One of my most formative college experiences didn’t even happen at Georgetown University: it came, unexpectedly, during a study session in an Adams Morgan cafe.

A friend and I struck up a conversation with a federal prosecutor of white-collar crime. As bright-eyed, first-semester freshmen, of course we each had an answer to the man’s inquiries about our own career plans. My well-traveled friend said her interest in international development and environmental issues would likely take her abroad and out into the field.

“Maybe I’ll volunteer for the Peace Corps,” she imagined. “Anything but a desk job!” Our companion’s eyes lit up and applauded her vision of the future, impressed by her willingness to get her hands dirty to effect change.

When he turned to me, I laid out my 10-year plan, which culminated in a law degree and judicial clerkship. I distinctly remember his response, “Don’t become a lawyer. None of my friends are lawyers. They’re boring. Do something interesting like your friend here.” I tried to shrug it off — after all, this man didn’t know me. Yet I carried his words around with me for the better part of four years before learning that I didn’t need to change my goals to entertain an audience.

That word — “interesting” — stuck with me for a long time. It grew into a deep-rooted insecurity that in 15 years I would be dull company at a cocktail party. I could picture it: standing in an elegant black dress at some metropolitan rooftop bar, surrounded by the cultured sort who had won prizes, spoke multiple languages and lived in places I couldn’t identify on a map. I’d have little hope of entertaining them. Doubtlessly, their blank faces would stare back at me when I shifted the conversation from Mongolian yurt living to the ramifications of comma placement and other legal technicalities.

I was forced to consider that being “interesting” and pursuing my interests might actually constitute conflicting goals. Propelled by the fear of being boring, I set about seeking opportunities that would make me “interesting.” I spent weeks outlining a proposal for my passion project, conducting independent research on AIDS literature, and I won $5,000 to do it. But I turned it down to work for a chocolate company in Italy instead because I believed it would make for the better, sexier story. When I got back to campus in the fall, I saw people’s eyes light up — just like the lawyer’s had at my friend’s plans two years earlier — when I recounted tales of prosecco-tasting tours and interviewing customers in Venice. I basked in the validation that I was finally “interesting.”

But over the latter half of my Georgetown career, I have come to realize how misguided and silly my quest to charm imaginary cocktail companions has been. In seeking to impress friends and acquaintances with my glamorous, “interesting” experiences, I often found myself sharing things that, though they made for good stories, were not particularly meaningful. I tried to interest others, but I ended up boring myself.

I aspire to be so much more than “interesting.” If my friends were asked to describe me, I hope they wouldn’t use that word at all. I want to be seen first and foremost as someone who is thoughtful, dependable, and a person of integrity — not someone who can pretentiously enthrall an audience with the cultural capital I accrued.

The prestige of being “interesting” has lost its seductive power for me. Passion has taken its place — that unbottleable magic that lights up a speaker’s whole face. For me, puzzling through the finer points of the federal rules of evidence is more energizing and rewarding than sipping wine throughout the Italian countryside. Once I found my own spark, the dreaded fear of being boring melted away.

I no longer let others’ expectations or life advice blow me off course. A relative told me at a family party in November that I should really go backpacking through South America this summer instead of studying for the LSAT. “You want to be someone interesting to sit next to at a bar when you’re 40, don’t you?” he said. Instead of renewing my old insecurity, I simply felt annoyed. Screw “interesting.” Becoming the person I want to be seems like a far worthier goal.

Anne Marie Hawley is a senior in the College. This piece is part of the the 2019 Senior Compass Series.

One Comment

  1. M McMorrow says:

    Ah. . . Anne Marie, from what you write, he did not say you should become interesting. He said you should do something interesting. There is a difference. Bill Gates may not be interesting at the type of cocktail party you reference, but his work has great meaning. Maybe that is what your interlocutor wanted you to find–work that as great meaning. ?? Maybe not.

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