Wednesday, February 11, 2015


Last Wednesday I woke up at 4am and couldn’t go back to sleep. As I was lying in bed wishing the sleep pain in my eyes would slowly lead me back to hibernation, I started thinking about a random (and super awkward) internet date I went on several weeks ago. I was joking around with this girl when she paused, looked at me a little funny, and said she could tell I was “a real smarty pants.” Which, as my go-to source for information defines it, is “someone who displays intelligence in an annoying way.” I was pretty amused because she was mostly (maybe?) joking, and because I don’t really see myself as a smarty pants. Sarcastic? Absolutely. Opinionated? Occasionally. Smart? Sure, get me talking about TV. But annoyingly intelligent? Of course not.

Unless I am.

In a sleep-deprived haze that at the time felt super insightful, I started to realize that even though she may not actually know a single thing about me, she had a powerful thing I don’t have: the ability to observe me external to myself. And even more intriguing, she got to observe me making a first impression without any additional information about me. And I mused that while I may have some decent guesses at how I come across to others, there will always be an unknowable space between how I view myself and how other people view me. The smarty pants comment mildly challenged my self awareness.

This is how I found myself, at approximately 4:15 in the morning, deciding to run a minor and casual social experiment to gather at least a tiny bit of external data about myself to come a little closer to closing the unknowable gap. So, I decided I must reach out to everyone I know and ask them to describe me in 5 words. That’s it. Just me in 5 words.

Of course I started messaging people that morning. By mid-afternoon, when the sleep haze had sufficiently worn off, and I had a chance to think coherently about how weird, crazy and risky this project is, I was committed! There’s no going back now.

With some minor variation, this is how I’ve described the project to people: “I have a really odd request. I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between how people perceive themselves vs. how other people perceive them and that unknowable gab that inevitably falls in the middle. Anyway, as part of an incredibly casual experiment, I’ve decided to ask a lot of people to choose five words that describe me. I’m trying to ask a huge range of people who have known me in various capacities. I’m not looking for affirmation here or anything, and I 100% anticipate negative words. Do you mind humoring me? 5 words to describe me?”

I’ve requested 5 words from 48 people so far, ranging from family to friends from high school that I haven’t spoken to in 10+ years. And the results are trickling in. My plan is to collect and organize the data, and to analyze it from various angles to see what I can discover. (We can all agree to maintain the façade that this is all very scientific, yes?)

Stay tuned. Results to come.

(PS, if I didn’t request 5 words from you, please don’t let that stop you! Email me. Don’t you dare say smarty pants.)

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