Successful People Aren’t Wrapped Up in Themselves

I saw a great quote from John Ruskin, a late 19th century English essayist the other day…

“When a man is wrapped up in himself, he makes a pretty small package.”

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I am a career success coach and author.  You also probably know that I believe that relationship building is one of the key competencies necessary for career success.  I discuss it in several of my books: Straight Talk for Success; Your Success GPS; I Want YOU…To Succeed; Star Power; and 42 Rules To Jumpstart Your Professional Success.

Mr. Ruskin’s quote caught my eye for a couple of reasons.  First of all, it’s clever.  Second, it makes a great point about the importance of relationships.  You can’t build strong relationships if you’re interested only in yourself.  Relationships are a two way street.  As a career success coach, I tell my clients that if you want to build strong, lasting relationships with the important people in your life, you need to get interested in them.

There’s a really old joke that’s almost a cliché; “Enough about me, let’s talk about you.  What do you think about my new haircut?”  This joke approaches being a cliché because it is the embodiment of someone who is wrapped up in himself or herself. 

Don’t be this way.  Take an active and genuine interest in other people.  You’ll build better relationships, but you’ll also get to learn some pretty interesting things about some cool people.  Everybody has a story.  Your life will be richer if you take the time to learn other people’s stories. 

Cathy and I know a few people who love to talk about themselves, but show very little interest in us.  We’re polite; so when we meet them in a social setting, we’ll usually ask a few questions about them and their families.  Both of us are genuinely interested in people, so we can keep a conversation going for quite a while just by asking questions whose answers we would like to hear. 

However, with the few people we know who never reciprocate — who never show any interest in us — we play a little game.  We ask a few questions at the beginning of the conversation, and listen to what these folks have to say.  Then we shut up.  The more savvy of these people will pick up on our cue – we would like them to ask about us. 

The less savvy of these people are bewildered.  They don’t know what to do.  They are so wrapped up in their tiny packages that they can’t even formulate a question to keep the conversation moving forward.  This is sad.  Usually after several seconds of silence, Cathy and I politely excuse ourselves and move on to someone else.

Don’t become a tiny package.  Become a great big package by learning about other people.  You grow when you incorporate others into your life.  You incorporate others into your life by being willing to engage them, to learn about them, to listen to what they have to say.   This is not only good career success advice, it’s common sense advice for living a rich and fulfilling life.

As a career success coach, I advise you not to play the kind of conversation games I described above when you are building relationships at work.  As a human being, I urge you to not let the less savvy people hang there in uncomfortable silence.  After a few seconds, say something like, “It’s been nice chatting with you.  I see someone over there who I haven’t seen for a long time and want to say hello.”

The common sense point here is simple.  Successful people demonstrate competence in four areas: creating positive personal impact, outstanding performance, dynamic communication and relationship building.  As John Ruskin points out, people who are wrapped up in themselves, make very small packages.  Small packages don’t make for strong relationships.  Take it from a career success coach; become a big package.  Take a genuine interest in everyone you meet.  You’ll not only build strong relationships that will serve you well as you create the career success you deserve, you’ll be richer for the experience of getting to know lots of different people.

That’s my take on building relationships by taking a genuine interest in others.  What’s yours?  Please take a few minutes and leave a comment sharing your thoughts with us.  I want this blog to be a big package, so I really am interested in what you have to say.  As always, thanks for reading.


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  1. Great article, Bud. I couldn’t agree more that a good conversation is a cross between a good tennis match and a dance, sometimes you serve and sometimes you follow the lead. I like the way you think!

  2. Cindy:
    I like the metaphor or a dance and tennis match.

  3. Chris Simmons says:

    I went looking for the exact quote (wrapped in self makes small package) and thankfully came across your blog on the subject. Thank you. I’m writing some material about my mother who is dying of cancer after a long battle with many and varied physical ailments. What enabled her to survive and cope with her problems is that she was one to “Look Outside” herself to always look for ways that she could help others, focus on their needs for a few minutes and take her mind and focus off her own problems. Indeed, the ability to look outside will help the strong, talented and fit reach new levels of success, but it will help the struggling, challenged and weary simply cope and continue on one step at a time. My mom never had a so-called career but by doing what you mentioned in your article, she has impacted perhaps even more than many business leaders do. Thank you again. This is first I’ve read of your thoughts and ideas but I will be back. Take care.

  4. Chris:
    Sorry to hear bout your Mom.
    I lost mine a couple of years ago and I know how very difficult it is to lose a parent.
    Your Mom sounds like a remarkably strong woman — caring aobut others when she is struggling with health issues.
    Good for her — we can all take a lesson from her.
    Plese keep coming back to read what I write — and thank you for sharing your story about your Mother.
    All the best,

  5. Your key quote is from Benjamin Franklin in his Poor Richard’s Almanac. 1700s.

  6. Thanks for your explanation. A leader of mine told me the quote about ten years ago. I only recently thought to find out the explanation/reasoning behind it. Yes, yours throws light on it: self-absorbed, self-involved…it takes some unlearning to get out of that way of life.
    Emotional Intelligence is one of my current concepts for meditation. People react/respond more emotionally than logically.

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