Just as I was adjusting to losing a job, its income, and benefits (see last week’s email if you missed that bit of excitement), this happened.
First, let me be clear; I am fortunate. I’m not out on the streets or sleeping on friends’ sofas (done that before). My gratitude for all I have is sky-high, and in the broadest sense, I know I will survive this challenge.
But sitting at my desk, three days post-firing, reviewing and replying to job postings, I was unprepared for this.
Here’s some backstory.
When Covid lockdowns occurred, many of my friends joked that I no longer needed to come up with excuses for being alone. I like being on my own, and it’s always been that way.
Decidedly introverted by nature, I have never shied away from time alone. With two younger sisters, time on my own was delightful.
In school (high school primarily), aloneness was pressed on me, as friends were few and far between, and my status as a decidedly different kid (read gay) made fitting in virtually impossible.
In my senior year, I found a connection with a few groups (the drama department, photography, and the men’s volleyball team) and discovered the joy of being part of something outside my head. It was a revelation.
But I also became aware of my need to balance my time spent in group activities or with newly acquired friends with time spent by myself. The balance was only sometimes easy to strike or maintain.
My sister and her best friend Tammy were relentless with their pokes and prods, loudly announcing that “he’s in one of his moods again,” when my need to be solo took me away from the crowd.
It was years before I read about personality types (introvert and extrovert) and their distinct needs around time spent with people vs. time spent alone.
I made peace with being alone a long time ago.
So, imagine my surprise when, as Covid restrictions lifted, I found myself eager to enjoy myself in the company of others.
I love a pendulum swing!
And then I joined the ranks of remote workers, filling my days with zoom meetings peppered with Slack chats and Asana exchanges, and well, it got under my skin. But in a good way.
So, a real sense of loneliness caught me off guard last week as I was decompressing and making some sense of my new work status. Bam. Where did that come from?
I thought I was shifting gears, turning my focus to testing the job market even while ramping up my private coaching practice and sorting out the emotions around this unexpected change. High on the list of emotions demanding inspection was a powerful feeling of isolation, a notable lack of direction, and, at times, a debilitating lack of focus.
I was writing half sentences, rising from my desk, and wandering from my office to the kitchen, living room, or out to the barn to play with the cats. Nothing was getting done, and I wouldn’t say I liked how this felt.
A few days have passed, I’ve filled a few journal pages with thoughts, feelings, and ideas, and a few books have come off the shelves. One that warranted a revisit is Vivek H. Murthy’s book “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World.” In it, he reminds us (me) that human connection is essential to our physical and mental well-being.
Research shows that loneliness is a massive problem in modern society, which is valid for individuals and businesses. The pandemic worsened this problem, as social distancing measures have forced companies to shut down or operate at reduced capacity, not to mention the toll it took on families and individuals.
However, even before the pandemic, people have grown increasingly lonely. And businesses everywhere needed help with high employee turnover rates, low customer engagement, and a lack of community support.
As I sort through my issues around loneliness, Dr. Murthy reminds us of the implications of isolation on the business we own, run, manage, or staff.
Businesses have begun to recognize the importance of social connection and prioritize it in their operations. This means creating a work culture that values and nurtures human connections, investing in employee training and development, and building strong relationships with customers and the community.
One of the key ways to build community is through empathy. As Murthy explains, empathy is a crucial ingredient in human connection. We can create more profound and meaningful relationships when we listen with compassion and understanding.
To build empathy in the workplace, business owners can implement various strategies, such as active listening to employees’ concerns and feedback, offering flexible work arrangements that accommodate employees’ needs, and investing in diversity and inclusion initiatives that ensure all voices are heard and valued.
Another way to build community is through shared experiences. Community events, charity drives, and other activities that unite people can help build stronger relationships with customers and the community.
Businesses and their employees can leverage technology to build community. Social media and other online platforms help companies to connect with customers and employees in new and meaningful ways. These platforms share news, updates, and special offers, foster conversations, and build relationships.
Recognizing that building community is about more than building a solid brand or increasing sales is essential. It’s also about creating a positive impact on society.
Murthy reminds us that loneliness can contribute to social and political polarization and impact economic growth. By investing in social connections, businesses can help build more resilient and inclusive communities that benefit everyone.
By investing in empathy, shared experiences, technology, and social connection, business owners can build stronger relationships with customers, employees, and the community. This not only benefits business but creates a positive impact on society as a whole.
And by focusing on connection, even a comfortable introvert like me can learn the value connections hold in creating more balance and joy in life.
I’ve joined a group loosely known as “The Wanderers” to support this heightened awareness of connection. We meet on Wednesday mornings at 7 am. The only agenda is to talk and build relationships.
After the first meeting, I was hooked.
I’ll share more about this odd, incredible band of Wanderers next week.
Until then, do something unexpected.