Caring with Kat Vellos

Author Kat Vellos understands why it feels hard to care today. In our interview, she says we have to care about outcomes even more, not less.
Caring with Kat Vellos
Published April 12, 2022

Kat Vellos (KatVellos.com) is tired of hearing people on social media tell this one story:

“I’m out of f**ks to give!”

While the declaration started out as good-humored—a way to jest and say, “I’m just so over it!”—today, she says, the story behind the saying now reeks of toxic individuality.

In a world that needs more caring—and, in which people who care about bad outcomes are doing a lot of harm—Kat encourages us to take pride in caring, even more.

But how do we care even more in a time when it feels so hard to keep caring?

Kat Vellos is an author, speaker, facilitator, researcher, and former user experience designer who is on a mission to help people to experience greater authentic connections with each other, and healthy friendships in their personal lives.

She is the author of two books, We Should Get Together: The Secret to Cultivating Better Friendships* and Connected from Afar: A Guide for Staying Close When You’re Far Away*. Her words and work have been seen across TEDx, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fast Company, and dozens of other outlets.

In this interview with host Dave Ursillo, Kat shares wisdom and inspiration including…

  • Why the saying, “I’m out of f**ks to give!” has come to grate her as someone who cares
  • What her extensive research on the modern pandemic of loneliness reveals about the importance of relationships
  • How her experience as a UX designer taught her to be outcome-focused and solution-oriented
  • What we can all learn about caring, including how to care even more, in a time that needs more of us to care about outcomes

Thank you to Kat for joining us on The New Story Is!

If you enjoyed this episode, please rate and review our show wherever you listen—it helps others find and enjoy our show.


S3E1 Episode Transcript

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Dave Ursillo  00:12

Hello, and welcome to The New Story Is, my name is Dave Ursillo. I am the founder of The New Story Company. And this show is all about exploring the stories that shape our time, for better, or for worse. I don’t mean fairy tales, I don’t mean necessarily the stories that we see in movies, on TV, in pop culture. I mean, the stories, the shared narratives, the subtle impressions that govern our perception of things, the way things are in the world, through our own points of view, and those that we share with one another. 

Dave Ursillo  00:51

On The New Story Is, we seek to understand these shared narratives a little better. We critique some of those collective stories that maybe aren’t the best for continuing to tell because the stories we tell largely shaped what our world becomes. 

Dave Ursillo  01:06

On today’s episode, a very special guest for you. Have you ever felt like you care a little too much? For many of us, it’s not an unfamiliar feeling. I know I can relate. 

Dave Ursillo  01:16

Caring in today’s world can feel really, really hard. And it’s easy to understand why there’s so much to care about. And oftentimes, it feels like there’s very little to do with all that caring, from the last two years of pandemic life, to staying constantly engaged as best we can with different social issues and political activism, to staying on top of rapidly changing and really dramatic new cycles, it can feel like there’s just far too much to care about. You might feel tempted as I sometimes do to throw up your hands and say, forget it, I just can’t care as much as I do any longer. And yet, our guest today says that caring is not something that we should give up on. In fact, she’s calling all of us out to keep caring and to care even more. 

Dave Ursillo  02:01

Our guest today is Kat Vellos. Kat you might say is a professional carer. Her work as an author, speaker, facilitator, researcher, and experienced designer all revolve around one thing, caring. She’s on a mission to help people experience greater authentic connection with each other and healthy friendships in their personal lives. 

Dave Ursillo  02:22

As a user experience or UX designer for popular apps like Slack and Pandora in years past, Kat has cared for literally millions of users, probably you and me about how we interact with different programs and services that we use every day, the world over. Kat is also the author of two books. One is called we should get together the secret to cultivating better friendships, and the other is connected from afar, a guide for staying close when you’re far away. Kat, welcome to the new story is and thank you so much for joining us.

Kat Vellos  02:54

Thanks so much for having me, Dave. It’s great to be here with you.

Dave Ursillo  02:58

Yeah, and I want to start Kat by reading an excerpt from a recent newsletter that you wrote that really caught my attention and actually was the, the spark for us getting together to have this conversation. And I should say, as a quick aside and warning to our listeners, we’re going to be using some salty language today. And I have a feeling that Kat really enjoys this language as much as I do. I told her that the F bomb was one of the first words I ever spoke as a human on Earth. So we’re going to let the F bombs fly. And if you’re within earshot of some younger sensitive listeners, you might want to save this for when you have your headphones in or for another time. But you’ve been warned. So Kat with that, you wrote recently, and I’ll quote you here: “You know what? Creating lives friendships, relationships, governments, companies, work environments, neighborhoods, societies, and planet that we want to see and experience all comes down to one thing, giving a fuck about the outcome.” 

Dave Ursillo  04:00

You go on to explain that there’s a saying that swirls around corners of the internet and in pop culture today. And that’s saying there’s some variations to it, but I’m sure our listeners have heard it. That saying is I have zero fucks to give, or I’m out of fucks to give. Now what why is that saying come to grate you so much these days?

Kat Vellos  04:20

Yeah, so I will say I like you, I cherish a well qualified, high quality, well placed curse every now and then too. But my newsletter usually isn’t that salty. But the saying you know it, it’s been, you know, going on years now that people are saying this more and more and more. And at first it was like really funny and really cute. But I’m really tired of it. And the reason that it’s come to grate on me these days is that it kind of glorifies being someone who doesn’t care. As if it’s not admirable to care. 

Kat Vellos  04:56

And as someone who spent a lot of my time as you mentioned, you know in the work that They do, thinking about and caring about outcomes for human beings and caring about how they’re connecting and caring about what the impact is on our society when people lack connection in their lives and meaningful friendships and meaningful community. You know, it’s really like not caring is 180 degrees opposite from the point of my work and the point of this thing that I value so highly. And it concerns me that, you know, it’s one thing to just like, be like, oh, yeah, I don’t care about that. And, you know, move on to the next topic. 

Kat Vellos  05:32

But what I see happening is almost this like glorification of not caring as if like, people who like don’t give a fuck are like badass and cool. And like, admirable, in a way that is like this, almost like toxic individualism. It’s like, for myself, I don’t care about anybody else. I don’t care about, you know, other outcomes or other people or other situations, I give no fuck about anyone, I got to look out for myself. And this sort of dog eat dog. Like, I really think of it as like a toxic individualism that says, like, I only care about myself. And what concerns me about that is like, what happens to society, if everybody takes on that attitude?

Dave Ursillo  06:15

Yeah. I love how you phrase it as a toxic individualism because on the one hand. And I can relate to what you’re saying, I remember when I first started to hear this phrase float floating around like social media, probably like 10 years ago, or so. When when social media still felt like a relatively positive and connected place, we’ll get around to that. 

Dave Ursillo  06:35

But I remember some friends and like bloggers that I was connected with being like, I’m out of fucks to give and thinking, like, That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard, because like, what is a fuck to give anyway, but it just made sense. And over the years, though, and you note this in your newsletter, what you wrote, saying that, this is kind of become this, like, pseudo badge of honor, like I’m too cool to give a fuck anymore. And you you paint this picture with words of like, somebody walking away from like, a burning building, like in slow motion, like, it’s an action movie, like, they just, they, you know, they’re just burning everything down, and they don’t give a shit. 

Dave Ursillo  07:08

And I think we contrast that feeling of walking away from things that are falling down, or are falling apart, and feeling a sense of pride in it. I wonder what that story means? Like, what is the real story there? Do you think, you mentioned toxic individualism, and I totally agree, I’d love to, like parse that apart with you. But do you feel like there’s like some other like sense of disassociation or like desperation? That is kind of like the hidden story beneath this, this proclamation of not caring? Like, what do you think about the origins of the roots of what somebody is saying, when they kind of let it slip, like, out of flux to give?

Kat Vellos  07:55

Yeah, I think it’s a both/and. So on the one hand, you know, as you described, like, the disassociation, there’s a part, like, there’s been studies that show that over the last few decades, even empathy in American culture has been on the decline. And then they study this with particularly young people, like come in high school and college age students. And over time, people are caring less. 

Kat Vellos  08:22

And one of the, you know, theorize, causes for this is that social media culture, you know, online comment culture, where people are really, really cruel to each other often ends up kind of infusing people’s lives with like, oh, like, it’s okay to trash other people. And there’s really no consequence for that it’s okay to like, not care if you hurt somebody, you know, online, because that’s not quite quote unquote, real even though it is very real. And there’s no consequence. And so that sort of feeds this idea that you can say, and do whatever you want. And you can just log off, you can shut your computer, you could walk away after that, and like not actually have to experience the consequence of what happened to the person on the other side. And then there’s also when I think of like, okay, if I put myself in the shoes of someone who’s like, what, I don’t give a fuck anymore, I just have no more foxy gab. I’m like, Well, what gets someone to that place? Like what else could be at play here? 

Kat Vellos  09:23

And you mentioned the word desperation. And I think about that, too, because we live in a world that is increasingly difficult. So from the rising cost of everything from health care to schooling, feeling politically disengaged, or even get horrified at things that so called political leaders are doing. Burnout, you know, living through the pandemic. It is exhausting to also live right now. And I think, Okay, well, if people are really, really tired, they’re really burned out, then sure, they might feel like they don’t have the energy to care. And that’s completely understand All right, it’s like, they’re just focused on trying to stay alive. And when we have a society that lives too long in survival mode, rather than, like, say thriving mode, yeah, that might happen. People might be feeling so worn down and burnout that they’re like, I’m too exhausted, to actually get more involved to change the outcomes of the world around me that I see happening. 

Kat Vellos  10:24

But we have to find a balance with completely checking out and not caring, and just like shutting our eyes and turning our back on all of that, because it does affect us, even if we try to ignore it. And like overdoing it with being like, everybody has to care like 110% Every day, like that’s also not the answer, because that’s a different path to burnout. And so I really think it takes some intention, it takes some kind of finding that middle path, but also acknowledging that it’s not cool to not care. 

Kat Vellos  10:58

When I was thinking about this, coming up to our conversation today, I was thinking about, you know, who were the people who care who were the people who get things done. And either positive or negative, for good or evil, that people who care about the outcome are the ones who take action and get shit done, whether their actions are beautiful, or horrifying. You can think about like, you can have a goal and it can be to heal society or to start a war. But if you care about that goal, and you want to make it happen, you’re going to do it. And we’re seeing that right now. Unfortunately, like the dreadful invasion of the Ukraine, from Russia, and it’s like, he cares about the outcome in a way that many of us are now being called to care about the outcome right now. But if we just say, I don’t give a fuck, what does that mean, for the entire world? What does that mean for all of us? If we just be like, I don’t give a fuck about?

Kat Vellos  11:48

Yeah. So it sounds callous. To summarize a bit of your point of view here, it sounds like on the one hand, there are like environment, there are a lot of environmental conditions, such as the nature of the internet and social media and how that’s so entwined with culture, more or less the world over, at least in you know, like industrialized nations. Kind of like warping how we all relate to self expression. And in caring, and that’s kind of a having an effect. It seems like the research shows on empathy, especially in young people, which I find really alarming because I feel like it may be like an overgeneralization. But I feel like young people and young adults are historically the ones who we think care the most, and have the most caring and advocacy and they’re willing to risk the most. And, you know, when they’re when they’re either being, I know, historically, young people aren’t the most active voters, but being politically engaged and being the boots on the ground in terms of advocacy and things. So that’s kind of a scary thought. 

Dave Ursillo  12:53

But it also sounds like so there’s the environmental side of things, so to speak, but also the nature of what’s been going on in the world causing so much like burnout and exhaustion, and emotional fatigue, as well as like, let’s say, like, you know, manipulation and gaslighting on certain levels of, you know, the whole post truth era in which we’re living and like, what is real, what isn’t like, That’s exhausting, too. But what I’m hearing you say is that caring is not all necessarily good, but not having it has consequences. And it sounds like for you. 

Dave Ursillo  13:32

And as a as a UX designer, especially where like, everything you do is really about trying to understand outcomes and also trying to encourage the right outcomes for people for users of different programs and services. That caring is absolutely essential if you want anything to happen or want anything to change. And you start to mention about why caring matters. Why to you is is caring so important, has caring always felt like a part of you on a personal level, or soul level or gut level? Or is it something that you came to maybe learn the importance of over time based on like, your life and your experiences?

Kat Vellos  14:16

When I think about I’ve always been a sensitive person, like even when I was a kid, like, adults around me would be like, You’re too sensitive, like why are you crying? And I’m like, because I have feelings and emotions. So I would I think ever since my entire life, early childhood, I’ve been a really sensitive person and who feels things really deeply. And I don’t know if that means I can walk around being like I’m a caring person. I think I’m a caring person. I tried to be a caring person. But I think that being someone who feels things very sensitively overlaps with the amount that I care when I see pain when I see beauty when I see, you know, all of these things happening in the world around us. 

Kat Vellos  15:06

And so yeah, I think that’s something that’s always been a part of who I am and likely plays into why I chose to do the work that I’m doing right now, you know, since writing, we should get together, and really taking the full focus of my work attention in the world, into how can we help people live more healthy, connected lives with healthy friendship and community, which is one of the greatest sources of physical health, emotional health and mental health. 

Kat Vellos  15:36

And think about how much that means to me. You know, I love the work that I did as a UX designer as well. But this is like 100x more meaningful to me in terms of like, what it means if we are successful at this school, like what it means for society, what it means for humanity. You know, I love the work I did before. And you mentioned, you know, that when you’re you’re exercising, you have to care about the outcome. And I can share more about that if you want, but I think I’m kind of rambling right now, if you want to like, I’ll tell you,

Kat Vellos  16:09

because there’s two tracks, and I’m so interested in going down one is about like your book we should get together. And like everything around that. There’s also this question and curiosity that I have about UX design, and how that reinforced this caring side of you and the sensitive side of you that cared about outcomes, whether it’s people or the results of things. 

Dave Ursillo  16:29

So maybe we can table the book chapter moment, because for our listeners who don’t know what UX design is, could you and like, I think I know what it is, because I’ve been on the internet for for my whole life. But can you give us a really simplified understanding of what user experience or UX design is and what a UX designer does? Yeah, so

Kat Vellos  16:52

the shortest simplest answer I usually give to this question is person who is a UX designer, user experience designer, their ultimate goal is to ensure that the experience is user friendly. Most people understand what it’s like to use an app or a website that’s user friendly. And we definitely know what it’s like when it’s not user friendly. It’s confusing, it makes you angry, you want to throw your phone across the room, because you’re like, I don’t understand what’s happening. Like, why isn’t the button working? Like, you know, things like that we know what it’s like when the web works badly. Or an app works, you know, in a confusing way. And so a user experience designer is to ensure that it works well, and that it is easy to understand, and that you can accomplish the task he came to do without any frustration.

Kat Vellos  17:37

And so how is UX design different than say, like visual design, I believe that there are obviously visual elements in UX design, but really, I feel like it’s like, it’s the design aspect is almost scientific, like you’re trying to create an experience that’s efficient. And I think also probably plays into like psychology and how people can relate to like an interface like on the screen? Could you tell me a little bit about that?

Kat Vellos  18:00

Yeah, user experience, design and user experience research to have much more involvement in the questions of the mentioned like psychology, also behavioral economics, like understanding? What are the non visual design elements that are at play when someone is trying to accomplish this task? You know, what is the mindset that they’re in? What is the urgency of the situation? How do our brains process information? In what kinds of order for something to be simple, easy to understand? And efficient? And what is the simplest path towards getting them to their goal? As as positively and successfully as possible? 

Kat Vellos  18:45

And so yeah, a lot of that comes down to like, when I was doing a lot of user research interviews, it’s really trying to understand like, what is the context that this person is in? What are all the factors at play? And taking all of that into consideration? What would be an ideal set of recommendations for how things should be designed? Sometimes that has to do with what it looks like, but more likely, it has to do with what it works like, because a lot of things look beautiful, and are very confusing to us, and you can’t understand them. And some things are not that visually beautiful, but they are highly functional. You know, like Craigslist, for example. I wouldn’t think anyone would call that a beautiful website. No, it is so functional, that they haven’t changed the design for like, over a decade, you know? Yeah, you know. So yeah.

Kat Vellos  19:31

It sounds like you can’t really be a UX designer and not care about outcomes, like the work is caring, but it’s not. It’s like a deeper level of understanding and awareness that seems required because like you said, there’s so many different subtle forces factors influences in play. It’s not just like having somebody click the button. It also plays into what their expectations are. So it sounds like you really have to really care about outcomes to be a successful UX designer. I guess you can noncharitable

Kat Vellos  20:06

Yeah, I was gonna say it’s impossible not to, but I guess it’s possible to do it that way and not care. But you would be terrible at it. And it’s a very

Kat Vellos  20:13

short career. Yeah. Yeah. So it’s so fascinating, because these are things that, you know, when we’re on the user side, speaking, you know, on behalf of our listeners, something we can really take for granted, like you said, Kat, except when things don’t work, I can think too recently, my partner’s spending like 30 minutes, almost literally banging your head against the wall, trying to get like her, like COVID Passport up in preparation for travels. And I was trying to coach her through my understanding of how the website wasn’t working, you know, it was like, you know, a Caribbean island tourism boards website. And I was like, I don’t think this is going to work as well as, as you hope it would. 

Dave Ursillo  20:54

But it really strikes me that you seem to have found this this first career path in UX design that really highlighted a lot of these core attributes and personality traits. And you know, you mentioned always being a sensitive kid. What did UX design teach you about? Caring about outcomes, but not just in the sense of UX design? In the world around you?

Kat Vellos  21:17

Yeah, I mean, one thing is that, you know, very often for a lot of the startups and apps and platforms from small ones, to the biggest ones, that everybody knows the names of the the experience of a designer or user experience designer who may be trying to create certain outcomes for users, perhaps the best possible outcome for users. Sometimes this is at odds with what the business owners want. Right. And, unfortunately, what that has led to is a rather disappointing experience where the outcomes that are being created are the ones that would please the company shareholders, at the expense of what is the best outcome for human beings. And I will say, I did not work on social networking apps, but we see this a lot in the way that social networking apps function in in people’s lives. 

Kat Vellos  22:15

And one of the ways that this came up, when I was doing my research around friendship is it was not uncommon for someone you know, to say that they have, you know, hundreds of friends, quote, unquote, friends on social media, you know, adding up together, all the different social media apps, somebody might be on. Yeah, yeah, I have hundreds of friends, you know, on Facebook, or Twitter, Instagram, whatever. But when I want someone to hang out with them, I’m lonely. I don’t have anyone to call. I don’t have anyone to hang out with. 

Kat Vellos  22:41

And so there’s a disconnect between what it means to be connected digitally, digitally, or virtually, and what it means to be connected emotionally, psychologically, tangibly in our lives. And so, that question, was one that intrigued me and certainly fed into why I decided to write we should get together and what led this curiosity that’s now years long, around? How do adults who have very busy very complicated lives, form and maintain healthy friendships in a world with so many competing demands and distractions?

Kat Vellos  23:22

I love that subject. I love that question. So I think we should definitely follow that into discussing we should get together, which is a book as you mentioned, Kat about connection and bringing people together and cultivating platonic friendships as adults, but meaningful, lasting friendships. Why is it so tough for us as adults to make friends?

Kat Vellos  23:48

Well, that’s kind of that’s one half of the book. And it’s, there’s many, many reasons why it’s so tough to make friends, you know, we have there’s an I delve into all of these in different sections, you know, so one of the big factors is what I call our hyper mobile culture. And this was definitely I think, more true before the pandemic. And I wonder what it will look like, in the years as the pandemic kind of hopefully comes to a decrescendo. 

Kat Vellos  24:18

But we live in a world where people move their physical presence at a much faster rate than has ever happened before. So moving in and out of cities and states and countries and changing jobs and moving is one of the number one factors that adults name is the reason why their friendships falter, or whether overtime is that they are their friends have moved. And it’s harder to maintain those friendships from a distance. Another cause is busyness people feeling like they’re too busy to have friends or they want to see their friends but they’re like, oh my gosh, I don’t have any time. Another factor has to do with the changes that occur to responsibilities in adulthood, particularly around the velopment of a primary relationship or romantic relationship or becoming a parent. And so it doesn’t mean that those things are bad, it just means that the amount of time that it takes to invest in a really like big time adult relationship, a lot of time, and having a newborn or raising kids takes a lot of time. 

Kat Vellos  25:21

And so the attention you might have had for like, going drinking at the bar with your friends and playing pool every Friday night or whatever, it kind of evaporates when you have these other competing demands. And then the last big cause that I write about in the book has to do with kind of our declining capacity to develop intimacy. So many people spoke to me about the fact that they, you know, have all these quote unquote, friends. But if they were in a time of need, they would not really know who to call. And they felt uncomfortable even expressing needing help, which is one of the markers of what we do when we have an intimate, trusting relationship, as well as like people saying, they kind of don’t know how to get beyond the surface. So maybe they hang out with their friends, but they, they just chit chat, they make small talk, but they don’t actually get to the deeper like heart based conversations, and they don’t really know how to make that happen.

Kat Vellos  26:16

Yeah, wow, that’s pretty heartbreaking to hear that. As you mentioned, Kat that people reported declining capacity to develop intimacy, despite these, like paying pings and longings that are not only so fundamentally human, but also as loneliness, this, you know, pandemic of loneliness kind of wraps the world over, and gets worse and worse, especially like, you know, in the United States, where I know you’ve you’ve sent her a lot of your research, but also in other other countries and societies, that loneliness is a real big problem, we understand more and more that their tremendous health implications for loneliness, feeling lonely. In your book, you write that the former Surgeon General equated feeling lonely to having the stress impact as equivalent to smoking 15 Cigarettes, which I found, startling, just to say the least.

Kat Vellos  27:12

Yeah, and it’s really it can have such a, like physical effect, when we lack these emotional connections. There’s just a whole host of them. And it’s really a public health issue, when there is the epidemic of loneliness that’s pervasive in this in this society. And I want to just say, for any listeners who are like, Oh, my God, I would never read this book, it sounds really sad. So talk about solutions to each of these things and research solutions and things that you can try that are small and medium and large, for things that you can do. If you’re like, oh, I have that issue, like, what should I do about it? Like, there’s many, many things to do, many of them are quite fun that you can do to help turn that around. It’s not just talking about the problems. I’m also like, extremely solution focused, because I care about the outcome.

Kat Vellos  27:57

Absolutely. And that’s a great transition there. Because I I know one of the things that you recommend Kat which which speaks to my heart as a writer is the art of letter writing. And in advising people, who are either cultivating friendships or maintaining friendships, to sit down and write a letter, which feels on some levels very antiquated or old fashioned, but is is on the one hand of really pretty special, like emotional process for an individual writing a letter meaning it can really connect you to yourself. And on the other hand, like what a great gesture and symbol of caring to write and send a letter to someone that we care about or consider a friend. 

Dave Ursillo  28:39

What other tools and tactics do you like with, you know, maybe just mentioning one more, because because obviously, our listeners will have to get your book and indulgent and all the ones that you write about. But what’s one more tactic or, or tool that you’ve really come to enjoy about turning caring into like outreach, or an expression of caring to somebody close to us?

Kat Vellos  29:03

Yeah, as a writer, obviously, I love writing. So the letters and cards I think are just delightful. And the other thing that another aspect of this that some someone can try that I’ve certainly pushed myself to try more of, is one of the you know, I don’t know if you’ve heard of The Five Love Languages. Oh, yeah, absolutely. So one of the one of them is words of affirmation that goes really good with writing and one of them that was never really high on my list was gifts. And during the pandemic, I in did much more intentionally explored the question of like, what would it look like to show my caring through gifting and one of the reasons I don’t really love like why gifts probably isn’t really high on my list of Love Languages, because I don’t like a lot of materialism and consumerism and waste tonight and I worry about like adding more garbage to the world. A lot of them Just get thrown away like from even like a plastic bow that you have to then throw in the trash, right? 

Kat Vellos  30:05

So I’ve never really liked gifts, but I kind of explored like, what would it look like to create gifts that are maybe more handmade, possibly biodegradable, you know, like, but still are a demonstration of the care demonstration of the love. In one of the ways I’ve explored this is through food. So for example, oh, yeah, food is like actually the most perfect gift that could be given in my book. Yeah, and so, you know, one of the ways I’ve done this a little bit with neighbors during the pandemic is like trading little small gifts over the fence. So like, they grow, they grow a lot of food in their garden. So sometimes they’ll throw over like tomatoes or lemons. And like, I would like bake some bread or something and like, give them some bread or like, give them some cookies. And so it’s like this really sweet gift exchange of really small tokens of food. But it’s an expression of saying, like, I care about you, I have something good here, and I want to share it with you. 

Kat Vellos  31:08

And so that’s one one very small example. But I think it’s meaningful to think about, like, what is it that you have to share? What might please or delight the other person. And that is easy to do. Like don’t don’t spend too much time or money or stressing yourself out like, oh, I need to do a perfect gift. It’s like a small gesture actually can carry a lot of meaning. And just lets you know, like somebody was thinking about you.

Kat Vellos  31:29

I love that coming from a predominantly Italian family like food is food is its own love language, I think it like transcends gifts. It’s like, it’s everything in my family. And I love the you know, cooking for someone baking for someone offering something that is like nourishing and delicious. Like how lovely to extend caring through something that I mean, historically, culturally, has always brought people together and been an expression of caring and community.

Dave Ursillo  31:59

 There’s something that comes to mind Kat, which I was referencing, you’re no stranger to the TEDx stage, you’ve done a lot of speaking. And then your your TEDx speech, you’re speaking about your book, and you’re speaking about connection and platonic friendships. And you said this, this line that really caught my attention, and that line was, most people are waiting to be invited. So thinking about our isolation, or loneliness, or how we struggle to have this declining capacity to create intimacy or develop intimacy with others. 

Dave Ursillo  32:30

And this notion that most people are waiting to be invited. I wonder if what you mean by that is that most people are passive about connecting and like waiting for someone else to do it for them? Or is it that people are actually more open to our invitations and our gestures than we think? What is your experience been? Like?

Kat Vellos  32:52

I think it’s a bit of both. Yeah. Especially when we look at the research around loneliness and find that close to half of the population says that they feel regularly on a somewhat regular basis, like somewhat frequently to get regular frequency basis. What that tells me is that you could walk down the street, and like 50% of the people that you pass are feeling some degree of loneliness, and wishing for greater connection wishing for more of the type of connection that they crave. In the book, I coined a term called platonic longing, which is, you know, we know about unrequited love, right? When people want a relationship, right, you also have this pervasive sense of longing for platonic connection. 

Kat Vellos  33:38

And so when I say like, most people are waiting to be invited, that means that like, if you are holding yourself back from extending an invitation, because you’re worried about rejection, which is a real fear, many people have talked to me about they’re afraid, somebody will say, No, they’re afraid they’ll be rejected. I encourage you to realize like, you have better than 5050 coin toss odds that people are going to want to hear what you are inviting them to, or wanting to connect with them about, and really going to be so happy that you wanted to include them that you wanted to connect with them. And so that like waiting to be invited is like it’s like this wishful hoping, like, wanting to feel desired, like wanting to feel included wanting to feel a sense of belonging. And that comes when we say like, Hey, do you want to eat lunch with me? You know, or hey, like, do you want to go for a walk and get a coffee one day? Or hey, do you want to? I’m gonna start doing Sunday dinners. Do you want to come over? You don’t have to even cook just come eat with us. You know? That’s what I mean. 

Kat Vellos  34:50

It’s like to hear a sentence like that to hear an invitation a question like that would light up like literally half the population who like want to feel more connected. And so I share that again as just a piece of motivation to know like, even if somebody says no, there’s a good chance the next person is gonna say, yes.

Kat Vellos  35:10

That’s so interesting. So it’s like, when you say that most people are waiting to be invited Kat, it sounds like whether it’s conscious or not that many people. And we, like you said about half of people on average are reporting feeling lonely, very often. Yes, these people who are waiting to be invited, are almost like holding their own openness to be seen, witnessed, held and asked.

Dave Ursillo  35:41

 And, and that’s going to be pretty vulnerable. I know, you mentioned that rejection is one of the reasons why people hesitate to make invitations to and to make plans or to reach out to a friend or to make a friend. I wonder about the level of vulnerability to holding that openness, but feeling like no one’s there to reciprocate it, that’s going to be pretty hurtful to this kind of, I imagine that’s what propels this feeling of loneliness. Like, oh, like, I wish that someone would invite me to lunch or to go out. And I feel like I feel like I’m open internally, but no one seems to be there. That’s has to be pretty painful

Kat Vellos  36:18

as well. Yeah. Yeah, it is.

Kat Vellos  36:21

But you say that this act of reaching out and there being pretty good odds that someone wants to be invited, it turns, it turns the invitation into potentially like an act of service. And I think that’s really beautiful.

Kat Vellos  36:35

Yeah, and I think that one of the things that can happen, very, very, in the book, and in the workshops and events they do, I’m very encouraging people to like, just try something like have it have an attitude of experimentation, and know that it doesn’t have to be perfect. You’re just trying something, you’re just doing an experiment. And if you say like, Okay, I’m going to ask like, five people, if they want to have like a monthly dinner or something. Being an event planner, I can tell you, you’re never going to get 100% turnout, it is unrealistic to think you’re ever going to get 100% turnout. And so, adjust your expectations, like say like, Okay, if I want five people to come, I’ll probably have to ask 10 people, and five of them will pass. And five of them might say yes. And so when you get you start getting somebody who has to decline, it’s not going to ruin your day, because they said no, because you understand, like, some people are gonna say, No, that’s natural. It’s completely normal. And some people are gonna say yes, and you know what, whoever comes is who’s supposed to be there. So if only one person comes, great, you have a good conversation with them. And if nobody comes, you get to have a night by yourself, you get to relax, you don’t have to. It’s okay. 

Kat Vellos  37:43

You can still try again. You know, but if you come with an attitude of experimentation, we’re like, Well, this was experiment a, this was the first time I tried it. And then I tried it again, and B and I changed one thing about it. And then I tried to see and I changed one thing about it and see what happens. Go into it with an attitude of like learning and play and creativity. And then it doesn’t have so much pressure on it anymore.

Kat Vellos  38:04

Right, it becomes less performative are about having the right answers. And there’s that UX designer and you right, I can hear it again, the attitude of experimentation, creativity play. What I love about this whole conversation that we’re having Kat is that when we talk about what to do, or what to try to connect with other people to make new friendships, or maintain our friendships, or reignite old friendships. You mentioned this attitude of experimentation, creativity and play, like thinking about the other, knowing that many people are open to being invited, is pretty on ironically, this all sounds like a really nice solution to what we started talking about at the top of the call, which is that toxic individualism and you know, we call it when we are emailing about it this like pseudo badge of honor this like false pat on the back of, I don’t care. And I want everyone to know how much I don’t care. 

Dave Ursillo  39:04

Maybe and I just happen to have a feeling that those expressions are sometimes like pre empting the pain or revealing an amount of pain and loneliness that we have, like, I feel so alone. So I’m going to say I don’t give a fuck, to affirm that my aloneness is actually something that I want, even though when you’re asking intimate moments by a researcher like you, the truth is, no one wants to be alone. And so I think it’s a really, for those listeners who want to tell a new story. You want to live a new story, that isn’t one of loneliness, and isolation or toxic individualism, that maybe the first and simplest thing you can do is just perform a little experiment, reach out, try to make a plan especially if, you know as we said, the this the the many crescendos, I don’t know if there’s, if that’s an oxymoron, of this pandemic. Or hopefully subsiding, what a great opportunity to reach out and to reconnect and to use your books to do exactly that to be guidebooks. 

Dave Ursillo  40:08

So you should absolutely check out. Both of Kat’s books we should get together. And as well as connected from afar, a guide to staying close when you’re far away. Before we wrap up, Kat, I want to be respectful of your time. I want to ask you a question. It’s kind of like a fill in the blank with whatever comes to mind if you’ll entertain me, because this podcast is called the new story is and I’m curious how you would finish that blank. So if based on our conversation or otherwise, what you’re exploring in your work, how might you finish the following line? The new story is,

Kat Vellos  40:43

I guess I would say the new story is about how we create the world we want to live in by taking action to show what we care about.

Kat Vellos  40:59

Kat Vellos, thank you so much for joining us on the news story is and it’s been such a pleasure to speak with you. Thank you for your work.

Kat Vellos  41:05

Thank you so much for having me, Dave. This was really delightful.

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