While I have no soccer skills, I once played in a fairly competitive adult soccer league with my then-teenage stepson. I was terrible, but I played because he asked me to. (When your kids get older and ask you to do something with them, the first time you say no might be the last time you get asked.)
As we took the field before a game, a guy on the other team strutted over, probably picking me out because I was clearly the oldest player on the field. (There’s a delightful sentence to write.)
“Hello,” he said. “I’m Louis Winthorpe III, CEO of My Company Is Better Than Yours Inc.” (Not real names, but accurate in spirit.)
“Hi, I’m Jeff,” I said, shaking his hand.
“Didn’t think I’d make it on time,” he said. “Had to finalize a big contract, rattle a few chains at an overseas facility, and inspect a property we’re going to buy.”
How do you respond to that? “Wow,” was the best I came up with.
“Ah, not really,” he said. “Same stuff, different day.”
I was trying to match the drollness of my “Wow” when my stepson stepped in, half-smile on his lips and full twinkle in his eyes, and rescued me by saying, “Come on, we need to get ready.”
Was Louis cocky? Certainly, but only on the surface. His $400 cleats, carbon fiber shin guards, and “I’m the king of the business world” introduction was an unconscious effort to protect his ego. His introduction said, “Hey, I might not turn out to be good at soccer, but out there in the real world, where it really matters, I am the Man.”
While he introduced himself to me, he was his real audience.
And that was a shame.
On that field, for that hour, he could have just been a soccer player. He could have sweated and struggled and possibly rekindled that ember of youth that burns less brightly with each passing year.
How do you introduce yourself? When you feel particularly insecure, do you prop up your courage with your introduction? Do you make sure to include titles or accomplishments or “facts,” even when you don’t need to?
If so, that makes your introduction all about you and not your audience. Instead:
- Decide that less will always be more. Brief introductions are always best. Provide the bare minimum the other person needs to know, not in an attempt to maintain distance but because during the conversation more can be revealed in a natural, unforced, and therefore much more memorable way.
- Stay aware of the setting. If you meet another parent at a school meeting, for example, just say, “Hi, I’m Joe. My daughter is in third grade.” Keep your introduction in context with the setting. If there is no real context, like at a soccer game, just say, “Hi, I’m Joe. Good luck!”
- Embrace understatement. Unless you’re in a business setting, your job title is irrelevant. If you’re asked what you do and you do happen to be the CEO of My Company is Better Than Yours Inc., just say you work there. To err is human; to err humble is always divine.
- Focus on the other person. Ask questions. Listen. The best connections never come from speaking; they always come from listening.
After the game a few kids from both teams were teasing me about one of my passes they felt should win the informal “Worst Pass of the Season If Not in the History of Soccer” award. I was more than cool with that, because the banter signaled a camaraderie and acceptance that is never given but earned.
I glanced over and saw Louis, alone as he packed up his gear, and felt a twinge of sadness.
He never let himself just be a soccer player. He never gave himself a chance to be a teammate, to fit in and enjoy a shared purpose, however momentary or meaningless that purpose might be.
When you introduce yourself, be who you are. Embrace the moment and the setting for what it says about you in that setting and not in comparison with titles or accomplishments.
Just be yourself: skills and triumphs and struggles and failures and all.
Always trust that who you are is more than enough.
Because it always is.