Have you ever had this experience? You meet with someone for the first time. First thing you know you’re listening to their elevator speech. They go on about the business that they’re in and the latest deal there working on. They go on and on with this rehearsed performance. With the worst of them you start to wonder if you really need to be there at all.
Soon you find yourself wondering “Who is this person and why are the so in love with the sound of their own voice?” What are you missing here? This person is not nearly as interesting to you as they clearly are to themselves.
So maybe you get adventurous and interrupt them. You try to turn the conversation towards finding the answer to that far more important question. Most often after a short diversion the enemy submarine returns to its original course and speed. No wait! That’s from an old WW II movie. Well anyway, you get the point.
The sense settles in that you’re along for the ride and don’t have any lines in this mini theatrical production. You have two options. First, you can stay through the whole performance and hope your eyes don’t glaze over two badly. Second, you can notice that your glass is empty and excuse yourself. If you decide to stay the experience may lead you to really need that refill.
Now think of the conversation as one between you and you. Are you so intent on telling yourself who you are that you go on and on – completely overriding the self-knowledge that will make you a whole and unique person? They this from a song by the Scottish singer/song writer Dougie MacLean:
Oh you need that rite of passage before you can continue on
That brave self understanding you can lean your dreams upon
You may want for children, you may crave for man and wife
But you need that rite of passage to the summer of your life
How many people do you know who seemed to have skipped one or two seasons? Gone from the spring to the winter of their lives without ever living through summer and fall?
It’s a sad deluded vision this creature of our time
It’s body now is broken it’s smile it rarely has the chance to shine
It stands so high and mighty with its never ending needs
While somewhere in the beating heart the earth it vainly pleads
Much of my mentoring work starts with this idea. People come to me confused about who they are and what they should be doing with their lives. But they also tend to come with an insistent story about who they should be. Like the self-promoter who bends you ear interminably, they have a set speech that describes a vision – a synthetic reality – of their lives. Of course, the problem is that it just isn’t working for them.
Or, how about this one? You get the feeling that the individual has been working the room and that you have finally been granted your ninety seconds of audience. Maybe they are not sure about you and, being better than half way down their list, you get assaulted late in the session. Somewhere around half way through you begin to realize that this is a dance in which you have no steps. The eyes say “I’m a warm and friendly individual that you should get to know”. But the voice keeps saying “I’m in control here and you are one of many audiences that I will perform before this evening. So do us both a favor, just listen until I’m through and then I’ll leave you alone. Let’s make this as painless (and unproductive) as possible!”
As your newest best friend drones on, you realize that they have an elevator speech that seems to lack any sort of personal vision or self awareness. Some even seem to follow outlines that we have all read – “How to craft the perfect elevator speech.” Lacking any humanity that you can see, the person before you has reduced themselves to anti-humanist inanity.
But if you’re really courageous (and this is where the experience can have some serious therapeutic value), it may also occur to you that you could be looking in a mirror. What if what you see is what you do?
I’ve been to paradise, never been to me
Of course, for most people ‘paradise’ feels more like purgatory!