Last April I launched a series of conversations, sitting down with nearly three dozen of my friends, acquaintances and colleagues to talk about that big “L” word…Life. Having just entered into what would be a ten-month vacation from all my previous work, I wanted to reconnect with friends who I hadn’t properly spent time with since running a start-up and traveling around the world.
My friend Paul America (yes, that is his real name) had been staying with me in Brooklyn for a couple weeks, brainstorming on a creative project that we began to dream up nearly three years prior, but just never set time aside to do. Paul and I discussed reconnecting with friends and sharing real wisdom via a recorded podcast. Mind you this was all between the interstices of the most animated confabulation (for Paul puts on what would be akin to animal theatre when he gets into his creative fits) and sporadic bouts of the latest jiu jitsu moves (for which both I – and Paul’s friend and audio guy Travis fell victim too), but that made it all that more visceral.
Having been inspired by podcasts like Joe Rogan as well as a series of deep conversations with Paul, we agreed that we should just invite folks over to my home and talk about what really matters most. We left the topics open and provided no guidelines other than telling our guests that we were just looking to talk about whatever moved us at that moment. There was no real agenda, no series of set questions – and our only limitation was when our camera cards or batteries would run out – and in most instances – the conversation, though it didn’t continue to get recorded, surely didn’t end there.
My friends and my acquaintances, the latter that I had only met in passing or briefly online or over the phone – decidedly opened up in ways that were very personal. Sometimes it took a half hour – and in one case four hours – but eventually a really open, honest conversation began to take shape. Paul – who served as the voice off camera often probing more deeply into a topic – helped coax an even deeper emotive chord from my friends. Sanjay Rawal, the director behind Food Chains, was my first brave subject; though we had a few lighting and camera mishaps, those aesthetic blemishes certainly didn’t ruin the quality of the overall discussion, which in Sanjay’s case was centered on the quest for uncovering truth through documentary filmmaking.
After the third or fourth podcast and through the eventual acquisition of better gear, Paul and I were by that time pros (or shall I say, “professional amateurs”). We had no desire, however, to “sanitize” the set. This meant that we just kept rolling despite Paul walking into frame; a bug flying into a person’s drink; or even munching on chips or a bowl of fruit on set. It was more about keeping the conversation fluid and natural vs. interrupting any precious train of thought.
Guests on the podcast come from a variety of professions; the vast majority can be considered people who truly are at the “top of their game.” They range from entrepreneurs, activists, technologists, actors and actresses, authors, artists, designers, photographers, models and musicians. After a dozen or so guests, certain themes started to emerge despite having no structure whatsoever.
Themes around facing one’s own fears and inadequacies topped the list; having meaningful relationships – whether it be with friends, intimate partners, or even one’s own children – also emerged; and even re-evaluating life in the face of death – whether it was one’s own near-death experience or the passing of a loved one, eventually found its way into conversation. We joked with my friends that it was a free session to the shrink. It was so cleansing and spiritually uplifting to be able to share such intimate thoughts – not only with one another, but also to anyone else who may care to listen.
There were so many highlights from each Conversation that it would take far too long to list every one. Paul and I decided to maintain the integrity of the long conversations, putting them up on Youtube, BlogTalkRadio and even iTunes. Much to our surprise – (as we had no expectations) – SRO Conversations shot up to one of the Top 300 shows on BlogTalkRadio out of their 15,000 show line-up. The conversations averaged around one and a half hours apiece, so we also decided to break them up into 3-10 minute bites because quite a range of salient points emerged over the course of the conversation.
One of the pioneers in Socially Responsible Investing, Tom Van Dyck, sagaciously spoke about the fine line between being a good father and friend to one’s children in addition to raising a family while running one’s own business; model Kate Dillon spoke of the challenge maintaining her independence and adventurous spirit in marriage; Photographer and director Joey L. discussed knowing when to put one’s camera down when photographing other cultures; Founder of Grassroots Soccer, Ethan Zohn opened up about how he copes with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and his reevaluation of how he lives life; jazz pianist Harold O’Neal discussed the importance of discipline; best-selling author Simon Sinek dug into topics around safe work environments from his recently-released book, Leaders Eat Last; journalist Andy Isaacson went on to articulate his feelings and visions after imbibing in a psychoactive brew of ayahuasca – an Amazonia concoction used by shamans; and female entrepreneurial trio from the newly-minted underwear label, Thinx, brought a light-hearted view to women’s menstrual cycles.
After launching a Conversation every Wednesday for 26 weeks, I fell off track a little in October, as I ended coming out of my vacation to help my friend Rob throw a launch party in Brooklyn for his awesome company Good Eggs, which is a farm-to-fridge grocer seeking to grow and sustain local food systems. (It’s a noble company and equally worthy mission, for which will be the subject for another blog post down the line!)
Now that I have a “routine” again, I’m thrilled to say that we’ll be releasing a brand new season of the Conversation series this March. Due to positive response, I brought on more friends who have a uniquely African perspective to sustainable development – from South African architect and founder of the Mezimbite Forest Centre, Allan Schwarz to Mozambican entrepreneur Ruy Santos to model and founder of the Georges Malaika Foundation, Noella Coursaris. My friend, Brendan Brazier, discusses how to optimize one’s health through a plant-based diet; Photographer Esther Havens discusses what it’s like being a female photographer; actress Alysia Reiner and her husband, David Alan Basche, talk about falling in love and having a child; among a range of other enlightening people and heart-to-hearts.
This time not all discussions happen in my home. Good conversations – if you allow them to take place – can crop up anywhere. I decided this time to take my camera and recording equipment with me – whether it is to another person’s home, another state, or another country altogether! Whatever the case, I hope that you continue to enjoy the intimacy and openness of the podcasts and help partake in some of the conversations along the way. See you in March!