👏 💃 🍻
I gave a half-hearted smile at the recent text message from a friend. No words, only emojis, meant to celebrate and cheer on a recent accomplishment. I realized I would expect nothing less from this particular friend — she has been known to hold full “conversations” using nothing but emojis. Rather impressive, actually.
On this particular day, though, I must have been feeling somewhat nostalgic, longing for the days when celebrations included raised glasses and conversations reminiscing about all the trials and tribulations along the journey to success. The opportunity to describe the final push to the milestone in explicit (maybe even slightly exaggerated!) detail and truly enjoy the experience all over again.
My friends and I still try to make time to toast, reminisce, and celebrate, but I’m starting to notice how often a text message or a social post has come to suffice … birthdays, new babies, weddings, athletic endeavors … we give things a thumbs up or, when feeling particularly inspired, a smiley face with heart eyes and move on.
In full transparency, I love the text message phenomenon as much as the next person. It is convenient, quick, and a way to let someone know I’m thinking about him or her. I’m probably not your typical texter — if you know me, you’ll attest to the fact that I rarely use shortcuts (pretty sure I’ve never typed LOL), and my messages read more like letters (or novels…!). I love to put my thoughts on paper, so my friends often get more than they bargained for from a “How is your day?” text. (insert smirk emoji)
All that to say, despite the fact that my days can be filled with texts, emails, or social media interactions, I find myself feeling out of touch. No matter how well I know a person, understanding tone and reading feelings are terribly hard to do in cyberspace. I want to know if there is laughter behind the seemingly sarcastic response … or is it annoyance? I want to see if there are tears gathering in the corners of my friend’s eyes when she hits send on a recount of a troubling experience.
In addition to this detached feeling, there is a sense of sadness, depression, melancholy that seems to take hold when I scroll through social media feeds. Not only does the comparison monster like to rear its ugly head, but I also realize that in some cases, these pictures are the main way I’m experiencing many of my friends’ lives. I’m watching their children grow up … but some of those kids don’t know my name. I’m witnessing them succeed professionally … but I don’t know what it took for them to reach that goal. I see that they are really getting to know their way around the kitchen … yet I haven’t enjoyed a meal with them in ages.
These emotions feel like a “connected loneliness.” It is easier than ever to “connect” with people, but the depth of our communication and interaction is rapidly becoming extremely limited. We are often more concerned about showing people what we are doing than actually doing it. We can’t accurately experience or share in the sheer joy or extreme sorrow that comes via text, post, or picture. We aren’t digging deep enough.
I’m recently finished reading Deep Work, by Cal Newport. (Highly recommended, by the way.) The book explains the need for deep work and offers tools to accomplish this work in your professional life. While I learned many things to apply to that space of my life, the book prompted me to think about something even more important — the necessity of deep work in our personal lives.
Deep work must begin at an individual level. And, let’s be real now … give me mindless social media feeds any day compared to digging deep and really feeling my feeling. (insert see no evil monkey here) This kind of deep work involves reflection and introspection, the ability to relish in joyful experiences but also sit in the uncomfortable feelings of hurt, anxiety, and past failure. It is absolutely necessary to identify where we want to shift, how we want to grow, who we want to be.
When I understand my personal desires and values, I can determine which people are worthy of deep connection in my life. This ongoing process requires contemplation about what brings you real joy in your world, be it from professional accomplishments, hobbies, family, travels, etc. Individual deep work forms a personal connection, an ownership of what is meaningful, a relationship with yourself.
Recently, I felt the hustle of life catching up with me. Concentration was harder; my creativity was challenged. And in my field of work, that is a very detrimental combination. Through the blessing of a brother with a beach house (insert thumbs up emoji), I packed my bags and headed for some quiet time beside the ocean.
It didn’t take long for me to realize how disconnected I had become with myself. I wasn’t putting in the deep work time to be good at being me. My connectedness — emails, texts, social posts, Google chat, Slack messages — was creating an endless list … of things other people wanted me to do. And I was just trying to get it all done, limiting my thoughtfulness and enjoyment of the process. As I disconnected from the world, I could feel my mind connecting with me, soaking up this newfound space to wander, consider, reflect, create, think, and even just be.
Being disconnected also helped me recognize who I missed being connected to. I took a deeper look at my relationships, assessed their value in my life. “Back in the day”, I remember the importance of the size of your friend group. Now I am more interested in the depth of my friends. Knowing a lot people at a superficial level is often done at the expense of knowing several people at a deeper level. These mountains of options for “connectivity” lead to missed opportunities for depth.
When I lack personal communication and connection, I don’t develop trust in the relationship. I lose sight of what matters to my friend, and fail to notice how he or she needs to be cared for. I’m not as empathetic when I communicate via text or follow social feeds. I don’t know the back-story because I’m not asking questions. And on the flip side, I’m not letting people see me enough to build and strengthen those relationships. I’m not digging deep enough.
Maybe the truth is we need to disconnect to really connect.
While skipping town offered a way to jumpstart my deep work, I am focused on building this style of work into my life, both professionally and personally. Professionally, this type of work challenges my brain to resist enticing distractions. It forces me to face the blank page, maybe for hours at a time. It drives me to take walks without any electronic device and let my own mind do the talking. But the more days I spend that include deep, distraction-less work, the less noisy my brain becomes. I am more productive on quality work. I think less about the quantity of emails answered or click bait articles read … and I realize some of those things actually impact my life and my business growth very little.
Personally, I am committed to put in the deep work to erase “connected loneliness” — I want to be connected to just one thing at a time, be it myself, another person, an important relationship, or anything else I deem significant. I want to put in the deep work to properly prioritize these critical things in my life. I want those I personally value to know I feel that way. I want to give that person, that relationship the best of me, the depth of me.
This means you probably won’t find me on the social feeds as often (I might even start weaning myself off completely!) and it may take me a little longer to answer that text message or email. But know that when I do connect with you, I’ve created a space for you that is intentionally yours.