As long as I could remember, I’ve been fascinated by “interesting people” in books and movies. I fantasized about someday having books written about me, like hundreds of thousands of other people before me certainly have wished. I hoped someday I would be noteworthy enough. In high school, that all changed.
When I saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty for the first time, it made me cry, laugh, and look inward. It’s still the most influential film in my life, one that’s taught me more than just about anything else. The main character starts out as “a gray piece of paper” of a man, and due to some unfortunate circumstances, is forced to fly to Greenland on a moment’s notice in order to save his job. He does, and he ends up fighting off sharks in the Arctic, long boarding in Iceland, mountain climbing in Afghanistan, and overall just facing his fears, overcoming his boring outlook on life, stepping out of his comfort zone, and coming alive. It sounds really corny, but it’s not. It’s magical and stirring, and it really changed me when I watched it for the first time. I realized that someday I wouldn’t just wake up and suddenly be “noteworthy” or be a more interesting person worth reading about. That was a process, and it was something I could start immediately. So I did.
I’ve thought about both the film and the most interesting people I knew in real life. We all know fascinating people. They’ve traveled to cool places that no one has heard of. They’ve seen every play and are well versed in film. They know a few languages, can juggle, are really spontaneous, and always speak their mind. They are practitioners of the idea of “carpe diem.” They wear unique clothes and know a little about everything. I could go on, but the point is, we all know this person. In films it’s the person who marches up to someone’s door and demands to know why that person broke their heart. It’s the person who climbs onto roofs to stargaze, and is usually the person who ends up discovering that they have magical powers. Both the fictional idea and the real-life version of interesting people overlap in many ways, and once I realized that, it became very clear that becoming a more interesting person was in fact both possible and deeply exciting.
So I began to speak my mind more. I paid attention to what clothes I actually was drawn to rather than what was “in” (turns out I’m drawn to whimsical styles, mismatched patterns, nature prints, and a ridiculous amount of color). I learned a few new languages, read the dictionary for fun to expand my vocabulary, talked to strangers, and just lived in the moment. We spend so much of our lives trying to be normal, that we forget that when everyone is normal, no one is interesting. I didn’t want to be “everyone” and to be boring was the worst fate I could imagine.
I started to do these “interesting person” things habitually over time. When I went to a restaurant for example, instead of thinking “What’s the most appealing dish?”, I automatically ordered whatever I hadn’t tried yet. I realized that when people said a word I didn’t know or referenced something I hadn’t heard of, I instinctively and immediately looked it up rather than not taking advantage of a new chance to learn something. I was more comfortable in my own skin, and living the life that I had always wanted, instinctively. Being outside of my comfort zone became my comfort zone. I realized that seizing the day had become second nature. I didn’t have to think about it anymore. I was just this person now.
After about half a decade of practicing these rituals and habits, I’ve been called “interesting” more times than I can count, but more importantly, I am interesting and fascinating to myself. I’ve had really interesting experiences throughout the years, because through wanting a life that’s extraordinary, I ended up taking advantage of every opportunity. I try everything, I soak up my life, I talk to everyone, and when I see a chance to go somewhere new or experience something different, rather than hesitating, I just take it. Because of this, I’ve traveled to some really unique places spontaneously (like the very tip top of Norway—the jumping-off point to the North Pole), worked for celebrities, become fluent in many languages, and dipped my toes into just about every hobby I’ve heard of so far, among other things! I’m not good at everything or well-versed in every possible subject under the sun, but I have fun and try my hand at everything I come across. It’s made my life so much better, and it’s made me a more well-rounded, and yes—a more interesting person. I am proud of who I am, and what I can bring to conversations and my own happiness.
Living fully is about expanding and growing, and becoming more interesting ended up doing just that. It’s easier than you think, so jump in. Try something new today. Look up a few phrases in a language you’ve always wanted to learn. Watch a new film. Cook something you’ve never eaten before. You won’t become a new, more interesting person overnight, but you can grow bit by bit. How you spend your days is how you spend your life, so make today interesting. This life is precious, and while these things will make you into a more interesting person, they will more importantly help you to, as Emerson said, “Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.” That’s all we could hope for in our lifetime, isn’t it?
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Photo: Emily Degn