I’ve been showing my work to design teams at companies lately and these conversations can be brutal. Not the acting or the showmanship or the awkward silences. Not even my terrible, unforgivably bad jokes.
What I struggle with most is sharing stuff in a room full of people who don’t care, who aren’t moved, who are simply...indifferent.
That feeling is just the worst because I want folks to be on the edge of their seat! If not moved by the work, then in my performance of it, or even just some vague interest in the problem that I’m trying to solve. Isn’t this a fun puzzle I just shared with you? How would you do it? Doesn’t this thing completely suck? Ugh! Let’s see how I worked my way through it...
These portfolio reviews are tragic to me because they feel like doing standup at an empty bar on a sad, desolate cruise ship. There’s no applause, no playfulness, no back-and-forth. No-one is really there. You’re all alone.
My work might be real bad, of course. My presentation could suck or I might be focusing on the wrong projects, etc. etc. Plus, being on the other side, interviewing folks is boring and tiresome and a distraction from the project you’re working on. Interviews always get in the way and no one is ever, ever excited to do them.
So I get it.
I can’t help feel that terrible feeling of being on a date where you talk to someone for an hour, then two, then three, and afterwards you go home and realize, boy, in all that time they didn’t try once to make a joke. Not even a bad one! There was no attempt to play in the space, to dance in this particular way that I like to dance. And it’s the same thing here: when you’re presenting you can see folks click around on camera, barely giving you 10% of their brain power, and...ugh that sucks so much. I would rather someone tell me that this is wasting their time and log off or storm out of the meeting. I would prefer the rudeness of that than returning to that sad, empty cruise ship.
I hate that feeling, that place, the tragic one-wayness of a conversation. The dead-end.
The only unforgivable quality, for me, is speaking with someone and them not trying to do a bit, not making a reference to a goofy thing they love, not trying to improve this miserable experience we’re both experiencing by being alive on earth in the year 2023. Everything is terrible here—horrible, tragic, truly misery-inducing—but the only way we win against all that is by doing some stupid word play. Right here! Right now! See this: a pun. Or a hint of irony with a wry smile. Just a little something, anything, that is more than just two people breathing in a room for an hour.
You have to contribute, dammit. Anything. Please.
I remember as a kid struggling with this same feeling, of having all this curiosity, all this unbounded excitement, and all these lovely things I want to share and talk about and point to. But then there was nothing on the other end. Isn’t Animorphs just great? Isn’t this movie about this stupid fish funny? Isn’t this thing, this thing right here, isn’t it curious? Look!
Meh. Sure, kid.
I genuinely think the most important fight of my whole dumb life is against this feeling, this emptiness, this apathy. Not just in other people but in myself, too. Because it’s so easy not to care about things! It’s so easy not to try! It’s infinitely easier to walk into a room without twisting what someone says in a new, fun way. It’s so much safer! And I’m sure there were days, weeks, months where I didn’t try to help my conversations putter along in an exciting and dangerous way. I’m sure I’ve done it ten thousand times.
So: I’m sorry. I’ll do better. Every time I feel like saying “meh” I’ll remember this and lean in a little closer.
I’ll be the last guy clapping on that empty cruise.