The Third Tier
I was in Portland, OR this weekend for XOXO Fest 2013. I stayed with Myke and Matt. I say “stayed” but the proper term is “crashed like a goddam animal.” I mostly just assumed it would be ok and showed up to snuggle between two queen size beds. They were cool. It was damp.
We really invested in one another. “Invested” sounds cute. It’s the kind of word that would be printed on something and then you’d click to Pinterest it. But it’s the right word. We devoted our time and effort to each other.
The word (and our efforts in that direction) means something to me because I’ve left too many social situations and conferences and such regretful, feeling like I made poor choices, like I missed the point or missed my chance or missed my wife or something.
I have a theory, a tier theory. There’s people at the top. They’re celebrities. People people know. They walk in and the room changes, everyone’s looking at them out of the corners of their eyes, some are full on staring.
These first-tier folks got there due to work they did, or jokes they made, or something like that. These are the people we look up to and admire… like, a lot.
And we all want them to like us. I, for one, have spent a lot of time and effort trying to get my fav’s like Merlin Mann to like me. I’ve wasted a lot of emotional energy, extended my resources in unnatural ways to try to stand out and be someone who’s easily cool… this never works. This leaves me feeling that “missed the point/missed the chance/miss my wife” kind of feeling.
And then I met Brad and Patrick and Matt and Maja and others who had relationships with all the 1st tier people, but seemed to always be hanging with each other. They wouldn’t line the edges of a crowd around John Gruber. They’d be standing somewhere else, with each other, making each other laugh, buying each other drinks.
Also, they were real welcoming. So light and fun and enjoyable. I felt more like myself when I was around them (as opposed to whatever else I was trying to be with 1st tier folks).
By the way, I totally think this is silly and sorta dumb; putting people into tiers and classes… but I’m going to keep going. It’ll come around. Promise.
Brad and Patrick, et. al., defined a new tier for me. I saw these lovely, kind, funny, welcoming people, I saw how wildly talented they all were, how they were doing work they were proud of, how they’ve been around for a while, long enough to know the first tier people and the fact that first tier people are just regular fucking people who now get approached more than they’d like to be…
And the thing I saw the most was how they invested in one another. They seemed to realize they really liked each other. They turned towards each other and said, “let’s start a club there.” They were for one another and acted accordingly.
Then I saw myself and these guys and gals I was getting close with. We were the 3rd tier. Unknown-ish. A little younger. Just kind of coming of age in our careers. High hopes. Sensitive to the whimsy of our 1st tier swooning. We have heroes. We’re idealistic. We’re adorable and hopeful and earnest and would really like Merlin Mann to listen to our podcasts… like, so much.
And the danger is we could miss out on all the goodness in one another — the birth of each others’ first born kids, the big project launches, the arduous bug fixing nights, the giggles at breakfast as we recited lines from the previous night’s events, the awkward bathroom bonding moments, snuggles — we could miss out on all this due to spending too mcuh emotional energy trying to get Marco Arment to like us… by investing too much in the idea of someone liking us just cuz they’re important. We’d miss out on real love and relationships with one another because we were trying to be somebody to someone who was something.
Now, here’s the thing about the tiers: there are no fucking tiers. The reason why those second tier folks looked so awesome to me is not due to their proximity to the 1st tiers. It might be a by product of that. They spent enough time with the Merlins and Grubers to realize there are no fucking tiers. Just people and desire. Some people a lot of people desire. Some people not many people desire. It’s just people and desire. “So,” they said to themselves, “fuck desire. Let’s find the people we enjoy.”
They didn’t care about the tiers. But saying to myself, “don’t care about the tiers” doesn’t help me very well. It always creeps in.
So what I say instead is, “go all in on the 3rd tier.” Find the people you enjoy. Invest in them. Plan every dinner, lunch, walk, conference, breakfast and hotel choice you can with them.
And welcome others. Delight in the stories of fabulous nerds and hackers and help everyone you rub up against realize we’re all in this together, we’re all lonely humans, we all want to be seen and to be told we don’t look that fat with our shirt off and that the thing we’re making is OK or “pretty cool” and we all want to have someone to go to lunch with and to try a new beer with and to show our super embarrassing sword tattoo to and to sit next to and to wave at us and point to a saved seat when we walk in late. We all want the same shit: we just want to feel comfortable in our own skin.
This is the good stuff. We all have stinky bits, we all need undies, we’re all uncomfortable and worried, so lets make a club there.
The Reeves Tier Theory™ reminds me to dig in, think more human and ask if anyone needs another drink before I go get mine.