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May 6, 2024

Before You Jump: Building Bridges to Better Connections

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Today, we confront the loneliness that lurks behind busy schedules and bustling crowds. I want to challenge you to rethink your approach to relationships. I want to delve into what it means to deepen your connections and create a safety net of supportive, meaningful interactions. Whether you’re up on the metaphorical bridge or walking the day-to-day tightrope, this is for you. 

Do you ever feel alone, even though you’re surrounded by people? 

I was on a plane and looking forward to getting home after speaking in back-to-back cities, and a big wave of loneliness came over me. It was so overwhelming.

I tried to lean into the sensation and figure out why I was experiencing this heavy dump of emotion. I had just come from interacting with hundreds of people at conferences, and I was inspired and energized by the human transference that naturally occurs. 

Some of the interactions at these events are intimate. When I talk one-on-one with individuals after I speak, I am grateful for the people who share their stories and experiences after hearing my keynote. There is nothing more gratifying than when someone says, “This was exactly what I needed to hear today.” These exchanges are fleeting bursts of inspiration for both of us, but they are just that—fleeting.  

In the longest study on longevity, Harvard University has spent 85 years interviewing people at the end of their lives. These people encountering the final curtain talk about the things they’ve learned and their regrets as they prepare to leave their earthly consciousness. The finding: human connection matters above all else.

Key findings from the study emphasize the significant impact of relationships on an individual’s long-term health and happiness, suggesting that strong social connections are more predictive of a long and healthy life than factors like social class, IQ, or even genetics. The quality of relationships mattered more than quantity, with close relationships providing a buffer against life’s stressors and helping to delay mental and physical decline. The study highlights that people who are more socially connected to family, friends, and community are happier, healthier, and live longer than those who are less connected.

And yet, we walk around this world, bumping into one another in the most transient ways. We have connections on social media where we count likes, subscribers, and comments on our content. And yet, all of that is superficial. It gives us a boost of serotonin, and we become addicted to the high. It’s truly meaningless if it doesn’t amount to deeper connections that go beyond the surface.  

Relationship expert Esther Perel says we have hundreds of friends on social media but no one to call to feed our cat when we are away. I don’t have a cat, but I know what she means. Nurturing fewer but more significant relationships rather than spreading yourself too thin is the key. Who do you call when you’re sick and need someone to pick up a prescription for you? Or worse, what if you feel lonely even when you are in a partnership or marriage? 

I was sitting on my neighbor’s patio one evening, and I asked him, “Who do you call if you are standing on a bridge and about to jump — And you can’t say your wife? My neighbor thought about this and audibly began accounting his thoughts and sifting through his friendships to determine which person he would call and to whom he would reach out. 

The bridge is metaphorical—at least, I hope so—but the question is real. Who do you reach out to when you feel lonely and afraid? 

This is part of becoming your own disruptor. It takes great courage to reach out to someone and ask for help, and it’s this kind of vulnerability that builds trust. It is the consummate act of courage. The people who can recognize that life is getting too messy or heavy for them to handle alone and are able to reach out to others lead more fulfilling lives. 

An act that seems so simple — asking for help, is the most challenging thing in the world for many of us. We feel like we’re bothering someone or being burdensome. I personally feel like I’m being whiny or a victim when I begin to complain about something I’m upset about. I have a remarkable and fulfilling life, so I feel guilty about struggling. This belief that I’m not allowed to be sad keeps me from reaching out. 

I speak on the topic of optimism; therefore, I should be able to apply all my gratitude structures to get me back on track. And most of the time, I can. But at that moment, the loneliness and the heaviness felt like they were too much to bear. While driving home from the airport, I reached out to a friend. And I’m so glad I did. I learned, first and foremost, that I wasn’t alone. She shared that she often feels lonely even though she’s surrounded by people, too. 

The disrupter inside our own heads must recognize that there are days when we feel sad, alone, and overwhelmed. All of this is perfectly normal, and yet we stigmatize or mislabel sadness for depression. The difference between the two is that optimists understand that feeling sad is normal and that the feeling and black cloud will pass. Those who are depressed, on the other hand, feel hopeless. People often say that “hope is not a strategy,” and I couldn’t disagree more. Hope is the thing that gets us through the dark days with the understanding that tomorrow will be better. And that asking for help is a conscious and deliberate act of courage. So, if you are suffering in silence with something large or small, reach out to someone. 

And if you don’t know to whom to reach out, it’s time to start taking an audit of your relationships. Have your connections faltered because you haven’t put the work in to sustain them? Do you need to make yourself available when others are in need?

One thing I’ve learned unequivocally is that relationships shouldn’t be transactional or based solely on reciprocity. We shouldn’t keep score of the times we make ourselves available to others. However, if a relationship is only one-sided and you determine that you are doing the heavy lifting and receiving nothing in return, it might be time to reevaluate. The sum of your relationships is determined by each person adding something of value. 

Now that you know that human connection matters above all, here are some ways to nurture and build relationships: 

  1. Initiate Regular Check-Ins:

Schedule regular calls or meetups with close friends or family. Initiate a FaceTime chat or send voice memos if you’re busy or on different schedules. Even texting is a powerful way to connect and let someone know you’re thinking of them. The key is consistency and genuine interest in how the other person is doing.

Goal: To maintain a steady flow of communication and ensure you are present in each other’s lives.

  1. Engage in Shared Activities:

Plan activities that you and your friends or loved ones enjoy, which can be done together regularly, like weekly movie nights, book clubs, or hobby groups. Sometimes you just want to put on your jammies and veg out in front of the TV. That’s okay if you aren’t sacrificing human interaction. My favorite kinds of friends are the ones to whom I can say I’m coming over in my yoga pants. Let’s order in and watch a movie. 

Goal: To create shared experiences that build memories and strengthen bonds. It doesn’t matter what you do together as long as you’re together.

  1. Offer and Ask for Help:

Make a habit of asking how you can help others in their daily lives and be open about asking for help when needed. When you know someone is going through something, check in with them and ask them what they need from you in that moment. Sometimes, it’s enough just knowing that you’ve acknowledged their pain. Don’t wait for them to tell you what they need. Just do something. 

When you are struggling, take a deep breath and reach out. People aren’t mind readers and likely have no idea what’s going on in your life, so communicate to them that you could really use some support. You will be surprised how many people want to help.

Goal: To build trust and show that you value the relationship enough to offer and receive support. Being there for someone else often reinforces that you can turn to others when you need support.

  1. Deepen Emotional Connections:

Share personal stories and feelings with a trusted friend or family member and encourage them to do the same. Trust begets trust. When you open yourself up, you permit others to do the same. 

Goal: To foster a deeper emotional connection through shared vulnerabilities and experiences. This takes relationships from superficial to meaningful.

  1. Social Media with a Purpose:

Use social media strategically to enhance real-world relationships, like arranging face-to-face gatherings or sharing meaningful content with close contacts rather than broad audiences. Use social media more mindfully. Engage in personal interactions rather than just passive scrolling or liking. Comment thoughtfully on a friend’s post or send a direct message to catch up.

Goal: To ensure that digital interactions are meaningful and supplement rather than replace real-world interactions.

  1. Community Involvement:

If you want to make new connections, join local groups, or volunteer organizations to meet people with similar interests or values. Sign up for classes or meetups to do things you love. This is a great way to meet new people who share similar passions and can lead to meaningful relationships.

Goal: To expand your social circle meaningfully while doing activities that enrich your life and the lives of others. As a side note, it is never too late.

These six steps will get you well on your way to building sustainable and positive relationships that will lead to a more fulfilling life.

Take a “relationship audit” to evaluate the health and balance of your current relationships. This involves reflecting on which people are mutually supportive and which might be one-sided or draining. I call the latter “energy vampires,” and you need to remove these individuals from your life. 

Here’s another thought: People often don’t know what to say or do when they see someone in pain, so they do nothing. And that is the biggest mistake of all. No one needs you to say the perfect thing; they need you to say, “I’m here. I’m with you”. When I reached out to my friend, she said, “Me too,” and stated, I’m here. That’s all I needed. 

Show up for people in pain. And do not look away. 

The longevity study has provided answers to the test of life. Eventually, you’ll leave your profession. Your title will fall away. Your kids will grow up and move out. And what you are left with is the tribe of people you have built around you. Building and sustaining takes work, but it’s worth it. 

In the end, the strength of our connections defines the quality of our lives. As we journey through life’s highs and lows, it becomes clear that the true measure of our success isn’t found in our accolades or achievements but in the depth and resilience of our relationships. 

So, take the challenge to step out from behind screens and superficial interactions to truly engage with those around you. Invest in relationships that lift you and allow you to do the same for others. Start building your tribe today because the connections we nurture now craft the legacy we leave behind. 

Let’s create a world where no one must stand alone on that metaphorical bridge.

Onward and upward.

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