How (Not) To Be Charismatic

Last week, after doing some quick mathematical equations, I realized I could be fluent in Mandarin now, had I started listening to Chinese audio-instructional podcasts when I became an Uber driver mother, fourteen years ago. I decided I needed to make better use of my drive-time.  Between trips to cross country meets, school, the orthodontist, Children’s Theater, barn, piano lessons, drum lessons, pediatric sick visits, and then back to school (for required mandatory meetings where they tell us our teens need more sleep but make the teenagers stay at school until nine pm), I might even be able to earn a second Masters Degree. Although the first degree hasn’t really helped me with driving, cooking, and laundering stinky gym clothes.

I scrolled through some Medium articles on how to be successful and persuasive and decided I would start listening to Audiobooks and podcasts while I drive the kids around. I think the ship has pretty much sailed for me. I am destined to be an unlikeable, socially inept human until my dying day.  My kids are basically being raised by a barn animal, (I don’t drink, play tennis, or do the cocktail circuit, and am, as my husband says, constitutionally incapable of being fake). So as I lack all the qualities my kids will need to find suburban and professional success, I figure I will bombard them them with helpful tips by authors whom CEO’s and successful leaders recommend.  First up on the Podcast list: “The Charisma Myth,” a book suggested by Sheryl Sandberg of ‘Lean In’ and Facebook fame.

Last week, as my kids and I were driving home from yet another event that requires socially awkward people to figure out the right thing to say a cross country meet, I looked in the rear view mirror, as the narrator of the book on how to be charismatic (which is definitely a skill I could use), talked about how anxiety essentially prevents us from being charismatic, because being charismatic requires one focus intently on what other people are saying to us. If we are always anxious, we cannot be fully present, if we are not present, we are not charismatic. I had an aha moment in the car as the soothing voice summed up my social awkwardness in one short chapter.  I exclaimed to my kids, “Well that explains why I am not at all charismatic.  It’s my anxiety.”

I heard my middle child fidget uncomfortably in the back seat and looked at him in the rearview mirror.  “What is it?” I asked.

“Well,” he replied, “I am just thinking maybe that is the reason why you are the only mom I know who doesn’t drink, but you are always saying stupid things and then you can’t remember what you say.”  Sidenote—this is a sweet kid, even though that statement makes him sound like a total douchebag.  But he was completely and frighteningly accurate in his depiction of me. In fact, only sixty-three minutes earlier another mom, a mom I actually like, had looked at me and repeated back to me something I had said the week before and told me how much she agreed with me.

For the record, I (apparently) said that “I wasn’t sure why some of these people had even had kids because they seemed to hate every minute they had to spend with them.”  I looked at her and said “Jesus, (she’s super Christian so I bet she appreciated that), I should never talk.  I mean.  I just should.  Not. Open. My. Mouth.”  She told me it was okay, she sort of agreed with me. (In my defense, I was mainly referring to the mom who keeps telling me she has been drunk since her kids were born, and has a stop-watch running down the moments until her kids leave for college, when I made that totally true horrible and judgmental comment).  But see?  See the shit that comes out of my mouth.  It’s like I totally lack a frontal lobe.  Of course I am not charismatic.  I am downright offensive.

We kept listening to our Audio Book. As the days passed, and cross country meets segued into horse shows, and the author continued to extoll the virtues of “power, presence and warmth,” the three virtues needed to be charismatic, I had an epiphany.  Charismatic people ultimately want other people to like them.  Charismatic people, in theory, will have have better paying jobs and more friends.  I am, lets face it, not going back to the job market in any traditional sense.  I mean,  I write because I can do it alone, on a sofa, in slippers, whilst eating Skinnypop.  Oh, and did I mention alone?  Because people suck.  The people I want in my life are already in it.  They have known me for at least thirty to forty years, and I figure if they haven’t bailed yet, they probably plan on sticking around, even though I don’t drink, curse too much, and have far too much anxiety to possibly maintain good eye contact.  If I am in the middle of a conversation and I hear a strange sound, I jump and shake. I don’t just lose eye contact with people, I run the fuck away.  I don’t need to be more charismatic.  My odd-ness keeps me right where I like it.  On the outside of the strange social gatherings called cocktail parties looking in.

My family continues our pursuit of self-improvement, because my children may not be misanthropes, in which case, charisma will serve them well.  But I am going to remain authentic to myself, and spend the rest of my days on the sofa in sweatpants. No charisma needed.


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