friend, however, who is an artist. She is teaching me to think of myself as both a writer and an artist and to push myself beyond my comfort zone. She has been great for me…very affirming and encouraging. she has inspired me to try and illustrate the children’s book I have written!

    I hope I can learn from her and pass it on to someone else.

  26. Angela says:

    I think we need to use discernment. I hoard my cards & interests not just because I’m an introvert, but also because I’ve been burned before. When people found out my plans, desires, hopes, or interests, they have put it down or told me I was wasting my life. I’ve even gotten a chance to build something with other people based on a passion of mine, and as I’m trying to build it and after I have professionally put my name out there, the other people pulled the plug without letting me know. Maybe it’s my culture that doesn’t see the value of the path I have moved my life towards, which isn’t full of money or a 9-5 job, but I’ve learned to discern the types of people who loves to feed life into others and those who suck you dry. I have 2 people I can really be open with. I’ll take the flip side and say that you should not tell every person you meet or every person who asks what you’re interested in. Instead, use wisdom and listen to your gut.

  27. Ronnie Jean Langlois says:

    Love this post and the book, yeah I’m reading it right now. Sometimes I feel like a blabber mouth but as long as I’m using it for good I think it’s okay. At least that is my prayer everyday to use my mouth for good. 🙂

  28. Yes, this is so true. I’ve been passionately spreading this message to all my friends and specifically artists. Self promotion is so hard but so necessary for people to notice you. I also believe in people knowing about your passions in general. For me, I was an admin assistant for the longest time but that doesn’t give people a substantial category to place me in for their own interests or mine. So now I tell people that I’m a photographer even though I do many other things to pay the bills. I also have a podcast about the artist journey on iTunes called Social Endeavor. Once you begin sharing with others what it is that you really love, confidence will soon follow too. And from there, who knows what will happen? It’s exciting.

  29. Oh, I love this!

    And I can put it into practice soon as we’re moving out-of-state and I’ll be meeting many new people. It took me a long time to start telling people that I was a blogger/freelance writer. It sounded so…self-important?

    I’m still not completely comfortable saying it, butI’ve been so surprised at people’s positive reactions when I do tell them. Often it sparks an interesting conversation and they seem freer to open up about their lives.

  30. Ciera S says:

    This phrase really hit me. As a recent college graduate, I’m constantly being told to “network” if I want to move forward in life. The connotations of that word are rather off-putting, conjuring images of stuffy business encounters and in-your-face conversations. The idea of casually making your interests known to the people you meet is a much more approachable concept. Thanks for sharing this encounter!

  31. This is a great post. I usually tend to keep my cards close to my chest, too. I’m such an introvert. I will open up if I here magic words of mutual interest. For example, if someone likes the same books series or we share a hobby I will turn into a blabbermouth. I guess I need to feel like it’s safe to come out of my shell.

  32. Deborah says:

    And yet: I tend to keep my cards close to my chest.

    YES!!! How well I relate, Anne. In part, because I often feel like people aren’t that interested and/or I don’t want to bore them or even the flip side when I’ve felt like someone is interrogating me in a negative way and I don’t want to share every detail!! haha! What complex creatures we are.

    And your new site look totally rocks! I love, love it! Simply beautiful! And the gravatar for the ones not personalized = perfection. 🙂

  33. I do tell people what I’m interested in, but that’s because I talk too much. Yesterday I read the acronym “W-A-I-T” “why am I talking?” and I’m trying to ask myself that. However, it has paid off BIG TIME on numerous occasions. If chatty, I’m personable, and have made a wealth of contacts and had some conversations and experiences resulting that I’ll tell my children and their children and their children. It truly pays, if you can be vulnerable. It also pays, however, to shut up sometimes.

  34. Lauren says:

    I did it!!!! I still can’t even believe it. During small talk with a store owner this weekend (just the two of us in the store – as an introvert any more this would have been a NO go ;)) I saw her background was in the area of a small dream of mine that I thought I needed to give up on at this time of life. Well, I just thew out “my idea” and she was just lovely giving me all kinds of information to help continue the brainstorming! Thank you so much for the inspiration and courage to let people know.

  35. Samantha says:

    This is something I have so much trouble with! People ask what I do and I freeze up! But I’m trying to make a living writing and making things, so I guess I really need to get used to talking about the stuff I do, huh?

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