Where Have All The Good Conversations Gone?

I’ve noticed a subtle but pronounced shift over the last few years. Great conversations are becoming harder to come by. Maybe this is just my experience but I wanted to share my thoughts and see if they resonated with others. 

I’m experiencing social interactions that consist mostly of other people monologuing. They show almost no interest or curiosity in what might be happening in other people’s lives, including mine. If I start talking they often redirect the conversation back to themselves and what they want to talk about. Usually I leave these conversations having only asked questions since anything else is steamrolled. They rarely reciprocate with questions or don't appear to notice that they are monopolizing the dialog. I feel that I am an audience watching a performance. I guess they see my value mostly as an audience, not as a partner in conversation. Maybe I should be flattered that they want to tell me all-the-stuff. 

This happens in business and personal situations. But more personally than professionally. I regularly have great conversations at work- with co-workers, clients and colleagues- and at home with my family- but socially I often find myself the audience of monologues. And I know these are good people with no understanding, I hope, of how their behavior affects others. Well, at least how it affects me. This leaves me feeling empty and frustrated. 

What should I do? Should I embrace the monologue approach and talk over people and ignore they are saying unless it fits my narrative? Or should I confront people like this and tell them what I need from a conversation? Or…?

And where does this come from? I assume insecurity but is it also rooted in our self-obsessed tech powered age? 

I know I’m not good at small talk so that may be part of the issue. And I would prefer someone monologuing about their life over discussing the weather. What I crave is meaningful, human dialog. Where everyone adds something, everyone walks away with something new and feels more connected. Great conversations usually have some or all of these elements: funny, emotional, weird, connecting and time-warping. We laugh, we feel, we explore, we connect and we step outside of time for a moment. “Have we really been talking for 2 hours?” That’s a great conversation. 

But often I feel trapped in performances. Watching someone put on a show. Maybe they had rehearsed it in advance a little. Often I’ve seen the “show" a few times already and don’t have the nerve to tell them. And I get that. I find myself doing it sometimes to, retelling stories that worked the first time around. Also, I’ve been given feedback that I have a tendency to pull dialog towards what I want to talk about- i.e. weird stuff in the eyes of others. I am trying to moderate that with being open and empathetic to what other people need. I get that people I love and care about need to feel heard. They need to feel valued. But I just wish they remembered that other people need that too.  

I Need Help

"I Need Help"

That was the subject of an email I sent a couple weeks ago to the SmallBox leadership team. I'd had a tough week. My stress levels had been high for several months, along with my blood pressure. Various health issues were perking up asking for attention. I was ending every day pretty wiped out. Things had to change. 

Although I often tell my team that they should ask for help I'm not very good practicing what I preach. The craziness of reinventing SmallBox along with numerous other commitments pushed me to a breaking point and I had no choice but to reach out for help. The problem is that I had waited too long. It had already negatively affected my health and happiness. I shouldn't have waited. I was becoming a "heroic worker".

My pride was getting in the way. Asking for help requires vulnerability which is seen in our culture as a weakness. Of course, asking for help isn't a weakness but I still struggle with that cultural construct every day. 

Asking for help means you can't do it all, you have limits and you are not a superhero. This is a truth we all know but many of us buy into the illusion that we can do it all. That we can say "yes" to whatever is asked of us. We also live with the fear of admitting that we can't do it all- appearing weak. The question becomes, what wins? Too often fear and illusion trump the truth.

There are limits to our abilities. We all need help. Hopefully I get better at asking for it. 

Growth Is Annoying

“ I want to grow” I’ve said it many times. But do I really want to grow or do I just want the byproduct of growth? When it’s happening I feel sore and a little beat up. I don’t look forward to it. If I could I would probably just leap to what’s next. But growth is in the way.

“Growth spurt”. When this happens to kids you can see it, measure it. But as an adult it is hard to measure growth. For instance, in my life right now I'm struggling with vision in some areas, business things mostly. Moving between clarity and confusion on a daily basis. Maybe I’m growing. But it’s hard to tell in the moment. In the past when I’ve looked back on these times I saw growth. 

I know, I know. This is how you learn, this is how you go from good to great. I get all that. But it doesn’t make it any easier. It still sucks when you're in it.

In Ed Catmull’s book “Creativity Inc” he talked about the tunnel. He explained that the creative process is like going into a long tunnel and the only reason you keep going is because you have been in tunnels before and know they have an end. I feel like I’m in a tunnel now. But like Ed's story, I've been here before so I'm not too freaked out. 

But I will say that sometimes I can feel a little manic during these tunnel times. Oscillating between highs and lows. I can feel like a car stuck in the mud suddenly sputtering forward. It’s not just a mental thing, it’s all of my energy. 

When you start working out they (those trainer people) tell you to take off a day in-beween workouts. To let your body rest, for muscles to build. What if our mind needed similar intervals of activity and rest? It's basically a muscle, right? Maybe these stops and starts are natural and healthy. Light and dark, winter and summer. Growth may work in a similar way- stops and starts. A cycle. Maybe I can come to see in the stops a natural cadence, something to expect and respect. Maybe then I will see the beauty in the process of growth. But right now it's just annoying.

Why The Medium Matters

Some have scratched their heads at the recent vinyl record resurgence. Why would all these “kids” want to spend $20-30 for a record when they can just get it free or cheap online? Isn’t it the same music? Add to this a rediscovery of cassette tapes as a cheap, effective way to release music. Yes, people are buying cassettes again. Even VHS has some diehard fans. Millions of DVDs and CDs are still being made and purchased. Essentially taking digital files and putting them in a box and upping the price. Why not just download the files? There isn’t a real difference in terms of the viewing experience. Why bother with buying the “thing”? Aren’t we trying to de-clutter and get rid of all our stuff?

Here’s the thing, the medium matters. The medium can change the experience, it can make something more “real”. Sure, sometimes the medium is a nostalgic one, it can take you back–listening to cassettes on your Walkman while lying in bed as a teenager. But it isn’t just a nostalgic experience. It is a visceral one. It deepens and expands the experience. I know from years of experience that listening to a vinyl record is altogether a different experience from streaming digital files. Sure, if you blindfolded me I might not be able to tell the difference half the time but that misses the point. My eyes aren’t closed when I listen to a record, I am looking at the jacket or browsing other records to find what’s next. Listening to a record is a tactile, sensory experience. There is no separating the two.

Physical objects can act as bridges, companions and bookmarks. They can bridge our past and present, they can connect our senses, they can bring together people, they travel with us. An effective object demands presence and focus. It whispers in our ears “take care of me and I’ll take care of you.” It is a constant companion as we navigate all the changes in our lives. The object externalizes and bookmarks our journey. Our brains are wired for recognition and struggle with recall. Every object we own has the power to trigger memories that might disappear otherwise. 

Humans have always been fascinated by the flickering of a fire or the song of a bird. We spent millennium finding ways to capture and reproduce those experiences. It wasn’t just to play the experience on repeat but to own it, to touch and feel it. The power of a vinyl record is as much the visual of seeing the sound in those grooves and marveling at how the tiniest diamond in the world could so wonderfully bring a sound back to life! The magic of  “motion pictures” wasn’t just on the screen, it was the film we could hold in our hand, looking at the individual frames, marveling at how they could somehow turn back into motion. We weren’t just looking to capture sound and vision to reproduce it. We had to hold and touch it. We needed to feel it. The medium matters, almost as much as the content it holds.