Who Are You Again?

By | December 9, 2013

My new job and life in California has put me in direct contact with at least a hundred new people in the span of a month. Most of them are people whose hands I’ve shook and who I have said hello to face-to-face.

The problem is, I cannot remember who they are.

I have taught about 10 of them Photoshop, and sat with around 25 others during various training sessions. I have given my creative ideas to many, and had some approach me for favors. I have personally interviewed at least 20 of them on camera, and have sent emails to almost all of them—some of them multiple times. I delivered a speech about Mt. Bohemia to about 15 of them, given in an animated way, while they circled around me. And I watched their speeches, delivered impromptu, in a class where we learned how to be persuasive speakers. I’ve hiked with some of them and dined with others, and I’ve even petted some of their dogs.

I can spend hours with someone, and when I look back, realize I don't remember what they looked like or what their name is.

I can spend hours with someone, and when I look back, realize I don’t remember what they looked like or what their name is.

There have been marketing meetings (8 people) and social media sessions (5 people) and staff gatherings at work (4 people). There are 12 part-time graduate assistants also roaming my office space. I have three new roommates and I’ve met their friends and families.

In short, there are a lot of people to remember.

However, I find it puzzling that I can’t put names to faces in about 80% of the cases when I run into these people again. I can’t even place these people in my mind, as to where I met them and under what circumstances.

Do they think we’re besties? Will they reference our previous interaction? Is that smile because we know each other, or because we haven’t met yet and we both feel awkward?

I have no idea.

I've interviewed people on camera and still don't remember their faces, much less their names.

I’ve interviewed people on camera and still don’t remember their faces, much less their names.

It’s the weirdest thing and it makes me feel really stupid inside, as though I developed a case of amnesia with each and every interaction I’ve had with someone new. But I can’t tell them that, so when I start talking to someone, I have to quickly figure out based on their actions, whether we are meeting or re-meeting, or if we’ve already met so many times that I have to pretend I already know them and there is no “meeting” required. Seriously.

I’ve been wondering for the past few weeks what is going on inside my head, and why this is becoming such a problem. Why does my brain feel so slushy when it comes to knowing who people are?

Half of the picture emerged the other day when I was, yet again, meeting someone new.

Here’s what happened:

I was walking with a friend who I knew well (one of the very few around here). We bumped into someone she knew. She introduced us.

“Evelyn, this is Ilkfjale. He’s a member of Yedaklkjfe and we had Pelisdke class together.”

I reached out my hand and shook his. “It’s really nice to meet you,” I said.

He repeated the greeting.

I was introduced to his friend, too, and I heard virtually the same thing and repeated the same actions.

Then I stood there and looked at them and realized I had no idea who I had just met. THEN I realized that this was typical of every single one of my interactions lately.

There’s a difference between being “bad with names,” and “not even trying to remember someone’s name.”

You never tell someone, “Sorry if I don’t remember your name. I never even try; I’m too lazy, and it’s not worth it because I’ll probably forget it anyway. Plus, chances are we’ll never run into each other again.”

Unfortunately, that has been my unspoken attitude, and it’s coming back to BITE me. This is a tiny community. I will definitely run into everyone again, especially if I stay at this job for any amount of time. I know because time is starting to happen, and I’m starting to run into everyone again.

It’s not something I’m proud to admit, and it’s not something I was doing consciously. But once I look back on it all, that’s the picture that has emerged. I have been an inconsiderate and rude person with a polite but shallow smile on my face for the past month. That is not a happy understanding.

At the beginning of this blog post, I wanted to chalk it up to readjustment, rationalizing, “What else can it be? I just got back from Peace Corps. Of course I can’t remember new people!” What kind of excuse is that? No excuse at all.

Then I thought, “Maybe it’s just a cycle in plain old life.” But.. what does that even mean? Nothing. It sounds good until you start to delve into it and realize there is nothing under the surface.

No, the true reason is I haven’t even made an attempt.

The good news is, now that I have found the problem, I can work towards solving it.

So if you’ve met me in the past month, I’m sorry, we’ll have to meet again. But if we meet in the future, I will do my utmost to remember who you are.


How are you at remembering new people? Do you try to remember them? What are your techniques for when you meet someone new? Please share in the comments section.

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10 thoughts on “Who Are You Again?

  1. Theresa

    Hi Evelyn, I have to meet a lot of people all summer long and from year to year. I agree, it really does take a VERY conscious effort to remember their names. IT is NOT easy to do and takes practice for sure. But the first step is to recognize you have to make that effort and then be genuine about your effort. I make mental associations to help me remember their names such as Betty has really blue eyes. Or George has a gap in his two front teeth or Terry has terrible tattoo on his neck…Just something that makes a connection other than their name is Sue or Bill. This is Rebecca – Oh! I have a sister named Rebecca. etc. etc. Roger has a really awesome gold ring or the guy with dirty fingernails. Some associations can be really weird but it works and some are really nice associations too. Just saying … it takes effort for sure but it is worth the effort in the end :) And they can’t believe you remembered their name and it makes them feel good, which in turn makes you feel good too :)

    1. Ev Post author

      Theresa, I have always been impressed with the way you remember your clients’ names. All a part of your genuine Alaskan hospitality, right? I love your associations! It’s all harmless, as long as you never have to tell someone, “Oh yes, I remember you because you always have dirty fingernails.”

  2. Beth

    I wonder if it comes from living in an environment, where we met very few strangers, instead they were all part of the group, and we more or less ignored the ‘outside’ world.

    I too have a tough time, especially, like you where there are so many new.

    I may not remember the name, but I do remember a feeling or experience I had with them. It is like I meet them on the right side of my brain, where there is no need to categorize them, but instead I recall an artful image.

    1. Ev Post author

      It’s true that growing up in a small tight-knit community there isn’t as much practice in remembering names. I like your idea of recalling an “artful image.” I’m even having a hard time with that right now, but I’m hoping that with more effort, something will stick in my brain!

  3. Loretta

    Phew! Good thing you already know me! I’ll admit to doing this sometimes, but I rarely meet so many new people in such a short amount of time. Makes you wonder when people say, “I’m so bad with names!” how often they actually mean, “I don’t even try.” It’s probably more often than I’d like to admit for myself…There’s always something to work on, isn’t there?

    1. Ev Post author

      Ha, Loretta! You are right, there’s always something to work on. I’m not saying it HAS to be names, but it’s an option that will pay off big time, especially in business settings.

  4. Jeannie

    You take after your mom. Good thing she’s known me forever! (Otherwise she may not know me at all). Sometimes I see people I haven’t seen for years, and a virtual life history of our previous meetings scrolls through my head. I think it has to do with paying attention to the person’s expressions and mannerisms more so than what they are saying. Good luck with your ” remembering”!

    1. Ev Post author

      Hi, Jeannie. I’m really good at remembering people from my past. My memory was at its best in about 4th or 5th grade, I think. I remember almost everyone I met when I went to Finland when I was 10, even though I’ve seen most of them only twice in my life. It’s the new people I’m meeting that I’m having more trouble with. I wonder what my mom’s memory was like when she was younger!

  5. dad

    I know it was a long time ago, and it’s easy to forget, but try to remember what you learned in DAle CArnegie class… repeat it in conversation with them, make a goofy picture in your mind of them that depicts something about them or their spelling… there’s lots more, but mostly, it’s making the effort as you realize already… or you can blame it on your up-bringing and the genes you have from your dad ;-)

    1. Ev Post author

      It would definitely be a good idea to revisit that. I’ve thought of it, and gave it up because of the effort required–not the best idea! Time to focus. No blaming allowed!


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