Fighting insecurities with conversations 

Getting Started...

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I've been in Seattle for 12 days now. After taking some time to reflect, I've learned a lot about myself. Changing my environment forced me to reflect on and understand more about my superpowers and weaknesses.

One of the most interesting realizations has to do with what hasn't changed.

A question I ask people when I first meet them is: what do you do in your free-time when no one is watching? This question tells me a lot about what the person enjoys and hides from most of the world. It often gets to the root of their individuality and creates space for them to be vulnerable.

I learned something new about myself this past week when I asked myself this question. Coming to Seattle, I haven't had anyone to report to. Whether it's a professor in a college class or a boss at work.

What did I choose to do when no one was watching?

I've spent my 9AM-5PM this past week reading and writing.

I've learned that when I gave myself the time and space to express my creative freedom I was genuinely much happier or as my friends like to call it, "more zen."

I interrupt people less in conversations, I listen more intently, and I've had more insights than usual. This has been a critical observation over the past 12 days:

No matter what, make more time to do what you love.

An interesting side note for those who are curious, during times when I felt my creative freedom was suppressed my twitter feed had more re-tweets. In times when I don't have any anchors, my feed is filled with original thought and insight. See here.

On what's changed...

I'm becoming much more attuned to my actions and habits.

The friend I'm living with recently asked me, "What are you optimizing for?"

My answer to him a few months ago was: "happiness."

When he asked me again a few days ago, it changed: "building better habits and deconditioning "bad" habits."

This is a more refined version of my previous answer, "happiness."

I've learned that building better habits makes me happier. Putting routine decisions on auto-pilot makes it easier for me to focus on the decisions that matter. Discipline and routine can either be seen as freedom or prison depending on your context.

For me, since I'm consciously creating habits and de-conditioning "bad" habits it gives me freedom. Freedom to focus on the things I want to and freedom from worrying about things that don't matter in the long term.

I put "bad" in quotations because it's relative. What may be "bad" to me may be "good" to someone else in their context.

This is something else I've changed, I'm learning to be more precise in my speech and writing. Becoming more precise in speech and writing minimizes miscommunication. This is something I'm deliberately practicing. If you read the older versions of this newsletter you'll see what I mean.

Providing a catalyst

Every week I’ll share key insights from a conversation I had learned a lot from in a series called, Providing a Catalyst. This is my attempt to be more human.

A friend of mine had this sign laying around in his apartment it said, “Let me share my deepest fear… so I can get over it.” After seeing it, I said let’s walk around with it in Seattle. He agreed.

We went to the city in the evening and walked around boldly holding this sign.

Here are snippets from some of the conversations we had:

The first person to stop us was a Caucasian male in his early 30’s giving a cigarette to a homeless man on the street. For those of you who know the area, we were in front of Pike’s Place.

After reading the sign, he asked, “so what is it?” referring to what my fear is, I told him: “dropping out of college with 18 credits before graduation.”

Next, he told me his, “dying alone.”

As we continued to walk around the city, the next person to stop us was a homeless man. He told us he had been homeless for 23 and asked me what my fear was.

I told him, “dropping out of college.” After listening to my response, he asked, “what are you afraid of? not being able to find a job?”

I thought to myself, no.

He continued to tell me, “You can find a job at McDonald's, Burger King, Chipotle, Starbucks, or any fast-food chain for $15/hr if you want to. Don't let the fear of money hold you back." He went on to tell us his life story about how he's bi-polar, how his wife left him, and that he has a son.

There was something about him telling me to not worry about money that struck a chord with me. It gave me chills. More on this later.

After a few more of these conversations, we changed gear.

My friend and I had this hypothesis that if we walked around with a sign that said “let’s have a conversation” it would be easier for people to approach us and start a conversation after learning that many people are afraid to approach strangers.

In fact, we were afraid of holding the sign and walking around. Our insecurities stop us from having conversations with others. These insecurities are for the most part made up in our minds and are self-limiting beliefs.

So we put on suits, took a ukulele, and went to the most densely populated area on a weekend night - the bars.

Here are some of the snippets from the conversations:

A conversation with two friends, before they went home:

"My biggest fear is not caring enough to take care of my body."

We ran into a group of 3 friends, one male, and two females. One of them was visiting from Texas for the weekend. They ranged in age from late 20s to early 30s. The guy had previously started a start-up and failed due to his team falling apart and is looking for his next gig at the moment.

"My biggest fear is staying in the same place for too long." They all shared a fear that's some variation of this.

Remember the guy who was giving a cigarette to a homeless man earlier? Well, we ran into him again in a completely different part of town by chance. At first, he didn't recognize us in suits.

He went on to dig deeper, why are you afraid to drop out of college?

I told him, "I thought more about it over the course of this evening--I'm not. I'm actually more afraid of saying that, I'm not afraid than actually dropping out."

This insight occurred when the homeless man asked me, "Are you afraid of not making any money?" to which I thought to myself, "no."

The idea behind this experiment was to be as approachable as possible. Removing as many barriers as we could and signaling to people that we were open to conversation.

We had some incredible conversations, made some new friends, and fought our insecurities. We even serenaded some random people on the street with the ukulele, my friend knows how to play and can sing.

This experiment allowed us to talk to people we normally would think twice to approach. The people we talked to came in all shapes and sizes: wide socio-economic backgrounds, introverts & extroverts, different races, and varying ages.

We ended the night with a conversation with an Ethiopian Uber driver who loves music. He showed us a song that a friend of his is working on. It was in Amharic, a language I didn't know existed.

Although we may never see most of the people we crossed paths with that night, and in life, at least we can say that we stopped to say "hi." Something I plan to do more of.

Lighting a match

Inspiration to do something or learn something new.

Deep Dive

If I had to pick one recommendation from above, this would be it.

Invisible Asymptotes

Here's an excerpt that resonated deeply with me:

"In my experience, the most successful people I know are much more conscious of their own personal asymptotes at a much earlier age than others. They ruthlessly and expediently flush them out. One successful person I know determined in grade school that she'd never be a world-class tennis player or pianist. Another mentioned to me how, in their freshman year of college, they realized they'd never be the best mathematician in their own dorm, let alone in the world. Another knew a year into a job that he wouldn't be the best programmer at his company and so he switched over into management; he rose to become CEO."

- Eugene Wei

My Updates:

I'll be in San Francisco from June 1st - June 9th, is there anyone I should meet?

This week I'll finally be finishing the intro to web-development course I've been putting off for some time now. I need to consolidate all of my content to one site, want to help?

I've started to go to the gym more regularly as part of building a healthy life-style habit.

Thank you for signing up and reading this edition of Activation Energy.

- Abhi Vyas

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