Deep American blues booming from the speakers of an apartment at the top floor in the heart of Copenhagen, records spinning, the table littered with bottles and candles dying, laughter and stories echoing between the walls, the cigarette smoke hanging at the bottom of the ceiling.
Edith Piaf fills the morning with her voice and the birds shriek outside as dawn approaches.
“The highly sensitive tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic. They dislike small talk. They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive. They dream vividly, and can often recall their dreams the next day. They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions—sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear. Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments—both physical and emotional—unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss—another person’s shift in mood, say, or a lightbulb burning a touch too brightly.”—Susan Cain
one of the best parts of “growing up” is getting to know yourself better. in the last couple of years I’ve grown familiar with my quirks and learned how to deal with them… embrace them, control them, whatever. and part of all this learning has been realizing that even though i hate small talk, loud parties, and dealing with a lot of people, i’m not a outcast to society- i’m not antisocial. apparently, there’s a word for what i am, and it’s highly sensitive.
no, that doesn’t mean i cry at commercials with puppies in them.
it means that I, and other people like me (which includes many if not most of my friends), perceive more stimuli around us- noise, color, body language, emotion. for us, being out in crowded places for long periods of time is the equivalent of being in a nightclub with pulsing music and bodies for 24 hours straight. we don’t enjoy it, and when we do, it’s for brief stretches of time. we don’t like hanging out in big groups of people, we prefer one or two.
and we need alone time. a lot of it.
after a few days of going out, i need a day to myself to recuperate. just lying on the couch, reading, biking, grocery shopping, being in a calm, quiet environment that lets me rest my senses and thoughts.
being highly sensitive also means we’re very empathetic, we feel other people’s emotions very strongly (a lot of us hate horror films for this reason). and our own emotions, whether they’re love or fear or sadness, seem stronger and more lasting than those of the average person. we have a hard time shaking them sometimes.
so why am i telling you all of this?
because most societies in the western world don’t value this kind of personality. mostly value go-getters. the extroverts, the people-person, the guy who’s always networking, making friends. but we’re not all like him. it doesn’t mean we won’t succeed, but it does make it harder.
next time one of your friends tells you they’d rather get a coffee with you than go to a bar with you and ten other people, don’t pester them to “join in the fun”, because they might not be having any. don’t tell them to be more social. respect the fact that they enjoy different things than you, and their ways of enjoying things are just as valid as yours. don’t push them to do things your way, just because it’s the more socially acceptable way.
it’s okay not to enjoy the things movies and books and TV are telling you you should be enjoying. and it doesn’t make you any less of an awesome person.
i am here to make the quiet films. the films about the silences, the spaces between things. the films about the complex emotions, about the things with no reasons, the tears, the laughs, the comforts with no single origin. the films about the places that are important, the way they look, the way they feel, the things they mean, no matter how ordinary or extraordinary they are. i only shoot what i find beautiful. there is too much ugliness out in the world already. i shoot the beautiful lights, the beautiful people, the beautiful moments when the world’s sounds come into a perfect harmony.
i shoot the magic hour, the space between day and night. i shoot the stories i find important, that most other people overlook.
will anyone ever like and appreciate this?
i don’t know. i hope so. but there’s one thing i’ve learned, and that’s that i can’t warp my voice and try to sing somebody else’s song. maybe this isn’t a song anyone else wants to hear, but it’s the only one i’ve got. and i can’t be the only one
when i was in high school, i devoured books about movie stars, the classics of literature, everything i could get my hands on. i dreamed of sipping my coffee in sidewalk cafes in florence, vienna, paris. i dreamed of losing myself in london’s streets, walking through oxford and feeling academics in the air, listening to tango in argentina. i dreamed of writing, and photographing, and painting and making films. i dreamed of studying and falling in love with words and thoughts and ideas.
ten years later, i dream the same dreams. and it all seems as difficult and mysterious and impossible as it did then- except maybe more.
and yet, there are moments when i talk about the places i’ve been, the things i’ve seen, the cities i’ve explored, when i realize… i’ve done so many of the things i dreamed of. not all of them, but many. and it rarely felt as good as i imagined. the feeling of it, and the words, there’s a gap there, in between them.
sometimes, i can’t help but think- it all sounded so much better on paper.
make sure you love or use every single thing in your room.
that’s what i’m doing today.
alternately known as spring cleaning.
one of my favorite places on earth.
drowning in lana del rey songs, books and articles on feminism, and my flight to LA departs in less than 24 hours.
in 24 hours i will devour in-n-out burgers, shield my eyes from the sun with candy colored sunglasses, read jean baudrillard’s america with my toes in the sand. i will watch the palm trees whizz beyond the car window, i will cover my vans with reddish sandy dirt as i climb up the trails of runyon canyon, and i will watch the city sparkle from afar in the inky dark from mulholland drive.
america will weave its dark, intoxicating spell and sink its claws into me once again, before i tear myself away and retreat to my attic haven.
We all try to figure out what makes successful people successful, and to repeat it. It’s in our DNA. We look to the powerful members of our tribe and we try to emulate them, to figure out how they got there, what it took. That’s what all those interviews and biographies of the “rich and famous” are all about. Sure it’s been fanned about by the ease and speed with which we can share information these days, but it’s hardly a new phenomenon.
And Malcolm Gladwell is no exception- in his now-famous Outliers, he studies, meticulously, many success stories- some of them famous and some of them not. And he studies stories of “potential successes” that have turned out not to be so.
But the way he does it is fun, elegant, and thoroughly thought-provoking. He looks not into just the lives of the successful, but at the historical, cultural, and social circumstances that made their success possible. And in the process, he engages you with fun and enlightening little anecdotes based in history, sociology, psychology and linguistics.
But now, most people have heard of the 10,000 hours idea that Gladwell briefly outlines- that to be truly great at your chosen field (whether it’s violin or ice hockey or physics) you have to put in at least 10,000 hours before your best work will start rolling out. But the 10,000 hour pattern is only one small part of Outliers, and Gladwell’s arguments for what creates success. The rest of the story is even more fascinating.
So what did I take away from Outliers?
Success isn’t about just working hard, or just showing up at the right place at the right time, and it’s definitely not about being exceptionally smart or talented. Success is all about being smart enough, working long long hours, AND being at the right place at the right time, and using (or potentially de-fusing) the cultural legacies you have been born into.
As I finished the book on this lazy, sunny Sunday morning at the beginning of my spring break, I had every urge to jump out of bed, and start making my way through my 10,000 hours.
If nothing else, that’s a feeling worth reading Outliers for-