After the experience of interviewing Debra (name changed) yesterday, a kind woman who chatted with me for over half an hour, I’m reconsidering my approach to the challenge, including forming more structured questions. In the meantime, here are some lessons I learned first-hand from the experience:
1. A listening ear is one of the best tools of communication.
- At the beginning of the conversation with Debra, she mentioned that I could ask her questions as long as they didn’t get too personal. However the conversation eventually transitioned from small talk about her grandchildren to her personal methods of dealing with stress and then all the way to her very personal, harsh past. Because the conversation was formatted more as an interview, I didn’t feel the need to constantly talk and was free to simply listen and let her talk. This allowed for much more than surface level small-talk which benefitted both of us and deepened the conversation. It pays to be interested in people.
2. I live a fluffy life.
- I’m constantly reminded of the fact that my life experiences are so much easier than most people that I meet. Debra told some very hard stories about having to call the authorities when her father abused her mother, going through several abusive relationships and taking care of her son’s dad as he passed away. I honestly don’t know how to handle hearing such heartbreaking stories, and I’m sure my responses were less sensitive than they could be. One of the biggest benefits of conversations out of your comfort zone is broadening my perspective on life and learning how to be more sensitive and understanding of other people’s trials. And much of this comes from listening, as seen above.
3. Everybody has coping mechanisms for life.
- Debra said that her life had been very stressful, and she shared her methods of escaping that stress. When I asked about how to deal with stress she told me “Well, that is a big deal in my life right now. Everyone’s got a different way of dealing with it. They go drink, they go get drunk, not me. I’m about nature and I’ll go and find somewhere or go walking.” It’s important to consider how you are dealing with the pressures in life and how that is building you up as a person.
4. Fear isn't worth listening to.
- For some reason this crazy idea of interviewing a stranger has been on my mind for a while now. When I went into the coffee shop yesterday, I was intent on finding somebody to interview, but I was also terrified of the idea. So terrified that after I bought my coffee I actually talked myself out of talking to anybody, got in my car and started driving home. On the way home I realized that I had the ability right then to step outside of my comfort zone and make a difference, and if I didn’t do it then, I’d most likely just keep pushing it off. So I turned the car around, went back into the store and asked Debra if she’d mind if I talked to her for a bit. And you know what? She was completely kind and fine with the idea. In fact, it was a very enjoyable conversation overall, and totally worth it. While I’m all for weighing options and assessing potential outcomes of situations, at some point I know that I can easily talk myself out of a great life experience or an interaction with somebody I wouldn't have otherwise been touched by.
Thanks for reading about this crazy experience! While I might do it differently if I did it again, I’m glad that I stepped out of my comfort zone to add some new perspective to my life, and I’d encourage you to do the same. Talk to a stranger (unless they're offering candy from a van); try something new; keep discovering more about the world you live in and the people who live around you.
What are your thoughts? What’s an opportunity you’re glad that you took? Let me know in the comments!