This is how I know there are robots living among us: Because every once in a while you run into a person who says something to the effect of “I’m really good at remembering names.”
If somebody says that to you, excuse yourself and run and grab a bucket of water then run back and throw it at them because their head will start to rattle and shake and then circuits will explode out their ears.
When the academic year begins at NYU Stern, I encourage the MBA students to wear their name tags whenever they can. People think name tags are dorky. (Lemme tell you something – if somebody thinks you’re dorky, taking off your name tag isn’t going to help. That’s a lifetime of experience talking.) When you wear a name tag, people don’t have to guess your name. They just know it. You feel like Clark Gable.
But we take those name tags off and leave the world guessing.
Much like doing more yoga or changing over to a plant-based diet, my commitment to memorizing people’s names has been futile. That doesn’t mean I haven’t given it a lot of thought. And here’s what I realize:
That moment when somebody introduces themselves, an almost imperceptible anxiety floods my brain. Who is this person, what am I supposed to talk about, etc. So that split second I hear their name is the exact moment that I’m not really listening.
Now, I’ve gotten advice on this from others – use their name 7 times in order to remember it. Which is insane. You ever try to say a person’s name aloud back to them 7 times in a series of sentences? They’ll think you’re wearing a wire.
I mention all this because under most circumstances it doesn’t really matter if you remember somebody’s name. The good Lord and the English vernacular has given us enough Dudes, Buddys, Amigos, Sisters, Hey you’s, etc. to avoid using anyone’s name for the rest of your time earth.
But book signings? Oooh boy. You’re stuck there, friend. And we’re at that time again.
(Lemme pause for a second here to say here that The Hadley Academy for the Improbably Gifted comes out Oct. 8th. I would love if you pre-order it. Would you consider doing that? First of all, because the early reviews are great. Second, because I’m donating 100% (that’s 100%) of my royalties on the first 1000 books to Next Generation Nepal.
Oh – ALSO – check out The Hadley Academy website! It’s SO awesome. There’s a link up at the top of the page.)
With The Hadley Academy coming out, that means book signings. And that means somebody will inevitably walk up to you that you clearly know, and they clearly know you, and they excitedly hand you the book for you to sign it to them. And because you are not a robot you have NO IDEA WHAT THEIR NAME IS.
To make this situation more humiliating, this person is always somebody you spent, like, three months with in New Zealand or the guy who works two offices down who gifted you with that sheep cheese sampler from his place upstate because it was your two-year work anniversary.
What do you do in that situation? You’re staring at the person. You HAVE TO write their name. What happens? Nothing good, right? You’re in is strictly triage mode – you’re not going to be able to save the leg, you just want to stop the bleeding.
So this is what I do:
I take my Sharpie and open the page. All this time I’m talking to the person like they are my best friend on the planet. “Hey man! Oh my gosh, I swear I was JUST ABOUT to call you the other day!! I’m so happy you’re here! Got any more of that sheep cheese? Ha ha! I’m kidding! But it was delicious!” (And listen, I really am happy they are there. I just don’t remember their name. How is that on me? It’s THEIR name. But no, this is not the time to get defensive.) So I put my Sharpie to the page.
“Who should I make this out to?” I ask.
This is my Hail Mary play. If I’m lucky, or if they are super self-aware, they’ll say “Just make it out to me – Bob.” And crisis will be averted. But the crisis is rarely averted. They say “Make it out to me!” And then they stare at me.
So I go to Plan B. I say “Great! I WILL make it out to you!” I make like I’m about to write, and I pause, and I say this: “You know, I gotta be honest, I HATE when people spell my name wrong. Can you just spell it exactly as you want it?”
One of two things happens in that moment:
Either they laugh and spell out B-O-B because they know I’ve forgotten their name. Or they say “The usual way!” which forces me to say “There is no usual way! I’m not taking any chances!” And if it gets really bad, which it has once or twice, they’ll say “How else would you spell it?” and I bark out a laugh that sounds like a kicked hen and I scribble a REALLY long message to them in the book and close it quickly and pray they never open it and see I didn’t actually write their name.
Clearly this is a time of great anxiety for me.
So can I just ask a favor? The first favor is the one I already asked – would consider preordering the book? It makes a huge difference. It’s in the Hunger Games/Divergent/ Harry Potter genre and it’s the first in a series.
The second favor is this: Could you remind me of your name? Because you know I care very deeply for you, friend. You know nothing can take that away. You know I have great respect for you and your family and I will always treasure our memories of whatever thing we did together. But just know that I’m an idiot that can’t do anything ever. Also please wear a name tag.
Thank you guys for your support, it really does mean the world to me.