In today’s EVOLVE or Decay episode, Kimberlie Dykeman helps you shift your perspective, dump the gloom, and become less lonely by re-engaging and igniting your relationships.
It took a village to get there- and now you’re stuck on an island. Or so the story goes.
Sound familiar? Feel familiar? As strong business men and women grow into, move up to and take on higher leadership positions, it seems that the pool of go-to people for ideas, comfort, sound-boarding, compassion, encouragement and collaborating starts to dry up. Reasons being numerous- perhaps info that can’t be shared, a reputation to maintain, boundaries to establish or keep in place, even just not enough time or incongruent schedules
Truth be told- it’s seemingly worse for men. As I have observed and learned through countless interviews of executives, burgeoning entrepreneurs, executive assistants and spouses, the greater the role of influence …the greater the virtual force field a man perceives is surrounding him. Fewer peers and pals to share info with, vent to and ask questions- let alone help or advice about the roller coaster of life.
What’s ironic is that the men who admit to this… the men who feel this way… are truly feeling LONELY… even when they are clearly NOT ALONE. If I’m connecting to you right now- think about it. At work, you’re constantly surrounded by coworkers and team members; your assistant is attached to your hip and probably in in your face all the time; when you’re not in meetings you’re in airports or at chock-full conferences; if you’re an entrepreneur, you’re surrounded by clients or prospects, plunked down in coffee shops and coworking spaces, and filling any open timeslots with networking event. On top of that, you may have a sweetheart and family, neighbors and friends, you’re plugged into leadership groups and on boards of charities or platforms for the arts, maybe you even help with your kid’s sports team or are on a softball league yourself. AND YET… and yet… you feel lonely. Because something’s missing.
And I get it. But let’s not look at your current reality as just part and parcel of your job, and technology is adding in its own fail factor. That loneliness is just part of the deal and thus something to deal with… so slap on a smile, chant a few affirmations, and find the joy in being in solitude! That shit just doesn’t work for me- nor you. I don’t subscribe to Band-Aid therapy bullshit. So, assuming you’re sick and tired of being a “party of 1”, it’s time to assess your whole state of affairs, address the root issues, and then act with the intent to change.
Loneliness is rarely ALONE
Loneliness is a symptom that something else is out of whack. It’s the signal which a person, place, thing, event, environment, habit, etc. is giving off that is telling you “Hey, Buddy, this moat is getting a little too big. Things are going to get dark in here if you don’t do something.” But let’s be honest about ALL you’re feeling. After all, the countless choices you’ve made to net this sense of un-attachment and abandonment stir up effects in all areas of your life. So, do any of these resonate with you?
Feeling un-encouraged or low morale? Are you uninterested in your social life but absorbed with social media? Disconnected to your spouse, kids, friends or family? Seeing irritability and an inability to relax? Are you constantly needing to prove yourself, feeling dissatisfied and not at peace with the pace of life? Have you hit a workout plateau or feeling a loss of energy and focus?
Once you investigate and analyze the label of LONELY, the accompanying feelings reveal much of the story as to WHY you’re feeling like an island.
If you want things to change, own your part.
Oftentimes, loneliness (and its shadows) are rooted in one big cause- or a few. As hard as it is to hear, I have to tell you: Disconnection from others is a 2-way street. In one case, folks either retreat from you, never approach you, or act as floaters- not contributing, not asking much, not curious to make a connection. On the other hand, solitude can also bloom from YOU. Meaning, YOU pull away from folks, never engage them, or never really try to connect.
For example, let’s say you move into a higher leadership position or gain more prestige, responsibility, and visibility. You assume that coworker relationships have to change to keep the playing field in its correct “order” shall we say. So you follow corporate influence and set rules of privacy and interaction without realizing it or without realizing the potential downfall. And by default you pull back from the company’s kickball team or put in more hours to prove you’ve definitely earned your title of influence, and you skip the Happy Hour gatherings too. The trend then becomes: employees are apprehensive to approach you for help like they used or take up your time… and perhaps they assume they have to be more careful around you now. Then it spills over into your personal life. Fewer date nights, art openings, and sharing your day details with your spouse. Less time with the kids or taking time on the weekend for pals, neighborhood BBQs or sports. Eventually, that moat you thought was needed for the company’s sake has eroded your energy and sense of humor; your marriage isn’t as open and your buddies do poker nights without you, and you don’t know the names of your new hires, new neighbors, or your son’s latest girlfriend.
Clearly the separation and solitude has an evidence trail. Regardless where it started, you need to acknowledge YOUR part in planting the weeds. Pointing fingers never gets you anywhere.
Refill the moat
Just like losing your hair, forgetting your passwords, or your marriage netting sex only twice a month… loneliness doesn’t sneak attack. It’s a slow slide. But if you take actions with the honest intent to change your side of the equation, things can indeed turn around and perhaps even grow those relationships you’d thought were dead.
1. REBUILD YOUR VILLAGE
Indeed, there’s no such thing as a self-made man. Leaders who make it a priority to surround themselves with a solid village are much more successful and fulfilled in all veins of life than solo artists. Make a consistent, concerted effort to tackle the island effect by talking to those people you still want around. What relationships are you not contributing towards on a regular basis where you are needed? What work peers should you connect with? Find the gaps for friends, a mentor or coach, sweetheart, whatever… and fill them in
2. SHIFT YOUR SCHEDULE
Look at your life as a sum of 5 Key Pillars: Body, Mind, Career, Family, Society. Now that it’s evident where you’ve unplugged, give your schedule a shake-out and cut the fat of things that waste time. Choose to consistently embark on activities that re-engage you with both strangers and familiar faces. New experiences will net new relationships, fresh perspectives, higher energy and killer opportunities.
3. BE A LITTLE FUNNY
Corporate Culture hasn’t taught men how to be approachable let alone how to approach others. If you want to cut through the anxiety in the air with peers and other principles, loosen the tie and crack a joke for God’s sake. Famed musician & comedian Victor Borge said it best: “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” Folks, funny begets funny; funny begets friendships. Once you show folks your sense of humor has not been totally obliterated, they realize you both have a pulse, fears, hopes, embarrassing moments, a yearning to belong, a love of life. And they’ll like you even more.
No matter what level you’ve achieved in your career, loneliness does not have to be part of the job description. Relationships are forever changing; the ebb and flow of your life will not always line up with those you work with and care about. But you can’t treat them like random pick-up games; you’ve got to keep practicing. Accept that connections with coworkers, pals, and family members need to have room to breathe at times; just promise to keep your eyes open for shaky bridges and growing gaps, and you’ll never be too far out of reach.
Never Stop EVOLVING. ~ KD
©2016 Kimberlie Dykeman
This is also featured on the global platform The Good Men Project where Dykeman is a regular contributing writer.