I’d like to think that I get to know my clients decently well. I spend a lot of time with them before, during and after a session – and I get to ask a lot of questions about them along the way that helps me not only capture their families authentically, but helps me get to know them a little bit as people.
But a recent interaction with one of my client Moms made me stop and think about what it actually means to “know” someone… and at what point can you really say you know someone “well.”
It happened like this: We had never met in person… but I felt like our connection was immediate even from the first time she contacted me. We emailed a bunch, we talked on the phone and we did a novel of texting leading up to our 1.5 hours together during the session. Add a little more texting and calling after she got her images … and I had definitely formed an opinion about “who she was” as a person based on those interactions.
But then – in one of our back-and-forth texts about her final gallery – she shared something extremely personal with me about a life event that she went through… and it made me pause. I started thinking about my “opinion” of her prior to her sharing this with me and how “well” I thought I knew her. My thoughts prior were: gorgeous girl, incredible spirit about her, infectious personality, extremely authentic in her interactions, funny, a beautiful family full of a lot of love (proven by the pictures), has it all together. So when she decided to share something that was so personal and so absolutely defining in her life … while my opinion of her certainly didn’t change, my respect for her went through the roof. And more importantly, every part of me wanted to know more about her. How she overcame things. How she made decisions. How it affects her (or doesn’t affect her) today. I wanted to “know” her better … I wanted to understand the “true” her. And I wanted to kick myself for thinking that I had done that previously through emails, texts and a couple hours of photographing.
This whole “make an opinion about someone with little information” thing is not a new topic, you guys… I know that. But I also know that this concept is rocking all of us more than we want to admit. And I’m not just talking about the “book by its cover” judgment you make about the Mom sitting across the play area at the library – I’m talking about those people who are daily parts of our lives. Our friends. Our family. We don’t ask the real questions of each other anymore. Are we afraid of prying? Or maybe afraid that someone will ask us something more deep and we’ll have to face “real” topics ourselves? Or maybe we’re all to busy with our own “stuff” that we don’t have time to hear about someone else’s. Or maybe it’s just more comfortable to not go “there.” But what are we missing out on because of that?
Think of it like this: you have two people who know nothing about the ocean and have never seen it. You send them both out on a boat with scuba gear to explore for two hours. Person one opts to sit on the boat the entire time and takes in the view from the surface. Person 2 uses the scuba gear. Which person is going to come back with a better understanding of the ocean? Both will have an opinion… but who will truly “know” the ocean better?
But we are so often Person 1. And that ocean of friends we think we know? There is SO much going on with them … so much history… so many thoughts… so many stories. And we probably don’t know half of it.
I remember going through a really weird, emotional and rough spot personally during what would seem to be one of the best times of my life. Everyone around me was just telling me how lucky I was based on their view from the surface – and I just nodded and agreed even though I was secretly begging for someone to ask me how I felt on the inside so I could maybe make sense of my feelings through a conversation with someone other than myself. And in that same breath, I can also vividly remember times where I spent an entire phone call with a friend going on and on about something “surface” related… only to find out later that she had something important she really needed to talk about. And I never opened up that door to let her do that.
But this is what we do! We ask stuff like “How’s work” and “How was your weekend” … and then we give surface-level answers of, “You know, the usual” even though we have a million things going on in our minds. And the conversation’s over there. A missed opportunity to connect. A chance missed to go deeper into the stuff that matters.
Am I here to say that we can realistically have these kinds of conversations at every interaction? No. It’s not realistic. But we sure as hell can give ourselves more opportunities to make those connections. How do we do it?
We start asking better questions of our friends. We start opening the door and letting them know that we are someone they can talk to. We start answering other people’s “surface” level questions with more real answers to open up the dialogue about the important stuff. We plan dinner nights with our spouses without the kids to open up conversation that’s deeper than “what do you want to watch on TV tonight?” We start being more honest about our own struggles to make our friends more comfortable to voice their own. We plan coffee dates with friends where we both agree to keep kids and work off topic and talk more about life. We strike up a conversation with that stranger Mom at the library after we apologize for our kid stealing a toy from her kid.
And most importantly – we stop making assumptions about people until we’ve done these things.
So the challenge is this: when we find ourselves in a situation that we can really connect with someone …. whether for the first time or the 50th time … that we leave the comfort of the floating boat – and experience the fulfillment, the connection, the joy and the LIFE that happens when you choose to throw on the scuba gear.