“Have you always been cool?”

“That depends on your definition, Michael. But growing up I remember how empowered I felt when other people took the time to truly see me. I want to do that for others. I want them to know that I see them. If that makes me cool, then I’ll take it.”

Yesterday I had the privilege to spend time with Denise Smith Young, one of the leading women in the tech space and former HR director of Apple.

Denise and I had been going back and forth for a few weeks about setting aside some time to get to know each other. When my phone finally rang, I had the 7 questions I wanted to ask her firmly implanted in my head.

An hour later, when we said our good-bye’s, I realized I hadn’t asked Denise any of the questions I’d had in mind.

This wasn’t because she dominated the conversation. Nor was it because she went on and on about herself.

It’s because throughout our conversation she continually put the focus on me — “I’m curious, Michael….” “I’m interested, Michael….”

As an African-American woman in Silicon Valley, Denise has been a first, and she’s been an only.

Despite barely knowing each other, I understood immediately what made Denise so attractive: Through her words and through her actions, she took a shy guy in small-town Spain and she made him feel like he was on the cover of Rolling Stone.

True to her intentions, Denise made me feel truly seen.

*

Don’t worry about being confident, be generous instead

Everywhere we turn we’re told to be confident, stay persistent, and do better. That’s one way to look at it, but there’s another way….. an easier way.

Be the person who builds other people’s confidence.

Be the person who encourages others to stay persistent.

Be the person who helps others to get better.

You don’t have to know what you’re passionate about to make a difference in the world. And you certainly don’t need to have your entire life mapped out.

Let people feel your attention. Do what you can to lift them up. Helping other people to find their path, may help you discover your own. Or maybe you realize there’s a lot of value in making other people your passion.

It’s hard to be poor if you’re making the lives of others rich.

*

Be the person who sees other people

When learning about the lives of successful people, one common theme sticks out: they make a conscious decision to stand out. They see everyone else huddled around the center and they say to themselves, “Hey, that’s not for me. I’m gonna go stand over there instead. There’s more room to dance.”

It used to be hard to stand out. But it’s not anymore. With just a glance around you’ll quickly see what’s holding everyone’s attention.

Heads down and phones out — most people prioritize dings and rings over the person in front of them.

Use this great distraction to your advantage. Dig in with people. Zero in on what lights them up. People will never consider you valuable if you don’t first take the time to understand what they value.

How did you feel the last time someone really listened to you?

How did you feel the last time someone truly saw you?

As individuals, we all like different things. But at our core, we all love to be seen and we all love to know that our words are being heard.

Generosity; attentiveness; thoughtfulness — these are the words of the truly rich.

*

Today is a giant race to the biggest title. Vice President of this. Startup founder of that.

If this exhausts you, bow out. Let other people run. Walk slowly instead. Be the person who chooses to really look at the people around you.

Let them know that you see them.

Who knows? They may end up thinking you’re pretty cool.

The greatest gift you can give someone is your presence.