Here is the full transcript of multimedia journalist Kalina Silverman’s TEDx Talk titled ‘How To Skip the Small Talk and Connect With Anyone’ at TEDxWestminsterCollege conference.
Right click to download the MP3 audio:
Kalina Silverman – Multimedia journalist
To skip the small talk, I’m going to start off by asking you guys three questions. So the first question is: Are any of you going through any sort of personal struggle right now?
Second question is: Do you feel that you have someone in your life with whom to share in that struggle? Yes, no, all right.
And the third question is: Do any of you guys watch Mad Men? So I know I’m way behind on my seasons. I just started getting into Netflix and the other night while watching Season Number 2, Episode 12 of Mad Men, I heard Anna Draper say this to a very lost Donald Draper. She said, “The only thing keeping you from being happy is the belief that you are alone”, and this quote really resonated with me, because that’s exactly how I felt when I left sunny Southern California three years ago to start my freshman year of college at Northwestern University. So this is a picture of me, my freshman year of college, first week of school. That’s me in the top left corner.
And another question for you guys. Have you ever been out at like a party or event or out with your friends and someone is like let’s take a picture, and even though you weren’t totally in the mood to take a picture, you weren’t really feeling that great, you still like smiled in the picture and ended up making it to Facebook and everyone saw it, you’re like that was the [upset] event. And so that’s kind of what happened at this picture.
And also this picture, when I was out of the party that same week and so these pictures they made it to Facebook. I was smiling in them, all my friends saw them, they’re like looks like you’re having a great time in college. And that’s not really how I felt on the inside.
And this is a picture of my diary that I started writing in that same first week of college. And I actually have it right here with me, and I am going to read you my very first diary entry.
September 27, 2012. I wish I could start out my first entry with an ecstatic quote about life or how I love college so much. But since this is a personal journal, I can be honest and say I’ve never remembered feeling more lost in my entire life and only three quarters to know that everything will work out and I’ll be OK. I miss home and being surrounded by people who know me so well and love me for all that I am.
And so that whole first year of college I was plagued by this one question: Who am I? I really had felt that I had lost my identity in leaving my home in California, leaving my friends behind to start college for the first time. And it was until the end of my freshman year when things were a lot better, that I had to learn what Donald Draper did in Season 2, Episode 12 of Mad Men that the only thing that had been keeping me from being happy was the belief that I was alone and feeling that way my first week of college.
And I actually put out this query over Facebook on the last few weeks of freshman year and said, “Hi everyone. I’m doing my final journalism project on people struggling to adjust to college the first year. If anyone is willing to talk to me about it, like please let me know and message me”. And I was shocked when within just a couple hours I got messages from people all over campus. A lot of them expressing their pain, their first year of college and I thought, ‘Wow if only I was able to talk to these people that first week of school when I was also feeling lost and alone’. And actually one of those people, she was someone I had met at one of those parties in the beginning and we had kind of just met and been service level friends and that last week of school I interviewed her and we ended up sitting in the student lounge together and sharing each other’s experiences and talking about how lonely we had felt that entire year and we were both like, wow, if only we had said this to each other when we first met we wouldn’t have felt so lonely. And so she ended up becoming one of my best friends in college and so that was end of freshman year.
And then sophomore year things got so much better. I ended up joining a sorority. I got super involved with that, I was really involved with my journalism projects. I started a club or co-founded a club called MIXED which is the Mixed Race Student Coalition and the whole idea was it didn’t matter where you came from, what your background was, we all could share in our mixed experiences. And so I would be going out to all these parties, they had a lot of friends at that point. But there would still be nights where I’d come home from an evening out with my friends and I’d still feel terribly empty inside and I couldn’t understand it. I had just been with all these people. I still felt pretty lonely and you know one of those nights I was Skyping with one of my friends from far away. And we were having this very deep philosophical conversation about life and I said, “Wow, I wish all conversations could be like this. This is awesome”. And he was like, ‘Yes, screw small talk”. And I was like, yeah, screw small talk. Why do we even make small talk?
And I thought you know what if when talking to our friends, coworkers or even complete strangers, we could always just skip the small talk and instead talk about the things that really mattered in life or things that you both actually really cared about and wanted to talk about. And so I was like wait, screw small talk, skipping the small talk. We should make big talk and I thought the name was kind of cute and I didn’t really know what to do with it at the time but I kind of just like sacked in my back pocket and just thought about it for a bit. And so that was the end of my sophomore year of college.
And then the following summer I was getting very involved in my journalism program and I had the opportunity to do some documentary projects abroad and I spent three weeks in Ecuador filming a documentary about education reform. And those three weeks were the best three weeks of my life. We were traveling throughout the entire country, interviewing strangers, everyone we encountered about education in the country and it didn’t matter if we were like gliding down the Amazon River or climbing the Andes Mountains or salsa dancing through the colonial streets of Cuenca, everywhere we went we were being open to new people, new experiences and every day was a new adventure. And the picture on the top left, right, was actually taken when one day we had run into these professors at this university and they invited us into their villa overlooking the Andes Mountains, we ended up drinking wine with them all evening and salsa dancing. And I was like, wow, why didn’t this ever happen with my college professors back home.
There’s something different in the way I’m approaching life when I’m traveling, the way I’m more open to people and it invites these kind of magical experiences, and towards the end of my trip I actually started getting really scared to go back home to my everyday life. I didn’t want to lose this magic — this magic of being abroad and I thought, you know, how can I make every day life feel this meaningful and look this beautiful?