On Forgetting Yourself, for Charm’s Sake
In his short story “Bernice Bobs Her Hair”, F. Scott Fitzgerald writes: “The more parts of yourself you can afford to forget the more charm you have.”
I think of this quote often. Though it’s often portrayed negatively, charm doesn’t have to be a method of manipulating or deceiving people (think Mad Men). I believe that charm can be completely genuine, a tool used for good. I want to be charming to make other people feel comfortable and to shine as my best self.
So, how does one forget oneself in order to be more charming, per Mr. Fitzgerald’s advice? Children provide the best model. They are rarely self-conscious because they aren’t socially aware enough to be embarrassed. Embarrassment is the enemy of charm. Children are only embarrassed when they realize that other people are embarrassed for them.
This video, which I love, is a great example of kids being charming. They don’t care if their hair is uncombed or their clothes don’t match; good looks can certainly help someone be charming, but they’re not at all necessary.
I was thinking about the Fitzgerald quote and the kids before teaching my first class ever on Thursday afternoon. I went to Rutgers hours before my first class, hoping that I could mentally prepare myself for the new experience. I sat at my desk in an office that I share with another teacher. And I kept telling myself that I would have to forget myself from 2:50 to 4:10 and then again from 4:30 to 5:50.
That probably sounds weird, right? How can a person who is supposed to lead an hour-and-20-minute class forget themselves? You have to forget yourself, otherwise everyone will know that you’re trying too hard.
Since I’m no longer a naturally-charming six-year-old, I just have to come to every situation prepared. To be charming as an adult, you must be ready for anything. Arrive with a plan so that everything you can possibly control is under control. You don’t want to have to worry about whether or not something will go wrong.
I walked into the classroom. I knew that I was going to start with introductions, move to a reading, lead a discussion, do an in-class writing exercise, then explain the homework. I even made a bulleted list of my plan, just in case my mind happened to go blank. The only thing I had to insert was my personality. I could forget everything else.