How To Be Fascinating: The (Apparent) Contradictions of Interesting People

“He’s a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction.”  – Kris Kristofferson

An aristocrat who joins a peasant revolution. An atheist who enjoys liturgical music. A janitor who makes a breakthrough scientific discovery.

If these sound like they would be excellent characters for a novel, that’s because they would. We are fascinated by people who defy our expectations.

The Joys of Irony

This is something I have discovered in my own life. Stereotypes rarely hold true, but there are a few people who defy them spectacularly. It’s my own theory that the best are aware of it and are playfully purposeful in that defiance. It is their special kind of irony — irony in character — that excites our interest in them most distinctly.

Irony: “A state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result” – Oxford English Dictionary

I think of a former coworker who worked in sales and sang opera, a deeply religious teacher who spoke admiringly of both Jonathan Edwards and Christopher Hitchens, a techno-libertarian activist with a deep knowledge of Islamic theology, and many, many more. They left lasting impressions by being the round pegs in square holes that can be unfortunately rare for those who don’t look.

If you’re reading this, the odds are that there is already something ironic about you. Perhaps you haven’t explored it yet. There is a tremendous power in celebrating and cultivating whatever it is within you that baffles others and (potentially) delights them.

What Fascination Is

It would appear to a casual observer that the highbrowed art critic who moonlights as a bluegrass banjo picker is a contradiction in terms. It would seem absurd and irrational for someone who loves the work of Charles Dickens to also admire the industrialists of pre-Victorian England.

It is only upon closer inspection that these apparent contradictions are resolved. We come away with new knowledge as a result. Perhaps bluegrass is a higher art than we previously believed. Perhaps Romantic ideals can coexist with a healthy respect for industrial progress.

It is that close inspection that we call “being interested.” Fascination is the joyful surprise of a person who finds their limited expectations defied and expanded.

“Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.” – Ayn Rand

How to Be Fascinating

The key to being interesting? Present an apparent contradiction to your audience. This is as true in life as it is in art.

Still, it is not sufficient to just have an unusual mix of interests or character traits. Exciting fascination requires that you actually do something to upset the expectations of others.

Whether you overcome dyslexia to write a bestselling book, build a career in engineering or medicine without a formal degree, or leave political activism to create a greater social impact as an entrepreneur, you must act differently and achieve unexpected results to be accounted among the truly interesting.

That process of becoming a contradiction lies at the heart of what our team means when it speaks of “breaking the mold.” Moldbreaking is an active process, not a serendipitous one. It requires people to step out of line and live on a different kind of plane, whatever their passions or projects happen to be.

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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