01/24/2013 10:52 am ET | Updated Mar 26, 2013

Who Cares What You Do: I Care About Who You Are

When I meet someone at a party or at a networking event, it seems that I have to go through the three obligatory I-just-met-you-and-we-don't-know-what-to-say questions. First, even though I don't really care, what brings you here tonight? Second, somewhat awkwardly, what do you do? And third, I begin to annoy even myself, what do you do for fun?

Are these the only questions I can come up with? Absolutely not, but it seems they are the only ones that are socially acceptable to ask within the first five minutes of meeting someone. This drives me crazy, because the interaction is both boring and mildly irritating.

Don't you hate being asked what you do for fun? But, haven't you yourself resorted to asking someone that very question when standing awkwardly in line for a buffet and stumbling for something -- anything -- to say?

What I really want to ask people is "Who are you?" or "What makes you tick?" or "Did anything surprising happen to you this week?"

The poem "The Invitation" by Oriah Mountain Dreamer captures the spirit of truly connecting and understanding someone. I have reprinted it here:

"The Invitation," by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, from her book of the same name

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.

It doesn't interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon...
I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened by life's betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us to
be careful
be realistic
remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,

It doesn't interest me
to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn't interest me who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments

What if we could share this open sentiment with someone after just meeting them? Perhaps not exploring their deepest sorrows, but actually asking them questions that are more than just pleasantries and then really listening to the answers. I propose a challenge. The next time you meet someone new, say:

"You know, at these kinds of events people always ask what you do, but I am more interested in who you are. I would love to know, what are you all about?"

It might be awkward, it might be terrifying, but it also might be wonderful.

*By Oriah from her book, THE INVITATION (c)1999. Published by HarperONE, San Francisco. All rights reserved. Presented with permission of the author.

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