Kat Vellos helps people forge better friendships through fresh, thoughtful, new (and classic) mediums. By using her roots in design thinking — not to mention her incredible book, We Should Get Together — she's tackling the loneliness epidemic head-on. And if you want to know how to make friends as an adult, or how to facilitate that experience for others, this episode is a must-listen.
Making friends as an adult can be difficult. Add a pandemic to that, and you've got one tough hurdle. But Kat actually says that the pandemic improved the situation on the loneliness epidemic front. She's got a bunch of advice and knowledge in this department — from “intimish” events to platonic speed dating — plus some wonderful alternatives to overused conversation starters. (Can we please stop defaulting to “how are you?”)
And actually, we were so into the letter-writing idea Kat offers in this interview that we'll even send you one (if you write to us first). Hit us up @TeamSPI on Twitter and we'll send you an address!
Kat Vellos is a speaker, facilitator, and trusted expert on the power of cultivating meaningful friendship and community. With the publication of her book, We Should Get Together: The Secret to Cultivating Better Friendships, Kat turned her background in UX design towards combating the loneliness epidemic. Her goal is to help millions of people experience greater wellness and fulfillment through thriving platonic relationships. She’s discussed the transformative power of invitation on TED Talks, how to navigate withering friendships in the New York Times, and ways to cultivate better friendships on The Good Life Project. Her post about why we need alternatives to “how are you” went viral, inspiring thousands of people to have better conversations. Learn more at WeShouldGetTogether.com and KatVellos.com.
In This Episode:
- The root of Kat's passion for creating better adult friendships
- Applying design thinking and intentionality to friendships
- Why friendships are not automatically “effortless”
- Analog connection and the overlooked gift of letter-writing
- How the pandemic actually improved the loneliness epidemic
- Greate alternatives to weary conversation starters like “how are you?”
- Sparking and maintaining new friendships during the pandemic
- Falling in friendship from a distance and platonic speed dating
- “Intimish” events
- What's on Tony and Jillian's browser tabs
- Slowly app
- Good Talk: How to Design Conversations That Matter by Daniel Stillman
- The Business of Belonging by David Spinks
- Also check out our interview with David on episode 003!
The CX 011: Falling in Friendship and Analog Connection with Kat Vellos
Tony Bacigalupo: Our guest today is Kat Vellos, author of We Should Get Together: The Secret to Cultivating Better Friendships, and the followup bonus chapter, Connected from Afar: A Guide for Staying Close When You're Far Away. Kat has so much to offer in terms of how to forge better friendships through, maybe mediums that you're not used to thinking of. She's got a lot to offer, can't wait to get into it in this episode with the amazing Kat Vellos.
Hello, and welcome friends to The Community Experience. I got your hosts Tony Bacigalupo here, and Jillian Benbow.
Jillian Benbow: Hello.
Tony: So, I met Kat Vellos right before everything went to hell with lockdowns, and COVID, and all of that. Took a trip to San Francisco for a thing, met Kat outside in a park, and she and my friend Jillian Richardson, our episode one —
Jillian: That Jillian.
Tony: Kat came and met the both of us, and she had branded tote bags with her book, and some postcards, and some little things in it. And the tote bag just said, "We should get together." And immediately I thought, "Instant friend." I was already such a fan. But I'm going to interview this person on every podcast that I get a chance to. And so, we finally got that chance today. As you're listening, if you're up for multitasking, check out her Instagram while you're listening. It's @KatVellos_Author on Instagram. She's such an amazing illustrator, great use of color and simple imagery, to make it easier to make friends. And doubly so, during a pandemic when it's hard for us to get connected, stay connected. So, I'm very excited to get into this conversation.
Jill, what are you looking forward to in this conversation?
Jillian: Oh, just all of it. So, I did not know until right now, along with all of y'all, that that's how you met Kat, and it was with that Jillian, because during the interview I was thinking, "Wow, she reminds me so much of Jillian." Just the wanting people to be friends, and there's definitely this disconnect for those of us, if you're not in school, or you don't have kids in school, to find friends as adults. And so, I think just talking about that, and ways to make connections, and just what that means in a pandemic — I'm super stoked to dive into that, because I think it's something that we're all thinking about.
Tony: Kat's books have a ton of activities of very, very simple prompts, just simple things that you can do with a friend, often at distance, to have more of a substantive connection. And she's also been very passionate about giving you great alternatives to the phrase, "How are you doing?" So, I'm looking forward to sharing all of that with you, and much more, as we get into this interview with the wonderful Kat Vellos, on The Community Experience.
Hello, Kat. Hurray, hurray. I am so, so, so glad that we get to spend some time together on the show.
Kat Vellos: Hey, Tony. So, so glad to be here. Thanks so much for the invitation, I'm looking forward to it.
Tony: Yeah, I appreciate you taking the time. Jill, I'm excited to introduce you to Kat, Kat is amazing.
Tony: So Kat, we're still in it. As of the time we're recording this it's still happening. You know, the idea of loneliness, creating friendship, creating a sense of belonging, we've certainly had to learn a lot about it over the course of the pandemic. We're heading into colder weather months, and dealing with all of the things. Just start us off, tell me a little bit about you, how you grew to become passionate about friendship, and helping people forge better connection.
Kat: Yeah. So, it's really when I look back at my life and then say, "Well, I started caring about it there," and it's like, why did I care about it there? And I look back further, and then I ask again, and then I look back further. Ultimately, the short and long answer is that I moved a lot when I was a kid, and I was also pretty shy, and had that experience of starting over in new schools, and things like that. And not always feeling like I was one of the gang as a kid in that kind of situation. And so, it really wasn't until the second half of high school that I got the experience of having really ongoing best friends, and then later on in college and early adulthood having that experience of really, really deep belonging with friends that I felt so close to.
And so, kind of being a late bloomer in that way, I think it gave me a special appreciation, and enthusiasm around connection, because I know what it's like to not have it. And as I've grown into this in adulthood, and been a part of different community groups, some I was a participant of, some I was the leader of, it's something that it's always been the place where I feel at home, is with people who really genuinely care about belonging and connection. And then, of course, over the last several years I wrote a book about adult friendship because, as we get older into the other decades of life, our navigation around connection and friendship adjusts around the many changes that come into our life. And that's true for as long as we're alive.
And so, it's something that, again, came out of the experiences I've had of not having exactly the kind of connection I wanted, finding it, and getting super jazzed about it, and wanting that for everybody, honestly. I want it for everybody.
Tony: You're in good company there, we all feel very much similar. And I just love that in the book that you wrote, and then kind of the followup book that you wrote, very shortly thereafter, specifically with the remote side of things in mind, Connected From Afar: A Guide For Staying Close When You're Far Away. I just love that you're applying your design expertise to making these kinds of things very accessible. Can you speak to that a little bit?
Kat: Sure. So, the first book we share together very, very clearly focused on the benefits of having in-person friendships, or friendships that you can get to without needing a plane to get involved. And in that process I had to decide what's the scope for this body of work? Is it about every kind of friendship, including online friendship, and in-person friendship, and long distance friendship? And I was like, "No, I'm going to make the scope about this primarily about the friendships that you can, hopefully, prioritize seeing face-to-face." And then, of course, the pandemic happened. And so, I took some of the concepts that were not included in We Should Get Together, and put them into the addendum, which is sort of like the extra chapter of We Should Get Together, is kind of what you got in Connected From Afar, and really making that an action guide so that people who want to just literally start taking action right now, there's like six weeks, or six months of weekly prompts that you can use.
Because it takes intention, and it takes purpose to really have the friendships that you want to experience. And so, being a designer, to me, there's all kinds of designs, and I practice design in a variety of modalities. And to me, the underlying thread connecting them all is about intention. It's like, how are you bringing intention to this? What is the vision, and what research, and steps can you put into place to help you achieve that vision? And so, that's really what it's all about for me, in terms of saying how can we make design accessible, or how can we apply design to these things? It's not saying that the goal is to somehow have ... To design designer-brand friendships, or anything like that, or that friendship is supposed to be something that is overly designed, or overly constructed. That's not the goal, but it's to say how are you bringing purpose and intention to the things that you do?
Because one of the biggest frustrations I hear from adults who are struggling with friendship is that they feel like it's supposed to be effortless. They feel like it's just supposed to be this thing that just magically and organically happens, all by itself, because maybe that's how it was when you were five and on the playground, or something. But we're not the same people. Our lives are more complicated, our needs are more nuanced. And so, sometimes you actually do got to get involved, and be purposeful in the kinds of conversations you create, and who you create them with.
Tony: A lot of people struggle to make friendships, and figure out how to hang out with people, especially from afar. But a lot of what you teach people about is very simple activities that do require a little bit of effort, a little bit of stepping outside, but ultimately are quite simple. And I think that helps to demystify things. And of course, your awesome little illustrations make that that much more accessible. And maybe this is kind of your updated perspective now that we're maybe a year and a half or so past that added chapter, what have you seen that's really worked or that you just keep coming back to as an easy win as you talk to people about how to navigate building friendships from afar?
Kat: The things that I find that people say are most successful are when they really honor what their, and their friends, preferences and needs are, and not being overly demanding that connection has to happen in any one certain way. So, for example, one of the people I've spoken with recently said how, for them, having a standing weekly Zoom link that they share with their five or 10 close friends, or acquaintances, or whatnot, or friends of friends. And so, they know that hey, on Monday night if I want to hang out with somebody I can go to this link, and there'll be at least one other person there, possibly 10 people there. And so, the regularity of that has really worked for them. And the fact that they happen to all be people who want to connect over a video hangout is also what works for them.
And I've also had people who were a part of a community I ran this last year, called Connection Club, who were like, "You know what? The last thing I want to see at the end of the day is another video meeting." And so, they really got into writing letters, and Connection Club was really about nurturing our friendship through writing letters to each other, and sending them, old fashioned, with stamps in the mail. Because the opportunity to do something analog, and the opportunity to do something that takes you offline was really nurturing, and really supporting for people who have been feeling a little bit burnt out. And so, I think it's important to, A, know that you have a variety of options, and be ... Honor what you need, and it's also okay to invite a conversation with a friend and be like, "Hey, I'd love to keep in touch with you more. I'm feeling kind of zonked on these kinds of ways. What do you think about doing these kinds of things?"
Or mixing it up, and seeing where they land, because the fact is no one way is going to work maybe 100 percent of the time for everybody. And unless we're being adaptable, and flexible, and creative, we're going to get really frustrated and kind of tired. So, it's important to bring that openness, and curiosity to the people in your life as well as give yourself that openness and curiosity, too.
Tony: I love that.
Jillian: I feel like you're speaking Tony's language with the cards in the mail. It's just such easy way to make someone's day, because we never get real mail anymore. Everything's digital. Most of the mail I get, it's usually for my neighbor. But if it's for me, it's something I didn't want, it's junk mail. So, to get a card in the mail is such a delight. I'm super curious, Kat, what you personally ... How do you connect with your friends? Especially in these pandemic-y times? What are the tried and true ways that just speak to you?
Kat: So, I definitely love snail mail, like I mentioned there, whether it's cards and letters, because it is the most low-pressure way to interact. There's also a quote I really love, I think it's by Lord Byron who says, "Letter writing combines solitude and good company at the same time." And I like both of those things.
Tony: That's an amazing quote.
Kat: Yeah, because it doesn't interrupt you, and you feel like you're spending time with someone when you read a letter to them, and you get to send it to them, and when they get it, it's just a happy thing to get. It's never like, "An interruption," or it's bad timing, or whatever. You can choose when to open it, you can pour a cup of tea and sit down. So, that's one of my favorites. I also love phone calls. Obviously I love face-to-face, but in the pandemic that ... I prioritize physical health very, very high, and I think that's most important. And so, I've taken a step back during multiple of these surges to be like, "No. I'm not really feeling comfortable with the face-to-face hangout, but that doesn't mean I don't care about you, that doesn't mean I don't want to connect with you."
Another cool thing that I tried during the pandemic, and it's an app called Slowly. And it's a pen pal app for people who don't want to be in the rush of immediate communication. So, they've done a really fascinating thing. So, it's digital, you write letters to each other over this digital format, but the service delays the sending of your message. And then you see your letter flying across the planet to wherever your friend in Spain, or India is, or something. So, you can make these new friends but it's in this way that's so low pressure, and it's intentionally slowed down so that you get the feeling of it being like waiting for a letter in the snail mail. But it's also easier. So, that's been something new that I've been experimenting with, and really enjoying.
Tony: I love that. I feel like having the ability to embrace solitude is very much underrated in terms of feeling a sense of belonging, that you have to be able to belong to yourself. Being alone doesn't mean being lonely, and the idea that something asynchronous, like a physical letter, can be something that you can enjoy in your own terms in the time that works for you, that speaks really deeply to me. We did some video happy hour things, some game nights during the pandemic, during the early days. And most of the time we just weren't feeling up for it when it was happening. And we wanted to hang out, we wanted to talk, we wanted to connect, we just didn't want to at that moment. But when it's a Zoom meeting it happens at a specific time, and whether you like it or not that's when it's happening. Whereas with a letter, you get it, it's a happy surprise, it's not asking anything of you. It's just there for you. And then you can read it when you're ready.
And I think there's a lot of value in thinking about that.
Kat: Yeah, yeah. I encourage it, especially if it's something someone's thinking about that they haven't tried, or they realize they don't even have their friend's address, or something. It's like, go for it. Give it a shot, and see how it feels, because it's a gift to give somebody else, and it's also ... I find it to be a gift to myself as well, to sit down and to quietly focus and communicate in the form of writing.
Tony: You know, I knew that you've had a lot of wisdom to offer even before all of this happened, but one thing that just really blew me away was right when the pandemic hit, and it was like days into it, just right at the very, very beginning. I had immediately jumped to this assumption that, oh man, the epidemic of loneliness was bad before, now it's just going to get worse. And you came in with this prediction that was the opposite. You said that people are actually going to get less lonely because of the pandemic. And there were some studies that came out that bore that out, that indicated that was the case. Can you tell us a little bit about why ... What perspective gave you that kind of ability to make that amazing prediction?
Kat: Thanks, Tony. Ultimately it all comes down to reflecting on what we know about human behavior, and economics. So, supply and demand, as we know, whenever you say, like, "Hey, you can't have this," or it's forbidden, or it's banned, or illicit, like suddenly our attention it increases, and the demand for it often increases alongside that increased awareness, the thing that is supposed to be not had in that moment. And so, anytime you take something away from folks they're going to be like, "No, I want it even more now." I don't know if you've ever hung out with a three-year-old, and been like, "Give me the toy," it's like, "No, the toy is the most important thing in the world to me."
And so, can see that oh boy, this is, A, going to be hard for people to not have this thing that was just so completely freely available before, but also it's going to be ... It's going to hurt a little bit that we can't have it, because we're going to want it even more now. And that very soon in our lifetimes, hopefully, we can go back to the free-for-all of you can have as much connection as you want. When we go back to that face-to-face world, I hope that we hold on to the things that we've learned in this moment of remembering how much it mattered, remembering how important it was to ... During a time where it was scarce, or harder to get, or more dangerous to get, or any of those things that help us really understand the value and priority that connection, particularly face-to-face connection, and hugs, and all those good things, great when you can have them.
Tony: I also want to ask about Connection Club, because I thought it was just such a great idea, and it was exciting to see it coming about. I feel like people were responding really well to it. Have you had any really particularly exciting stories that emerged from it? Or what can you tell us about that experience?
Kat: There were a number of really cool, magical moments that happened. So, I ran it from about August of 2020, to about June or July of 2021. It's on hiatus right now, because it's good to take breaks, and also summertime. But there were a few really magical moments that happened, and one of my favorites ... So, there were a number of times where two people would hop in, and they would realize that they knew each other from some time in their past, and had fallen out of touch. But they both ended up at the same gathering. And one in particular that was so fascinating is one of the women who came, she recognized her full name because years, and years, and years ago she had been an English tutor to this woman who talked about her daughter.
And that's how she knew her daughter, is first and last name. And so, the woman who had been the English tutor, and the daughter, both ended up in the gathering, and realized that they both had the mother in common. She had heard so many lovely things about this daughter years ago, but then suddenly got to meet her now as a grownup. So, that was a really, really fun worlds collide, and sparkle moment.
Tony: I love when there's those moments. And I feel like we have so many moments of discovery when we show up to places. When we show up to gatherings, or meetings where there's something that speaks to us, then we find people that maybe we didn't know before that we now have a spark or connection with, or maybe somebody that we did know from our past, or knew of, but we didn't realize we had this thing in common. So, that's so powerful. And in terms of we talk about community from a lot of different perspectives. But I think part of what I love about what you've done is just really make gathering just between two people, just between yourself and a friend, just so much more accessible. And as I go through your books, there's just so many great little activities. And I'm curious, do you have any ones that you were just really proud of, that you created, that you're just like, "Yeah, this is cool. This is awesome, I like it"?
Kat: So, one that a lot of people seem to think ... They get a chuckle out of it, and enjoy wanting to try it. So, this one's very short, so I'll share a small one and a big one. The small one is, so I don't like small talk, and I really don't like the kind of repetitive questions that get tossed around. Like, "How are you? How's the weather? What do you do?" And so, I had done a bunch of different prompts, really, to start a conversation, or to do a quick check-in, and one of them is what's in your tabs? What's been in your tabs lately on your computer? Because answering that question is more likely to tell you where someone's mind has been, than them just saying, "Oh, I'm doing fine. I'm good." And it's also kind of funny, because that's not a question that we often ask each other.
Towards the end of We Should Get Together, I have a couple of different optional challenges that people can take on if they want to spark up a new friendship, or sort of turbo charge a new friendship. And I had someone reach out to me who had come to one of my friendship workshops to make new friends, and she said that she did that challenge with another woman that she met in the group where you stay in touch with each other for like two weeks straight, or 10 days straight. And she was describing how she felt so much closer to this woman after trying this experiment.
And I think that's really cool to hear back, because the interesting thing about doing this work around connection and friendship is that it feels sometimes like helping people plant seeds, or start a garden in their own life, but I'm not there when that tree bears fruit, I'm not there when the crop comes in next fall. It's really valuable to know how those results worked out for them, because there's a lot. Like We Should Together, there's like 55 different things you could do in there with a friend.
And so, it's really special when people let me know, and stories like that also help me feel motivated, enthusiastic, and really fulfilled, and I’m celebrating their success and it helps me keep going.
Tony: Oh yeah. No, we feel the same way when we get great feedback from our community. It's so heartening, so powerful. And to the point of making more meaningful conversation, getting away from small talk, you recently launched a calendar, the 2022 Better Conversations calendar, which is so beautiful, so brilliant. Just tell me a little bit about it.
Kat: Oh, thank you. Thank you for asking. So yeah, this is something that I've been marinating and hibernating on for a little while, because like I said, I just really ... There's few things I enjoy more than a really beautiful, creative, unexpected conversation. There's a quote I really like, can't remember in the moment who said it, but they basically said something in the effect of the best thing that can happen in a conversation is to hear myself saying something I have never said before. And it's a quote I read in a book called Good Talk if you want to track it down and get the attribution there. But … because I really struggle with the question how are you, particularly when it's used as a greeting, because when people use it as a greeting they don't really want the answer. They just want you to say, "Fine, good. How are you?" Or if you pass somebody on the street, "Oh, hey. How are you?" And they just keep walking. They don't actually care, there's not actually a real —
Tony: Nobody expects an honest response to that. If you give them an honest response, they'll look at you real funny, right?
Kat: Yeah. And it's always really bugged me. And so, I did a calendar that was like a one-month calendar, like here's some alternatives to how are you? And people on the internet, it kind of went viral. I was like, "Wow, I thought I was the only one who felt like this. Thanks. Thank y’all." And then I did a workplace version ... and then it was also going to be like 10 months of alternatives to how was school today? Or what do you do? Or where are you from? These repetitive questions that honestly are overdue for a makeover, and many ... So, we can talk about other things.
Tony: What's in your tabs?
Jillian: I'm so curious, because you mentioned you don't like small talk, and same. We often find ourselves in those situations, whether it's, in non-pandemic times, face-to-face at a conference, or a happy hour, or some sort of event, but also on a Zoom call, and on Zoom. I almost feel like, it's funny, sometimes it's almost harder in a way. I'm curious what some of your personal favorites, kind of the ... Show me your tabs. What other questions are in your back pocket when you're in a situation where you want to get to know someone better, but you also don't want to do the, "Oh, where are you from? What do you do?"
Kat: Yeah. And I'll add a caveat here to say I understand that there's some amount of small talk in life that's necessary. Every conversation needs an on-ramp, and small talk is often the on-ramp. There's other questions we can put on the on-ramp to make it a little more interesting, put some flowers on the side of the road or something, but the goal, hopefully, is to get from the on-ramp onto the freeway.
So, one I did on a meeting the other day, I was planning an event, and somebody asked me, "Oh, how are you?" So, I can't remember which one it was. “Where are you?” I was like, "You know, is it okay if we do a different question?" And she was like, "Yeah, sure." And I was like, "Let's pick up something that's within arm's reach and tell each other the story of it. Or why you keep that near you, or what the importance of that is to you." And so, she had a really cool artistic hourglass that sits on her desk, and she showed it to me on the camera, it was very beautiful, and she told me the story of how she got it, and what it's for, and the meaning of it.
And then I picked up one of my plants, and showed her my plant, and explained how much I love plants, and how long I've had this one, and why I got it. And it was like a cool way to learn just a skosh more about each other. Something a little bit personal but not too vulnerable, but a way to do a different kind of warmup to a convo that helps us place each other as well in physical space. And is different than just generic chit chat.
Jillian: Tony loves that one. I've been in a meeting where we do that with Tony, and I thought it was ... Like you said, it's just a great way to dig deeper, faster, especially in a situation where you may have never been face-to-face, for sure.
Kat: Another one I really like, if you're looking for another one you can try, is as a warmup or check-in to a convo, just being like, "What are your go-to snacks lately, good food to have around because we're all at home, and —
Jillian: I really like that one.
Kat: — we're tired of eating apples and peanut butter. What are you doing to stay alive?
Jillian: What crazy combination have you put together that worked out? Absolutely. I find being on Zoom so much it can be kind of challenging to keep conversations going, especially in the situation where it's more professional, say, than friends, because I think established friendships have that level of comfort to them. Like silence is not uncomfortable and what not, because you know that person. But there's definitely, especially with the pandemic, where it all just kind of ... We saw it coming and we're like, "Oh, that doesn't look good." And then it's like and now here it is. And we went from our every day existence to lockdowns, and all of that. And I think it made new friendships a little harder in a way, unless you're the type of person that is just ... And I'm not. But just really outgoing, and are going to circle back to that person, and figure out a way to connect based on the health guidance terms of the day, of the week.
Have you talked to a lot of people about that? Kind of the newer friendships when people are still establishing if it is an acquaintance, or a friendship, or whatnot, and just to keep it alive in these times where getting together in person isn't always available?
Kat: Yeah. And having myself been able to spark a couple of new friendships in the last year. I think, A, that it's definitely possible. And B, similar to what I was saying before, it's like being really upfront with each other about tell me what you're feeling open to, or tell me what you're feeling really tired of, if you want to keep the conversation going. And with one of my newer friends, it's been a combination of saying text and phone calls work really good for us. With somebody else, it was like let's schedule a bi-weekly water cooler, shop talk, work talk kind of phone call.
And so, normalizing the fact that you desire more of this conversation and connection with the person, and saying, "What works for you? Do you want to make it bi-weekly? Monthly? And then experimenting from there.
Jillian: Yeah. That's great. You make it sound so easy, I love it. It's encouraging.
Kat: Thank you.
Jillian: So, when I was checking out your website, WeShouldGetTogether.com, I was looking at your Here To Make Friends event, and I was wondering if you wanted to talk a little bit about this, because it just sounds super cool. And totally out of my comfort zone, so I'm like, "Ooh, I should do this."
Kat: Yeah. So, Here To Make Friends is exactly what it sounds like. It's a platonic, speed dating sort of event. And so, that event, I get a set number of RSVPs. It's an intimish event, and there's a certain survey you got to take so I can learn a little bit more about you, and figure out who you might be compatible with in the room. So, there's a lot of curation that goes into the introductions that get made.
But it's kind of like a little turbo charge at the start to be like, "Yes, you know that everyone who is here wants to form a new friendship. So no, you do not need to feel awkward, or nervous to reach out to them to hang out, or talk again," because they literally are here saying, "I want to hang out." Because there's a lot of ambiguity around friendships for a lot of people. We don't have a relationship defining talk, and we don't typically have a format to express. Like, "So, tell me what you're looking for. Are you just making acquaintances? Are you looking for longterm besties?" Whereas in romantic relationships, or dating, we do talk about that. It's totally normal.
And so, Here To Make Friends is a way to say, "Look, everyone who's here has the same goal and has marked how open they are to being reached out to again, and here's a little bit about each other."
Jillian: Yeah. That's just amazing, and I love how you said if you're in this room it's intentional, and you're taking away that big guesswork for those of us in the high anxiety club that overthink everything as far as like, "Oh, well I really like talking to this person, but I feel weird reaching out." As you said, you know that they're there with the same kind of goals, which takes away the scariest part. It's genius. And I'm assuming, let me know, but I'm assuming that geography isn't necessarily at the forefront of these relationships because it is all a virtual experience. I'm guessing people are in breakout rooms from kind of all over, and you go in knowing that. It's not going to be necessarily someone in your area?
Kat: The goal really is for people who are open to making a friend, who might live anywhere. And trusting that it is possible to still maintain and develop a friendship from a distance, because A, most of us already have a long distance friend, or five. Whether it's your friends from high school, or college, or a past job, or a band you used to be in, or whatever, people move. And people move a lot. And so, chances are you understand people are going to move, even if they're in your town right now they might move away next year. And so, it's okay to make a friend in another place. And the other thing that I find also to be somewhat reassuring is to say, "Every single day of our lives people fall in love long distance, they fall in love on the internet or maintain romantic relationships from a distance when needed, for some amount of time."
And so, it's okay to also fall in friendship from a distance, or to maintain a new friendship from a distance, if that's what you're dealing with. Because even if someone's in my town right now, it feels like a long distance friendship because we're in a pandemic and I probably haven't seen you in a long time.
Jillian: It's so true. It's so true. And there's something about you just think about online dating, it used to be so kind of like, oh, what? And now it's so normal, and just a every day thing, everybody's on some app. And the same for friendship. It's okay to normalize "internet friends," or it used to be something that was kind of weird. And now it's just a thing. It just is. And it's one of the benefits of technology. It's beautiful.
Kat: I think so, too. I think so, too. It's cool to think about geography of where all your friendships might be in the world if you were to actually make a map of it.
Tony: Kat, I wanted to check in before we get to our rapid fire questions at the end. When you were talking about your event, I thought I heard you say the word intimish. Did I just make that up in my head?
Kat: Yeah. No, that's what I said. Yeah.
Kat: Because the definition of what's an intimate event varies, for some people that's like three people and for others it's like 25 or so. And so, I said intimish, meaning that it's capped at a smallish number of people to be, A, manageable in terms of not feeling overwhelmed when you go into a space and be like, "What's going on? Who am I going to meet, and how am I going to keep track of who's who?" So, by intimish it's like 20 to ... The most I've had was like 40. But again, you're connecting mostly in small groups with each person, so you have this intimate experience even if the room maybe is that big. So, that's what I mean by intimish.
Tony: I would love to go to more intimish events. I love it. I hope that becomes more popular as a word. All right Kat, thank you so much. Jillian is going to walk you through the rapid fire questions. And then we're going to get your contact info on the internets, and how people can find you.
Jillian: We're ready. Kat, are you ready?
Kat: I'm ready.
Jillian: All right. Okay. So, first question, Kat, when you were a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
Kat: When I was a small child I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. Probably would've involved reading books all day. But the earliest thing I can remember, being like, "Oh, that sounds like a cool job," was a flight attendant. I was like, "You get to just fly places for free?" I'm like, "That sounds amazing."
Jillian: That is such a great answer. I can totally see that, because they're important, and they have fancy outfits, and they get to be the keeper of the snacks.
Kat: The little outfit, the pin, the little pin on the ... There were so many cool things about it. I was like, "That seems cool." I don't want that job anymore, but I remember, I don't know, maybe in middle school or high school, I was like, "Oh, that sounds kind of fun."
Jillian: Just getting to see the world, and all their crazy stories, that could be its own actually ... That would be an amazing reality show. Like the flight crew, what they do with their off time. Okay, next question. Kat, how do you define community?
Kat: The definition of community that I really like is one that kind of gets honestly used quite a bit around this space, I like the way Carrie Melissa Jones articulates it. It has to do with a group of people who have mutual concern and care for each other's growth and wellbeing, and that can apply as long as that is true, whether you have a group of three, or 3,000. As long as there's that mutual commitment and concern for each other's growth and wellbeing, that can be a community.
Jillian: That's a great definition. I like that it's very we-focused, and other-focused, you know?
Jillian: I like that. Okay. Something on your bucket list that you have done.
Kat: Something on my bucket list that I have done, is I took a sabbatical. It was about eight years ago. I still think about it every day. That was amazing.
Jillian: I'm curious what that meant to you. Did you physically go somewhere? Or did you just stay local and just focus on anything in specific?
Kat: Yeah, I did physically leave. So, I was in between a state move, so I was moving from one state to another. So, I left my job, left my apartment, it was a really good pause moment on life. I went to live in an intentional community, and I originally thought I was only going to do like a three month sabbatical, but I ended up staying for a year, which was a wonderful choice. And then I moved to the state I was planning to move to after that, which was California, and picked up the rest of my life. And the big takeaway from that is it seemed ... There's a lot of things in life that seem like you can't do them because it's like how could I ever do that? I would hear people doing this before, and I was like, "What? How did you do that?" But everything is figureoutable. If you plan for it, budget for it, figure out what you're going to put your stuff in storage, whatever, you can do the thing. You can make it happen.
Everything else can wait if you really decide you want that time for yourself to, whether it's create art, or heal, or write, or whatever. You can do it.
Jillian: Kat, you are so cool. That is so awesome. I want to live vicariously through you. Okay Kat, what is something on your bucket list that you have yet to do but really want to?
Kat: I would really love to snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
Jillian: I've done that, and I can confirm, it's amazing. Okay.
Kat: That sounds so beautifully amazing.
Jillian: So pretty. Little scary, because you hear about all the shark stuff there, but —
Kat: That does concern me.
Jillian: But actually it's not. It's fine. Don't let it stop you. Okay, what is a book you've read lately, or you just love so much that you want everyone to know about it?
Kat: Well, I recently read The Business of Belonging, by David Spinks, and it's a great book. Really, for anybody who is either working in communities, or wanting to, it really, really captures so many of the best insights, and practices, and nuances of doing community work. And it's a really easy read. I love his conversational tone in his writing. And it's super actionable and practical, too. So, that's one I just recently finished. And I love telling people about it.
Jillian: For sure, yeah. It's great. I agree. Well, I listened to it, but same. It's just very personable, easy, easy to get through content, and I think anybody just getting into community just should read it. It's a great jumping in ... I really liked it, too. Okay. And if you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?
Kat: Well, can I also assume that I can speak any language? Because the problem is I pretty much am only fluent in English, so that kind of limits my options.
Jillian: That's the beauty of a hypothetical. We can do whatever.
Tony: That's an awesome followup question. Yeah, yeah.
Kat: Gosh, one place? There's so many places I think would be cool to live. I think it would be really cool to ... I'd like to spend some more time in Mexico. I've never been to South America. I'm from Central America but I've never been to South America, and that's another place I'd love to go where I currently do not have the language ability to fully navigate myself as a person. I don't know if I can say with a very informed choice, like, "Oh, this is the place I would want to live," per se. But these are places I am curious about, and that I would love to learn about, spend more time in, and hopefully by the time I get there, communicate better as well.
Jillian: And Kat, how do you want to be remembered?
Kat: I guess I'd want to be remembered as somebody who just helped plant the seeds of connection for more people to experience the fruit of that in their lives.
Jillian: I love that. Awesome.
Kat: Thanks for asking.
Jillian: Yeah. Well, great. Kat, where can people find you?
Kat: So, I am on the internet. My website is WeShouldGetTogether.com. And I'm on Instagram, @KatVellos_author. And on Twitter @KatVellos. And those are pretty much the only social media things we check regularly. Every once in a blue moon I'll log into LinkedIn, and be like, "Oh, someone might send me a message here. Woops." I don't really use LinkedIn, I'd really rather not ever use Facebook, even though I know they own Instagram, or whatever. But I think it's important to have boundaries around how much social media world you're going to get sucked into, and those are the ones I've agreed to do.
Jillian: There you go. I feel you on that. Thank you so much for being on The Community Experience.
Kat: Thanks so much for having me. This was really, really sweet.
Tony: All right, that was our conversation with the incredible Kat Vellos, so much that she has to offer. And really, you're listening to this, go check out her Instagram, she has some incredible visualization. She's an artist, she draws really, really great visuals for some of the concepts that she's trying to explain.
Jillian: And definitely check out her calendar, it's so cute. Speaking of you can tell she's an artist first. I am buying it.
Tony: Jillian, give me your top takeaway. What's landing for you the strongest coming out of it?
Jillian: You know, I think so many things, but overall just the concept of asking people questions that aren't the how you doing? And I like the idea of it even catching someone off-guard a little bit, kind of like the tabs that she mentioned, the what tabs do you have open in your browser? Which, one, I also think is hilarious because you don't know what you're asking. Depending who it is. You might be like, "Nevermind, I wish I wouldn't have asked you." But that's also interesting, you just get right to the meat of, do I want to fall into friendship with you? Or did you just freak me out? Thank you for letting me know now.
Tony: I'm now wondering what's in my browser tabs.
Jillian: I kind of want to ask you, although it's not fair because we're doing work stuff so it's probably work stuff. Or is it?
Tony: It's honestly almost all work stuff. Although, I will say there is one tab that is a video of a live performance of the Foo Fighters and Rick Astley performing Never Gonna Give You Up in the style of Smells Like Teen Spirit.
Tony: So, there you go.
Jillian: Well, Slack that over to me, please.
Tony: That's going straight to you.
Jillian: Yeah. I have absolutely nothing interesting in my tabs, because it's all ... Well, it's work interesting, it's not personal interesting. So, no one gets to learn about me.
Tony: Not a single Glowforge project ...
Tony: ... tab?
Jillian: Nope, I did that before work. I was lasering this morning. Yeah. But yeah, I just think just the asking someone a question that you don't always hear in a icebreaker-y sort of situation, is cool and refreshing for that person too, because they actually have to think about it. It's not, "Hi. Yeah, my name's Jillian. I work in community," and then getting to explain what that means. And then have to explain it again because the first explanation didn't make sense because no one knows what it means. There's something about if someone said, "What's the last thing you Googled?" Or, "What was the last thing you fell down a wormhole about?" And mine would be regulations about 1099 independent contractors, in case anyone was wondering. I went down a big wormhole.
Tony: Oh, fun.
Jillian: What are the boundaries?
Tony: Very, very fun.
Jillian: It's a highly abused thing. Also not that interesting, but that was mine. What about you, Tony? What was your big takeaway?
Tony: You know, as a community organizer who has also worked with a lot of community organizers through the pandemic, the ... And dealing with the fact that thanks to Delta, and everything that's going on, we're not able to necessarily just go right back to normal. We are still going to have to deal with people who are not comfortable gathering. Being pragmatic about the most practical ways of gathering. Recognizing that different people are going to want to connect in different ways. I might get one handwritten letter in the mail in a given week, but that one handwritten letter could actually be more valuable than 10 hours worth of Zoom happy hours, just because it's more in alignment with where my actual needs are.
And in some cases we need to embrace the fact that our communities might be better off practicing embracing solitude, and doing so in a way where we can still feel connected while we're doing it. So, all of that I think is just very interesting, very useful.
Jillian: Totally agree.
Tony: In contrast to forcing video meetings for everything all the time.
Jillian: Yeah. There's also just something beautiful about slowing your roll. Sending a snail mail. One of my best friends and I have a friendship ball, we call it. It looks like an ornament, but it's brass, and it opens. And we just send it back and forth to each other with just a little ... It's not supposed to be expensive, or fancy, just a little friend thing that we'll send back and forth, which, Sara, if you're listening, you've had that for like two years. She did build a house, and move three times, and she has an excuse. But it's fun, it's just this fun little thing —
Tony: But you know what? No rush.
Jillian: Yeah, no rush. No rush. Slow roll. Slow your roll.
Tony: Amazing. Well, I had a great time. I'm so glad that we got to share some of Kat's wisdom with the audience. I hope all of you listening, I hope all of you tuning in enjoyed that. Go check out Kat's amazing resources, check out her books, all of her great stuff. And keep doing your thing, keep bringing people together. Keep finding belonging, even if it's by yourself. And write a friend a letter.
Jillian: Yes, hit us up on Twitter. Let us know what little thing you decided to do based on this episode. We'd love to hear. I'm going to write a handwritten letter after we're done recording-
Tony: And you know what? By the by, DM us if you want to write us a letter. We'll send you an address.
Jillian: Oh. All right. We'll do that, too.
Tony: How about that?
Jillian: How about that?
Tony: Love it.
Tony: All right, friends. Keep at it. Send us letters, and we will talk to you next time on The Community Experience.
This has been The Community Experience. For more information on this episode, including links and show notes, head over to SmartPassiveIncome.com/listen.
Jillian: You can find Kat on Twitter, @KatVellos, on Instagram, KatVellos_author, and of course on her website, WeShouldGetTogether.com. Your hosts are me, Jillian Benbow, and Tony Bacigalupo. The Community Experience is a production of SPI Media.
Tony: Our executive producer is Matt Gartland, our series producers are David Grabowski and senior producer Sara Jane Hess. Editing and sound design by Duncan Brown, music by David Grabowski.
Jillian: See you next time.
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