Understanding (And Becoming) “Iceberg People”
Listen to the audio version here.
This week, I want to elucidate an idea or framework that I’ve been developing and pondering on for quite some time.
It’s an idea I have for a certain type of people. A group that I like to call “Iceberg People.” And in this episode, I’ll not only explain to you who they are, but also why (and how) to become one.
WHAT ARE “ICEBERG PEOPLE?”
Iceberg people have always attracted me — even before I knew that they existed.
In fact, the concept didn’t truly become clear to me until a few years back, when I made a new friend. Let’s call her “Pauline.”
Pauline was, by all means, a very impressive person from the get-go. She had a great job, a fantastic educational background, and wonderful social skills.
Little did I know, however, that just like an Iceberg, the “visible” elements of Pauline’s life — as big and impressive as they might be — were a mere fraction of her true grandeur.
Over the course of three years of friendship, I slowly began to learn more and more about Pauline, her past, and her present.
I learned that she’d lived in the developing world for years, and survived numerous attacks, diseases, and close calls.
I learned that she spoke numerous languages, had received prestigious awards like the Rhodes scholarship, and had even set up a massively successful nonprofit in her spare time — which she still managed from across the globe. And did I mention, she’s also competed in not one, but two martial arts?
For years, it seemed that every time Pauline and I would meet, I would learn about some huge new — and fascinating — element of her life that had simply never come to light before.
That, my friends, is an iceberg person. And that’s just one example.
“IN A WORLD WHERE ALL THE ICEBERGS DIMINISH IN SIZE — DEFLATE THEIR GRANDEUR AND BECOME JUST ANOTHER BLOCK OF ICE — A CRITICAL PART OF THE ECOSYSTEM FAILS, AND WE FIND OURSELF IN A CRISIS — IMBALANCE.”
I once traveled for an entire month with my friend — who we’ll call “Ronny.” In 30 days, I managed to discover new things almost daily that hadn’t surfaced in years of friendship. Once again, I learned about languages spoken, countries lived in, and even past lives lived. I learned about career paths not taken, past girlfriends never mentioned, and beliefs that I never knew we shared. As I looked deeper and deeper into the life of someone whom I already considered a dear and trusted friend, I discovered new layers of intellectual depth, curiosity, and experience.
Classic Iceberg Person.
But the metaphor goes further, of course. Because not only are icebergs large, impressive structures — they’re also quiet. Subdued. Unimposing — at least at first glance.
And beyond that, the world needs icebergs. Because, in a world where all the icebergs diminish in size — deflate their grandeur and become just another block of ice — a critical part of the ecosystem fails, and we find ourself in a crisis — imbalance.
WHY THE OBSESSION WITH ICEBERG PEOPLE?
There are a few things that make people of this breed so unique — and awesome.
For one, I think it goes without saying that we should all aspire to lead deep, rich lives full of eclectic hobbies, hidden skills, and unbelievable stories that border on the simply absurd.
Indeed, to become an “Iceberg Person” is, by definition, to create a life that is overwhelming in it’s size and density. The type of person that seems to have an endless share of experiences from which to draw on, and as such, a truly unique way of seeing the world around them.
Iceberg People fill the world with passion, creativity, excitement, and awe. They’re the computer programmer who miraculously plays a piano ballad at your wedding — while singing in Italian. The mother of three who defends you in a dark alley by revealing she’s a black belt in Jiu Jitsu. Iceberg people are, quite simply, well rounded humans, who are able to draw experience and knowledge from all of life’s many avenues, to create excellence in any of them.
“ICEBERG PEOPLE PAIR AMBITION AND EXCELLENCE WITH MODESTY AND EGOLESS AUTHENTICITY. THEY REST COMFORTABLY IN THE KNOWLEDGE THAT THOSE WHO NEED TO KNOW WILL DO SO EVENTUALLY, AND THOSE WHO DON’T, WELL, DON’T.”
But being an iceberg person is, of course, so much more.
Because, as I said before, one key element of being an iceberg person lies in the ratio between the immediately visible and the yet-to-be-discovered.
Iceberg people don’t advertise their experiences, achievements, or credentials. They leave them to be discovered. A tremendous surprise unlocked only by those who overcome their intimidation, and dare to come close enough to touch.
In doing so, Iceberg people pair ambition and excellence with modesty and egoless authenticity. They rest comfortably in the knowledge that those who need to know will do so eventually, and those who don’t, well, don’t.
Compare this to the other alternatives. While a comparison to someone with a less colorful or accomplished life is, admittedly, banal and plainly favorable, the comparison to the other extreme is significantly more interesting.
“WHEREAS THE ICEBERG PERSON UNDERSTANDS THE POWER OF HUMILITY, INTRIGUE, AND THE ELEMENT OF SURPRISE, THE BRAGGART UNDERSTANDS ONLY THEIR OWN EGO — AND HOW TO MOMENTARILY APPEASE IT.”
Consider the difference when compared to The Braggart; someone who advertises — or even inflates — the intrigue and excitement of their life’s journey… whether substantiated or not. You know the type. They’re quick to one-up your story, to upload that photo from the exotic location, and to name-drop that elite university they went to. Sure, it’s fair to say that many such people are impressive, and even extraordinary in their own right, they rarely leave as positive of an impressive. Indeed, though these folks may occasionally reach the stature and largesse of their more subtle counterparts, most people are generally too annoyed to pay heed.
Whereas the Iceberg person understands the power of humility, intrigue, and the element of surprise, the braggart understands only their own ego — and how to momentarily appease it. If the Iceberg person is hearing about a beautiful new vacation destination from a close friend who reluctantly agrees to share their secret, the Braggart is a bright yellow billboard for budget flights departing daily.
“BECOMING AN ICEBERG PERSON NECESSITATES THAT YOU DEVELOP A MASSIVE LIFE FOOTPRINT.”
That which is easily discovered is not only inherently less valuable, but often times, less appreciated, as well.
SO, HOW DO YOU BECOME AN “ICEBERG PERSON?”
Well, it starts with a concept I call “The Life Footprint.” You’ve maybe heard about a person’s ecological footprint: the impact that his or her lifestyle leaves on the environment. A “life footprint” is no different. How many people do you touch, across how many different walks of lives, and to what extend do you make a lasting impression.
Becoming an Iceberg person necessitates that you develop a massive life footprint.
How do you do that?
First, start with something you’re passionate about. Not a job that you’re somewhat good at, or that makes a good living, or that makes your parents proud. Something that you were born to do. That makes your heart SING. And then, do it with as much gusto and exuberance as you possible can.
Next, explore the remainder of your curiosities with a vengeance. Who among us would readily admit to being so boring — so simple minded — as to have no interests beyond work, friends, and family. And yet, in practice, this is exactly what so many people do. We leave the colors in the box, shy away from the unnecessary tangents, and begin painting in black and white. We become “a programmer,” or “a doctor,” instead of becoming a fully formed human being who happens to practice medicine or write code.
And sure, there’s lots to be said for being the absolute best at what you do. To hone in on your craft or field of study and devote yourself to it wholly. But quite frankly, I agree with Robert Heinlein, who famously said:
“A HUMAN BEING SHOULD BE ABLE TO CHANGE A DIAPER, PLAN AN INVASION, BUTCHER A HOG, CONN A SHIP, DESIGN A BUILDING, WRITE A SONNET, BALANCE ACCOUNTS, BUILD A WALL, SET A BONE, COMFORT THE DYING, TAKE ORDERS, GIVE ORDERS, COOPERATE, ACT ALONE, SOLVE EQUATIONS, ANALYZE A NEW PROBLEM, PITCH MANURE, PROGRAM A COMPUTER, COOK A TASTY MEAL, FIGHT EFFICIENTLY, DIE GALLANTLY. SPECIALIZATION IS FOR INSECTS.”
That instrument you’ve always admired? Pick it up, and start taking lessons. That language that you mysteriously are drawn to? Learn it already. And that opportunity to drop everything and move to another country you know nothing about? Take it, dammit!
“THE POINT IS, ABOVE ALL, TO DEVELOP YOURSELF. TO CREATE A SELF — AND A LIFE — GREATER AND DEEPER THAN ANY CURSORY GLANCE COULD EVER REVEAL.”
And finally, learn to seek the path less traveled — even if it’s just for a great story. The most wonderful iceberg people I know are those who can step in at just the right moment, to guide you through the darkest of moments, with a perfectly articulated and closely-guarded story about the time they spent in a silent Hindhu ashram, dancing on the edge of insanity.
If you’re to become an iceberg person, you’ll need a lot of seemingly random hobbies and far-out stories just like these. And sure, all of this will leave people scratching their heads in awe — but that’s not the point. The point is, above all, to develop yourself. To create a self — and a life — greater and deeper than any cursory glance could ever reveal. And, true to the way of the iceberg person, to do it all for nobody but yourself, as you quietly and calmly float through life’s journey, untold depths within you, discoverable only to those who truly seek to know.