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Fumbling at the introduction hurdle

The essential problem of the introduction is to somehow impress the other person without sounding like you are tremendously impressed by yourself

It’s so much easier, so much more pleasurable, to introduce other people. (iStockphoto)

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I have been deep in Introduction land of late. Writing introductions of people I felt needed to meet each other, writing introductions of myself in applications, introducing people to each other at parties, praying as others introduce me in aid of my applications.

The essential problem of the introduction (the CV, the cover letter, the Tinder bio) is to somehow impress the other person tremendously without sounding like you are tremendously impressed by yourself. There should be a clear line that divides “hello, I am as boring as last week’s poha drying in the fridge” from “dear Blessed, I’m a Nigerian prince and I need your help getting my money out of the country, for which I will share it with you”. But the line is very unclear and some days this last month, it has felt like instead of the sedate positions I am applying to, I was actually applying to circus school. How exactly am I supposed to present the random choices of my 20s (and let’s be real, my 30s) as if they all had purpose and meaning? I mean, they were meaningful but are they CV-meaningful? So here I am, attempting to do the Simone Biles (two somersaults and three twists) on email while also somehow conveying the sense that I am smiling while typing. I am not smiling. I am looking grimly at the comma and apostrophe situation while trying not to worry about the insecurity and ego situation. Meanwhile, I know two people who actually went to train at clown school in Italy and were excellent at it and I deeply envy them their introduction emails.

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It’s so much easier, so much more pleasurable, to introduce other people. Introducing your current colleague to a woman who changed your life at work 10 years ago. Introducing your former collaborator to the person who has magical fund-raising skills. Introducing a cantankerous person to the one person online even trolls can’t pick fights with. You are describing the sterling qualities that should be obvious to everyone, the cool things they have done that everyone needs to know. Shouldn’t everyone know that you are the best person to take a newbie on a trek? Shouldn’t everyone know that you make the best salads, knit the best scarfs, have the most perfect Google spreadsheets? Well, now they do. At those moments, I feel myself transforming into a combination of Gemini Circus ringmaster and Gemini Circus flyer distributor and I could not be happier.

I suppose the solution really is to somehow unhappily write your introduction or CV and then get a friend to look over it and fix it. The kind of friend who has a good memory and excellent typing speed, who remembers when you were second in the office lemon and spoon race and can say something meaningful about your flower arranging skills (“sensitive to the minimalist aesthetics of ikebana”).

Sometimes, it’s the power differential that makes introductions hard. You are trying to rent an apartment and you have done a whole two-hour interpretative dance to impress Uncle that you are so full of moral fibre you could be a breakfast dish, that your financial stability is “whole as the marble founded as the rock”. Then somehow you get the apartment and you are nervously signing the papers and you ask Uncle who lives downstairs what he does, just to make small talk. And he replies with two hyphenated words—“Import-Export”. You choke a little and then you ask, “Oh? What kind of commodities do you import?” He replies with a sardonic smile and one word—“Stuff”. And for the rest of your stay in that house you try not to ask any questions or have any conversations with Uncle because surely, a little mystery is good for your health.

Then there is the other variety—the ones who in text and in person make such astonishing overstatements so cheerfully that you can’t even accuse them of lying. Their self-presentation is like a Sanjay Leela Bhansali song sequence. For instance, they may say that they founded organisations where they were, at best, promising young employees. Their bios and CVs often have phrases that end with conventional job descriptions in ways that have never been deployed before. Like Altruism Architect, Fiction Tailor, Imagination Plumber. When confronted with these, my bio turns instantly to Open-Mouthed Admirer.

Sometimes, introducing yourself in person is hard because the parents of the person you are introducing yourself to didn’t spank them enough as children. Someone recently told me that resentment is like drinking poison and wishing for the other person to die. What a magical aphorism to adopt, especially when you are hanging out with annoying strangers. At a recent party, after three rounds of performing “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” renditions of my life, I decided to stop mixing and talk only to people I knew. If your lips are unable to move freely and it’s not because you had dental surgery this evening, it’s all right, we will get to know each other in our next birth, no problem! I am not drinking poison no more, just fruity cocktails, preferably with little paper umbrellas.

I do believe it’s up to parents to teach children to not become frightfully boring adults at parties someday simply by dint of teaching them that there is sentient life even beyond the tip of your nose. However, some children have skills at self-presentation we could all take detailed notes of. A six-year-old recently told me his name and the fact that he had just bought a flute and had a piano at home. No small talk. Straight to the meaningful and engaging. I know a nine-year-old who is ready to stake his life on the fact that axolotl is the cutest aquatic creature. Also, he knows how to do splits. With these two bullet points in his CV, I feel like he will go far in life.

Nisha Susan is the editor of the webzine The Ladies Finger and author of The Women Who Forgot To Invent Facebook And Other Stories.

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