Liz commented on my Conversationalist post that it’s often difficult to talk about things that are important and meaningful to us. I think it especially applies to esoteric things like a graduate student’s research, where 99% of the world doesn’t even know what it’s about, and doesn’t care. I’ve definitely had the same feeling – I love babbling on about things like Absolute Truth or cognitive subroutines or postmodern conservatism here on my blog, but I almost never have similar conversations in real life. Liz’s comment got me thinking about why that is.
I think a large part of it has to do with fear of rejection. Thinking about these ideas is really interesting and important to me. But if I start talking about it to other people, and they’re not interested, then I can watch them tune me out, rejecting the topics, and, by proxy, rejecting that part of my identity. Rather than have to deal with being rejected in that way, I just don’t bring it up in conversation. It’s easier to just write it on the Internet, where people that find it interesting will read it, and people that don’t click away without me knowing about it.
Another part of the struggle is that people don’t want to feel stupid, so if they don’t understand something, they’ll stop paying attention rather than try to figure out what’s going on. They also don’t want to appear stupid – there’s the common phenomenon in college lecture halls where the professor is droning on, and somebody finally puts up their hand and asks a question, and the whole room sighs in relief because everybody was lost but nobody wanted to admit it. The same reluctance to ask questions for fear of appearing stupid happens in conversations, with the difference being that people just tune out since they’re not being graded.
On the other hand, if I never talk about this stuff that interests me, I’ll have a hard time finding other people who are also interested and interesting. So I have to learn to accept being rejected as part of the process of expanding my horizons. The same could be said of many parts of my life, but we won’t go there.
So how can I make this work, finding other people interested in similar things without boring the people that aren’t? Christy suggested at one point (in a comment that I can’t find right now) that the way to go is to drop nuggets of interest into conversation. If the person picks up on the nuggets, great! If not, I can leave the conversation at a superficial level without having the stigma of rejection.
This could easily be tied into the ideas from PitchCamp. I need to have several different pitches of myself around. The ten second one, the thirty second one, the two minute one, etc. Start off with the shortest pitch in a conversation – if interest is expressed, move on to a more in-depth one.
I’m getting better at doing this. The sequence looks something like this right now, at least when it comes to my spiel in response to “What do you do?”:
- I work at a software company.
- I’m in a “Software Management Training Program”, working my way around the startup at a bunch of different jobs with the theory being that I’ll grow into a management position as the company grows.
- I don’t really have a third tier here yet, but maybe I should think about that.
This tiering works in describing all aspects of life. For instance:
- I’m taking classes at Columbia.
- I’m in a two-year part-time master’s program in Technology Management, kind of like a more applied version of an MBA with an emphasis on technology.
- The program is a good fit for where I am in life. It’s designed for technologists who have 8-10 years of experience and are looking to move to the executive management track. The qualities that particularly attracted me to this program were the fact that everybody is experienced (the program director said “Don’t even bother applying if you have less than five years of experience”) so the discussions in class are lively and grounded in real-world experience, and the fact that my master’s project will be supervised by a high-powered industry mentor.
The question is how do I pitch the weird stuff I post on this blog? I guess I have to start with the basics from PitchCamp – Why am I pitching? What results am I hoping to achieve? What makes me different? In my case, I’m looking for other people with a certain flexibility of thinking who are similar enough to me that we can communicate effectively but can bring a different viewpoint and push my thinking in new directions. Something like that, at least.
This is a bit trickier to pitch, now that I think about it. Finding such people requires observing them for a while to see how they react in conversation. I’ll often throw lines out into the conversation that fall flat because they’re too obscure or tangential or referential, but occasionally somebody picks up on them, and that’s always a good sign. But for a conversation to continue long enough to notice such cues, it requires a venue where flow develops, as described previously. This pretty much can’t happen at parties. Or at bars. Or at most venues I can think of. Hrm. No wonder this is so hard.
More deep thoughts over the next several days as I’m on vacation. For now, I need to psych myself to head out into the rain and see if I can meet up with some other bloggers.