What do I mean by “it”? Well, it’s not what you are thinking, you nasty, nasty thing. My parents read here, for crying out loud! Anyway, I want to say it’s something super cheesy like a glow from within, but I know that like all super powers, “It” can be used for nefarious purposes as well. I guess it would be fair to say that “it” is that indefinable quality that gets you noticed (for good or eeeevil). Some people are better at working with this quality then others, but everyone has it and I’m convinced it can be developed.
There is a story that I thought was just an urban legend, but through my hard-hitting investigation (a google search), I found out was actually true. In 1955, Robert Stein and Ed Feingersh set out to interview and photograph Marilyn Monroe. The men were kind of surprised to find that the three of them could wander around Manhattan without being hounded by her fans. I’ll let Mr. Stein pick up the story:
Back up on the street, Marilyn looked around with a teasing smile. “Do you want to see her ?” she asked, then took off the coat, fluffed up her hair, and arched her back in a pose. In an instant she was engulfed, and it took several shoving, scary minutes to rewrap her and push clear of the growing crowd.
The two Marilyns kept fading in and out. At the costume fitting she arrived as the Star, commanding a swarm of tailors, seamstresses, and hangers-on until the Other abruptly emerged and burst into tears of frustration over some detail of the garment. Eddie’s camera got it all, showing her rising tension against a visual jangle of wire hangers in the background.
Of course, Marilyn Monroe is an extreme example (of pretty much everything). But let me give you another example. When I was 19, I had my wallet stolen. If you’ve ever had your wallet stolen you know that it’s a massive pain in the ass. Not so much because of the money lost, but because of all the things you have to replace. So I got to spend Saturday morning at the DMV with my mom. Yeah, a barrel of laughs for everyone involved. I was in such a bad mood that had I suddenly sprouted the ability to shoot lasers out my eyes, no one within my vicinity would have been surprised. I’m pretty sure the people who work at this particular DMV are either unentertaining animatronic characters or died around 1973 and their corpses are just going through the motions out of habit. If there were a zombie uprising, people in this DMV would just think there was a lot of staff on hand.
Finally, they called me and some guy to get our pictures taken and also said we should line up on the left side of this little wall. I didn’t give two flying craps where he told us to line up and stood on the right side. While we are waiting around for the 900 year old DMV worker to reanimate his corpse or whatever the hell we were waiting for (did I fail to mention there were exactly ZERO people in line in front of us?), the other person, who had lined up correctly, kept shooting me quizzical looks. I gave him one back that said, “WHAT??? Loser.” I was 19 and pissed, cut me some slack. But the craziest thing was that the guy gave a nervous laugh and said, “Oh, your left. Hahaha,” and got in line behind me. Out of the corner of my eye, I see my mom chuckling. On the way home she said to me, “I don’t know how you do it, but there is something about you that can convince someone that they are wrong and you are right when the opposite is true. You didn’t even say anything to that guy and he thought he was in the wrong place.” I was 19 and pissed and believe my response was, “Okay, and?” As I got older, I’ve tried only to use my powers for good.
But the point is still the same in both situations, there was some kind of shift in the messages our internal broadcast systems were sending out. In the book, “The Charisma Myth”, Olivia Fox Cabane says that it’s a common misconception that charismatic people are that way 24/7. They aren’t and it can be learned. She goes on to say that the secret to charisma is found in three words: power, presence, and warmth. When we first meet someone, we assess these three qualities non-verbally and they don’t even have to be in balance- I wasn’t exactly exuding warmth that day at the DMV. Basically, we assume if someone is exuding confidence, that they have a very good reason for it.
But taking that a step further, there is a component to that confidence that is almost dismissive of others. It’s like you are so confident in yourself that you need no validation and nothing anyone can say or do could ever shake your self-confidence. You make no apologies for being awesome. This is really where that warmth is needed, though. Otherwise, you can delve into arrogance.
Diving into pop culture again, I’m going to invoke the patron saint of curvy girls with attitude problems, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s newest partner, Joan Holloway (I do not acknowledge her unfortunate marriage Dr. Rapey). Joan owns it and puts it out there. She doesn’t care if you don’t like it, because she knows that if you don’t that someone will and she’s doesn’t need your approval anyway. If you’ve ever seen Christina Hendricks interviewed, she seems quiet and a little bit awkward at times. She said once (paraphrasing), “I don’t know why people like Joan. She’s awful!” BUT, when she is Joan, she can turn it on with that internal shift.
Some people might be thinking, “But, Beth, I am unattractive with a horrible personality. Can this help an ugo like me?” First off, you are not an ugo. Second, charismatic people are perceived as more attractive. There is something so attractive about people who feel comfortable in their skin and really own everything about themselves. Those are the people you see and think, “I know he/she isn’t traditionally good looking, but there is just something about them…”
One thing that helped me quite a bit learning how to turn it on, was the unfortunately named book, “Psycho Cybernetics” by Dr. Maxwell Maltz (because of it’s name, people think it has something to do with Scientology, but it doesn’t, there’s no products or anything to buy other then the book). Dr. Maltz was a cosmetic surgeon and he noticed that after reconstructive surgery, some people would still feel like crap about themselves despite looking loads better. He found that people had these negative pictures about themselves that they were living into- like I’m an ugo with a horrible personality. If they changed their inner dialog, focused on their successes instead of their failures, visualized themselves successful and acted on those feelings, their self-image changed and they were ultimately more confident. It’s more then positive thinking or self-talk, because you’re putting those positive feelings into action instead of just repeating words in your mind.
Very few of us are going to be like Joan and Marilyn (and we all know Marilyn is really a Joan*), but we can all use our powers for good and let our warmth and presence shine through. And, who knows, maybe you’ll cause a commotion on the subway…or a zombie uprising at the DMV.
Have a great week!
*if you get that you watch too much Mad Men and we should be best friends.