The best/worse interview I ever did

Recently I did an interview which may have been either the best interview I’ve ever done or it may have been my worst.  

Through my work I’ve been very fortunate to interview some very impressive people, from world leading sports people to globally recognised influential thinkers in many different areas, I enjoy listening to and learning the insights they offer and how they approach the world. As I have the opportunity to do these interviews, in the back of my mind I have a wish list of people who I would love to sit down with and dig deep into their thoughts. 

A few weeks ago I managed to arrange an interview with someone who has been on my wish list for years, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (pronounced "Mee-high" “Cheeks-SENT-me-high-ee") is a distinguished Professor of Psychology who created the concept of a ‘flow state’. A flow state is when someone totally loses themselves in an activity, it’s a place where time seems to be suspended and you are totally absorbed in the activity you are doing to the highest level possible. Sports people often talk about how they “get in a zone” where nothing can go wrong and how it seems effortless, this is flow.

Finally the day came, I was about to interview one of my thinking heroes. I jumped on Skype and managed to spend 90 minutes talking to this fascinating man. When I got off the call I wasn’t sure what had just happened, had I just done the best interview I had ever done or had it been my worst?

If you asked me what my objective was leading into the interview I would have told you that I wanted to get Mihály to share what flow is and how my listeners could apply it into their lives. I wanted him to open us up to the deeper side of this concept and it’s fair to say that I didn’t do a great job of achieving this particular objective.

I started the interview with this question; ‘Before we get into flow tell me a bit about where you come from’. This question opened a treasure chest of experiences that blew my mind away, Mihály is an older man now, in his 80’s, and to say he has lived a life is an understatement. He started telling me about escaping his country during the war, being shot at on a train by soldiers while under the age of 10 (and how this was exciting at the time). It was from this point on I knew that this was going to be a different type of interview. No longer was I trying to dig into ‘flow’, I was now becoming the grandchild sitting next to his granddad hearing about life. Over the next hour I sat with a glint of admiration in my eyes and a smile on my face as I was absorbed by this life, I was loving every minute of my time with Mihály.

Eventually I managed to bring up flow but by now it seemed insignificant, Mihály had already given me so much wisdom, he’d given me the wisdom that comes from a life well lived. 

My interview with Mihály got me thinking about how we deal with the older people in our lives, and I’m not just talking about those well past retirement. Have you ever found yourself shutting off to an older person when they start sharing their stories with you? I know I have, for some reason many of us can undervalue what the older people in our lives have to offer. It may be that you need to show more respect, or maybe you have heard their stories before so you shut off to them but the unfortunate thing for those who shut themselves off is that they are missing an opportunity to gain valuable insights to life that only time can teach us. 

As we are heading into the social catch-up, family and friends get-together season I challenge you to go into these interactions with an attitude of exploration.  Ask them questions, interesting ones, hard ones, revealing ones, ones that show their strengths and weaknesses, their struggles and successes, ones that allow them to pass on their wisdom to you. I guarantee that if you do you will walk away from that conversation with a new understanding and wisdom.

I walked away from my best/worse interview with Mihály with a little more of this wisdom and for that - thank you Mihály. 

This piece orginally appeared in The Press


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Bevan Eyles