0594 – seek out the difficult conversations

I have an old friend that I’ve been talking to for almost a decade now, and I enjoy reflecting on the history of our conversations. When we were younger we talked mostly about video games, about lore, music, technology, futurism. One of our favorite things to do when we were teenagers or NSFs was to sit together over iced drinks and cigarettes and geek out together over the future. It would be a glorious one, we agreed, and we were both lucky and eager to witness it.

We’ve gotten older now, and our backs are bent with the stresses and responsibilities of adult life. We both were a little sloppy with our schooling, we both didn’t particularly love our home environments. We both felt like we never really had a great model of masculinity to follow (more on this in the next vomit). And we both, I think, have a weight on our shoulders from our expectations of how we should be as 26 year old men.

I think I can say that we both feel stretched out, like we weren’t sufficiently prepared for our current challenges, like we need to constantly be digging deeper, pushing harder, making up for lost time, making up for the disengagement of our youth. We have to put in the extra hours to play catch up with peers who seem to be able to get by more easily than we do. (I’ve begun to realize, though, that most people are struggling one way or another; some people are just hiding it. It’s one thing to realize this intellectually, it’s another to actually hear from people telling you outright that they’re facing difficulties, that they aren’t meeting their numbers at work, that they aren’t getting along with their spouse, and so on.)

It’s interesting to pay attention to our conversations with our friends. One thing I’ve always disliked is how friendships can become stale patterns. As an extreme example, imagine a friend from your youth who you enjoyed watching football with. You maybe liked the same teams, or had a rivalry going, and would constantly be discussing the details of those things. You had a lot in common at the time. As the years pass, your paths diverge. You want different things. One of you gets married, one of you stays single. One of you becomes a workaholic, the other takes it easy. You have different values, you have different skeletons in your closet, you have different things that you’re guilty or ashamed about. And you each get really good at hiding those things in your own way, and in polite conversation you never dare or dream of exploring those territories.

And then you go home and (fictional example) you have too many glasses of whiskey and you feel alone as hell. Because you don’t have anybody to talk to about the things that you care about. There was a line in Fountainhead, I think, where a character says, “Isn’t it infuriating, how your friends care about everything about you except the thing that really matters?” What is it that realy matters? What is it about who we are that makes us real? If we were completely free to be whoever we wanted to be, who would we be?

I think I’ve come to believe that… in order to really grow, we need to have uncomfortable conversations with one another. We need to ask probing questions. But these questions have to be with the right spirit, with the right intentions. They have to be genuine. They have to be done with the genuine desire to help the other person grow, and you can’t just force yourself and your own values onto them. You have to help them figure out what their own values are. (And if they aren’t interested, then, well… I guess your friendship can never develop past a certain point.)

Someone else once said something like, your life is a function of the uncomfortable conversations you’re willing to have. Tim Ferriss said that – assuming that you live in the modern world with access to basic human needs and resources and so on, your success in life can probably be determined by the number of uncomfortable conversations you’re willing to have. Most importantly with yourself. And I think an uncomfortable truth that I should prsonally acknowledge is that there are definitely things that I still avoid. Why do I avoid them? I suppose I worry about being judged. I worry about implicating other people, about hurting or offending others that I care about. So maybe some of these things will be things that I have to write in private, and something about me is weirdly averse to that.

But I’ve definitely learned that it’s better to try and write something out for yourself internally than to try and hide it, avoid it, work on it internally, blah blah blah. When there’s an elephant in the room, introduce it – at least to yourself. Don’t live in fear. Don’t hide from life. The result is a small, puny life where you’re holding your breath. Don’t hold your breath. Take a deep breath and dive right in. You’re going to die eventually. C’mon.

The original title of this post was to be “people hide the things that need discussing the most”. I have this habit of starting with “people” when I really mean me. I use other people as a proxy to avoid talking about myself, but really, we see the world as we are. So the question I should be asking myself is, what is the thing that I need to discuss that I’m not discussing?

[1] I would be some sort of roving writer person, commentating on this and that and everything, maybe. And maybe building worlds (I don’t think I’d put THAT much effort into this… I’d probably be happy to borrow the ideas of others) and writing characters (again I’m not sure I’d force this)… what do I want to do as a storyteller? I find myself thinking “I should analyze everything I love”, so maybe I’d spend about a month doing that, but once that’s done I’d start making my own things. It feels like I’m a long way away from making my own things.

Well let’s use a cooking analogy. Before I can cook something that’s my own recipe, I need to try and learn the language. I need to follow at least the basic recipes of others, see what works and what doesn’t, try and fail. And then after that I can start improvising, swapping things out. Everything is a Remix, Visa. Don’t try to be so original. Just start with things you like and change out the bits that you don’t like and then see where that takes you.

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