At this year’s BarCamp Manchester, I found myself surrounded by happy nerds sharing their interests and knowledge to everyone around them. This made me incredibly happy, and it triggered the insight that the missing element of from my day-to-day life is intensity.
BarCamp, for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, is a self-organized tech “un-conference” where the attendees themselves pick the topics to discuss. Organizers make the event possible by finding a venue host and wrangling some sponsors to pay for lunch. In exchange, sponsors get their open job positions in front of the area’s most social and self-motivated nerds. Un-conferences happen all over the world. It’s kind of like the ultimate geek party, where people can find like-minded people to talk about a subject that they are passionate about, not having to hold back.
In the past few years, I realize now, I have been holding myself back. One of the ways I hold back is by not expressing the full extent of my interests and know-how, because I think it turns people off or (possibly) scares them. Additionally, the way I understand the world tends to be complicated and demanding, providing way too much information for most people to process. The reason I believe this is because most people just stare at me in bemusement, change the subject, or fidget in boredom. This makes me feel bad, and over the years I’ve come to believe that I just don’t relate well to most people.
The net effect of believing that I am “unrelatable” is that I don’t share as much as I used to, even on the blog. I used to, when no one was reading. As the blog became more popular, I began thinking of it as a platform on which I could build a creative business. The common wisdom is to have a content strategy that emphasizes focused topical writing, which captures a topic-driven audience that can sustain a market. It works, and many respectable bloggers have made this transition. Back in September, though, I realized that this was a step away from my path of wanting to have conversations, not markets. Markets bore me. I am far more interested in the individual experience, and I know this is just as capable of bringing me joy and opportunity from past experiences. That said, I’m not ignoring markets, because there are a lot of ways I can provide a useful product at a fair price to make people happy, but that is a byproduct of the PRIMARY pursuit of conversation. If Markets were my primary pursuit, it would straightforward to present myself as a “productivity tools expert”, appealing to the desires of people looking for a magic bullet solution to their productivity challenges. I could just write about that. These types of websites do very well, as do other focused content websites. But that’s not how I want to do it. My content strategy is directed toward creating the opportunity to have wonderful conversations.
So how do I do that? I didn’t know beyond “just write about what interests you, Dave.” The barrier has been that belief that I’m not a relatable person, or that my interests are relatable to a broad audience. I’ve been worried about the quality of my prose too. Is my verbosity a sign of not having thought things out well enough? Am I providing a clear take-away? Could I edit it down into a perfect essay like a real writer? And on top of that, I have been feeling a bit depressed about the amount of other work I have to do. I have no time to have conversations. There is too much work to be done.
I think Intensity might be my salvation, both in my writing and in the pursuit of my work. At BarCamp, I felt the excitement of being able to express my interests at full intensity, and experienced the same in return. It didn’t matter if anyone had the answers or not; it was the mere opportunity to express without being ignored or written off as crazy. There was a high tolerance for questions and exploration, and no one felt they had to have all the answers or prove themselves. We were all there because we HAD questions, and were intensely interested in their ramifications. For my panel, I had I brought a big pile of mechanical switch keyboards so people could experience them in person. I am really fussy about my keyboard, and rarely hesitate to buy something that I think might be better than what I have. Not many people showed up, and one person was even incredulous that keyboard differences mattered, but this did not bother me. I was just happy to share an important part of my work life with people who were at least curious about it. Someone walking by the room stopped in his tracks, took in the scene of a zillion keyboards, and gave us a big thumbs up. I like to think that he either liked keyboards, or he knew obsessive passion when he saw it and heartily approved.
- To bring Intensity back in writing, I need to let go of my earlier beliefs about being relatable. My interests are weird, esoteric, nerdy, and demanding. Most people might not really appreciate them, but perhaps the topics themselves aren’t as important as the willingness to let the intensity show. It’s a signal to other like-minded people that hey, here is another person like you.
- To bring Intensity back in my work…well, actually I am not sure how to do this. Right now, I am doing a lot of solo development work, and I think I need to find a way to really enjoy it in isolation. The problem is that I wish there was someone to talk to about it. Perhaps that problem will be solved by the writing and the outreach effect it has.
p>So I’ll try doing this for a while, and see what happens. With luck, a lot of weirder subjects will start appearing on the blog.