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Personal essays

Columns - Essay from Newsletter 131

Changes for the new year


When I told friends I was going to Liverpool, three different friends suggested I watch the movie, “Yesterday.”

It’s a fun movie about a struggling performer named Jack who has a small dedicated following of friends.

One day something happens and Jack realizes he’s the only one who remembers the Beatles (or Coke, cigarettes, or Harry Potter).

He gives up explaining that the Beatles songs he’s playing were written by someone else and were huge hits and begins to perform them as his own.

As he makes it big and outgrows his manager Ellie, she admits to long having been in love with him and asks him when he put her in the friend column.

I thought of this scene this past week as I prepared for this year’s Jewish New Year.

You may remember that I use this time each year to look at who I am and tweak things in little ways for the coming year.

I’m not restricting this idea of columns to the split between romantic partner and friends - but we often put people into boxes and think of them only in those boxes and never let them out. We also live in boxes that other people have created for us and we quietly sit inside of them.

So this year one of the things I’m considering tweaking is my relationship with columns.


After Liverpool, I took the train (two trains really) to Aberystwyth, Wales to participate in the iOS Dev UK conference.

I’m an introvert.

I get exhausted talking to many people in a gathering. I am energized in small groups talking to just a few people.

Or anyway, that’s the column I’ve put myself in.

I think it’s generally true. I attended the entire conference and enjoyed hanging out during coffee breaks and lunches with a few people at a time.

I’ve always thought that if I’m invited to a conference, it’s part of my job as a speaker to make sure that any attendee can find me and chat with me if they want. I’m not that much fun but I owe it to them to allow them to find that out for themselves.

I even went to the pre-conference party down at a pub near the train station but was able to mostly hang with friends that I’ve met over the years at other conferences before heading out with Paul to a quiet dinner.

I know this is off topic but I have to tell you about something he showed me after dinner. Behind the restaurant were two machines. You could buy reusable glass bottles from one and you could fill them with milk or flavored milk using the other. I returned each night of the conference to fill the glass bottle with a nighttime bottle of the best chocolate milk ever.

Anyway, I was the last speaker on the second day of the conference. I’m always a nervous speaker. I’m well prepared and have written the talk weeks ahead and practiced it and tweaked it since - but I’m still hand-shakingly nervous even though I’ve spoken publicly for more than forty years.

It didn’t help that this was my first talk in-person in more than two and a half years.

It went amazingly well - at least from my perspective.

The audience reacted early to some of my lighter moments and seemed with me throughout the presentation. I was energized by the group which led to me enjoying the presentation more which, I think, led them to enjoying the presentation more.

I still left the stage and asked friends, “was that ok?” I had enjoyed myself - I just wanted to make sure it was good for them too.

Am I an introvert?

I still think I am. Interacting with small groups energizes me. Interacting with large groups whose role is to generally be a large group energizes me. Interacting with many individuals at once still exhausts me.

I will remain in the introvert column while taking care to do things that extroverts love because it’s what I’ve been brought to conferences to do.


I got up early and took the train to London. Actually two trains. There were rumors of train strikes but they were cancelled when the Queen died.

I had no plans during my four days in London other than to meet with friends and enjoy eating out at old favorites and recommended places that are now new favorites.

Friday I met Jon at Dishoom for an early dinner.

There are several Dishooms in London and at Jon’s suggestion I’d made a reservation at the one in Covent Garden.

I sent him the reservation and wrote that I was looking forward to seeing him.

He replied asking me which Dishoom I’d made the reservation for.

A younger me would have replied with something sarcastic pointing to the subject line of the email which mentioned Covent Garden or the forwarded reservation which also specified the location.

But why?

Well - because somehow that makes me win something. I prove that I’ve already told you this thing you’re asking.

But why?

A year or so ago one of my September adjustments was to do this less often. I want to argue less about details that don’t matter (“It was a Tuesday”, “you’re wrong it was a Thursday”, “Ah yes, I remember it well.”) and just answer people in a helpful way.

So I replied, “The reservation is at the Covent Garden location. See you then.”

Now there’s no cloud hanging over our meeting. We both win.

I’ll admit I don’t always manage to keep this one, but life is better when I do.

When Jon and I met for dinner we caught up and moved on to other things. He didn’t notice that I hadn’t mentioned that he could have looked in the email and found Covent Garden. Because of the nature of our friendship, I mentioned it to him as a conscious choice I’ve made.

He shared a practice he has of making adjustments to the way he meets the world that are similar to my yearly September adjustments.

One of his recent changes has been his resolution to smile more quickly.

You know when you respond to someone just that fraction of a second too slowly and they’ve moved on mentally, physically, or both.

I asked Jon to explain and he sent me this note that he wrote to himself about this change and gave me permission to share it with you.

“Be quicker to smile”

“I’m too slow to smile. I sometimes look up to see a missed opportunity, or even worse, someone who had smiled at me, who is turning away. These are fleeting moments. To smile at someone is to pay attention to people around me, and my surroundings - and I want that, instead of being in my headphones and in my head. I want more connection in this world, and a smile seems like a good first step. It’s also just nice to have people smile at you, and I feel good when I smile at someone, hoping they feel the same way.”

Switching columns

There’s so much I like about Jon’s resolution.

He already smiles a lot and recognizes the value of doing so both to himself and to others.

But he also recognizes that many of these smiles are lost because he doesn’t smile quickly enough.

And so he’s pushing himself to refine an activity so that it has a greater benefit.

I don’t know if this counts as switching columns or not.

I’m not sure it matters.

It’s concrete and achievable and it doesn’t matter if it’s a dramatic change or not.

You might remember I tried to resolve to leap more.

It just wasn’t me.

A woman replied to that essay by telling me she was a leaper. That helped me in two dimensions.

First, I noted to myself that she hadn’t lept in my direction. When a leaper doesn’t leap, that tells you something.

More importantly, I realized that it wasn’t me. I now take more steps in new directions than I used to, but I’m not a leaper.

Like Jon changing smiling to smiling more quickly, I have changed exploring to exploring more and in new directions. But not leaping.

Sometimes I do need to move myself or how I see others from one column to another. That may require a leap. If your boat has just left the dock you might be able to make it on board with a giant leap. In that case cautious steps won’t do.

Other times I just need to push one of us toward the edge of the column and one day the barrier we thought was keeping us inside of this category just disappears and we find that we’ve taken three steps that got us to where we were unable to leap.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 131. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

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