When I was a student, I was blasé about what it was like going to a new place. I pointed out to someone that it’s startling how often students choose to remain in those new places after graduating, how they so completely fit into the situation that it must surely be easy.
Uh-huh, said this someone. And then she pointed out that when students move to a new place, they meet a gigantic number of other people who have just moved there for the same reason. That’s why it’s at least easier than it would be on your own. So later on moving somewhere else new, by yourself, that’s hard and that’s why fewer people do it.
Can’t disagree. She was completely right, I was completely wrong.
All these years later, it’s an important issue because we don’t necessarily move around a great deal but we do need to meet new people. We need to network for our jobs and actually I’d say for our very souls: I love blathering with new people. The things they know that I don’t, the things they’ve done that I haven’t. The disagreements I can learn from like I did from my fellow student.
All of which is a long way to say that I want to point you at a piece by Meredith Fineman for Harvard Business Review: it’s a short, simple, practical guide to networking from scratch. Do have a read.
I spent the single most unproductive hour of my month having tea with a comparatively new friend. Wouldn’t have changed that for the world: there is something energising, nourishing, exciting about nattering over tea. If I did nothing in that hour – and I absolutely did nothing – then the hour after it was far more productive because of taking that time.
So I’m keen on tea. And there was cake this time: chocolate is my Kryptonite.
But there wa also friendship. I read somewhere that we tend to keep our friends for around seven years. I can think of people I’ve been close to for longer but I was a little reassured by this idea of natural moving on because I’ve lost a lot of pals and it could be argued that they tended to disappear on me after about that time. So it’s not me. And it’s not them.
I think it might be me, though. So I was taken with this piece from the always superb Brain Pickings:
We call “friends” peers we barely know beyond the shallow roots of the professional connection, we mistake mere mutual admiration for friendship, we name-drop as “friends” acquaintances associating with whom we feel reflects favorably on us in the eyes of others, thus rendering true friendship vacant of Emerson’s exacting definition. We have perpetrated a corrosion of meaning by overusing the word and overextending its connotation, compressing into an imperceptible difference the vast existential expanse between mere acquaintanceship and friendship in the proper Aristotelian sense.
She’s talking about reclaiming the word friendship and I read that also as making a stand for how important friendship is. Being Brain Pickings, Popova does as ever gather insightful quotes and detail from great minds but also as ever, what she says herself is arresting. Have a read of her full piece.
I write a personal blog called Self Distract every Friday and today’s one, intended to be just an aside and a musing on things if not necessarily amusing about anything, has caused some comments. Lots of nice things but also people identifying with its topic.
That topic was about conversation and how when we talk to friends, we have to make it a joint, two-way thing. Let me set the scene:
Okay, you may have trouble swallowing this considering how I go on at you every week. But when we meet in person, I am infinitely – infinitely – more interested in you than I am in me. Have I said this to you before? I tell you everything, I must’ve mentioned it: my attitude when nattering away with someone is that I know all about me, I was there, I saw me do it, let’s talk about you.
Truly, time spent talking about me is wasted and boring. I’m not knocking myself, I’m just not interested and I have plenty of time to know me, I might get only minutes with you. And look at you: look at all you’re doing, all you know that I don’t, how could I possibly waste any time talking about me?
This afternoon I was saying to someone that I realise I rarely stop to look around. As in the Ferris Bueller sense of how life moves pretty fast and if you don’t look, you may miss it. Fine.
Except, I then spent this evening at a poetry event. I went with one friend and by chance knew many, many people there. At one point in between the poets performing, I took the moment to absorb that I was sitting in a group of seven people I like very much. The chance of it, the people involved, it was startlingly special to me and I looked.
Flashback twenty years. Friends has just begun on US television and it is an immediate hit. Now, it would progress from hit to smash to phenomenon (there are very specific rules about which is which) but right then, it was merely a hit. Do you know what else was coming around twenty years ago? Windows 95.
Now, I am a little confused here. Twenty years ago is 1994. Not 95. And I think Windows 95 did just squeak in before the end of 1995 but if so, it really was a squeak. I was the UK launch and I remember it being hosted by Jonathan Ross who made jokes about how the hall had been booked for this event months before.
I also remember being on the press conference call when the name Windows 95 was announced. Up to then, the operating system had been known as Chicago. (I think. Is that tight? Suddenly blank on that bit.) I can remember thinking oh, is that it? That’s rubbish. And then later on getting to use Windows 95 and thinking oh, is that it? That’s rubbish.
Windows 95 had one killer feature and I won’t even pretend to deny that it didn’t. I may dislike Windows 95 but it was better than Windows 3.1. But if you’re going to rip off the Mac’s easy-to-use system, I think it says a gigantic amount about how badly you did it that you need to make instructional videos on how to use your copy. That’s what this becomes, it becomes a guide to what in the hell have you just bought. But the first twenty minutes or so are different.
The first twenty minutes or so are actors Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston being required to not-really play their Friends characters – they very pointedly refer to each by their real names so don’t you go suing Microsoft, whoever owns Friends – and to make some pretty wretched dialogue sound audible. These are two talented people but they’re doing this for money and while you can’t fault struggling actors for that – Friends lasted years but you don’t know that at the beginning – it’d be nice not to see it so plainly.
Mind you, if they had hidden it better, if the script had been better, if this ‘cyber-sitcom’ were funny, maybe we wouldn’t have quite so much fun watching it now.
You won’t make it all the way through. But grab some tea, plonk yourself down and be agog at the Windows 95 Cyber Sitcom starring Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry. “Look, Matty, I’m computing!”
I have not one single idea whether this is productive but it is fun.
You know that after you’ve produced something, you go back to all those people you needed beforehand and you thank them. Of course you do: without them, it wouldn’t have happened.
But I was scrolling down my iPhone’s Contacts list to one of them and right underneath her was an old friend and colleague I haven’t spoken to in a year or more.
So I rang her. Nothing to say, nothing to ask, just a call in the dark.
I hope she enjoyed it as much as I did because I had a blast. So much so that I have actually considered doing this more deliberately, phoning more people randomly. Except if you do it deliberately, it isn’t so random, is it?
Not sure about that now. But I had a lot of calls to make that day, plenty of them fun like the post-event ones, enough of them tedious like chasing this or that, and this random one-off in the middle. I tell you, it made my day.
I wrote about how we naturally turn to our friends when we have something big to tell them like you’re starting a company and they cheer you on, yet:
Only, there is also this unconscious part of them that says you’re not the one… who starts a new business, you’re not the sort to do anything they haven’t already seen you do.
Consequently, unless they are very unusual people – and you hang on to them if they are – you will forever find them holding you back. Their concerns for your wellbeing coupled to this locked perception of what you are and what you do means your friends will invariably hold you back.
If you can’t rely on your friends, who can you rely on? Sorry, did you really just say ‘family’? You might’ve said experts until you read this morning’s story. But there are other reasons to distrust experts. So, no friends, no family, no experts. You would think this piece would be a depressing read but I took some heart from writing it and I’ve had a lot of people tell me they found it encouraging.
Probably because it also includes the answer. You’ve got to look now, haven’t you? I hope you like it: that Self Distract piece meant much more to me than I realised before I wrote it. The act of writing it to you formed it better in my head, made me think more coherently. So ta for that.
The trouble is, that looks like frank lining. Like you’re really serious about the inset seam on your jacket.
But Ben Franklin, as in this fella, had enemies and he defused them. Maybe not all, but certainly his greatest. There was this one guy and…
Franklin set out to turn his hater into a fan, but he wanted to do it without “paying any servile respect to him.” Franklin’s reputation as a book collector and library founder gave him a standing as a man of discerning literary tastes, so Franklin sent a letter to the hater asking if he could borrow a specific selection from his library, one that was a “very scarce and curious book.” The rival, flattered, sent it right away. Franklin sent it back a week later with a thank-you note. Mission accomplished. The next time the legislature met, the man approached Franklin and spoke to him in person for the first time. Franklin said the man “ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death.”