There are times in our lives when upheaval is the primary theme. It certainly has been for me in the last two weeks. During that time, an organization that I have been involved with for the past decade has been rocked by a leadership scandal that has brought the entire organization to its knees, fractionalized and broken. Then, just a few days ago, my family was shaken by an inexplicably tragic event. This period has required deep thought and contemplation– a process that is ongoing to say the least.
And because I am a thinker, a problem-solver, a person dedicated to uncovering meaning both professionally and personally, I have spent much of the last two weeks trying to unpack what has occurred from an intellectual perspective. Like many Type-A personalities, I am prone to over-thinking, to brooding, to trying to find the “reason” behind events that are seemingly without explanation. As those who love me are wont to point out, I can spend hours in intense focus, wherein I get lost in trying to find understanding where no easy one– and maybe none at all– exists.
What I have discovered over the last little while, however, is something profound: that the way out of these patterns of thought, and the way to clarity in the face of tragic and illogical events, is through connection and community. Over the past two weeks, these events which have seemingly uprooted me have become vastly clearer when I have been able to hack them out with the tribe of like-minded thinkers with whom I have chosen to spend my time, namely my community of close friends and my family. Absent those connections, and my willingness to listen to voices other than my own whose opinions I value, my responses to these two events would not have been quite so clear-cut, nor would I have found a way to reground so quickly.
And not surprisingly, just as this issue of community and connection has arisen in my own life in the past two weeks, it has arisen in the lives of my clients repeatedly in the last little while as well. I’m working with a number of clients right now who are feeling particularly lost because they have been unable—for work reasons, personal reasons or out of simple laziness—to continue to cultivate their relationships to whatever community matters most to them in their lives, be that a group of friends, a religious community or simply their own family units.
My work with them in this regard has been very straightforward, and I will share it here: you MUST find time to engage with those who matter to you, and it must take priority at least once a week. I am working with clients right now to carve out, for instance, one night a week for clients to spend with friends, or dedicated time to call those who matter most to them with whom they have lost connection, or nights and long weekends away with their families. These choices are about more than time management and prioritization of what matters to us, however; they are also about grounding ourselves in the lives and opinions of those who we love and who matter most to us, and finding stability through good times and bad in those upon whom we can count. The importance of cultivating our community relationships cannot be underestimated in terms of life satisfaction and success.
I say this because through my own communities, I’ve come to realize something very important over the last little while: it is only when we are disconnected from the communities that love us that poor choices can be made. This results from the fact that our communities not only serve us with support, but also serve us with boundaries that inform our choices for the better. When we are unwilling to listen to others’ opinions and judgments of our actions, it is easier to make poor choices. When we are disconnected from those who love us and/or are unwilling to accept that love (even when it arrives in the form of constructive criticism), it is easier to make poor choices. Absent an acknowledgement of the value of the opinions and judgment of those dearest to us in our lives, absent an intent to participate in a community of equals, hear hard truths and reflect them back, absent a willingness above all to listento those who matter and hear them, it is impossible to know who we really are. Failure to see ourselves reflected back in the eyes of our equals allows us to decide our way is the right way, the only way, come what may. It is in that moment that we not only lose connection with community, we lose connection to and with ourselves.
This week, make time to spend with those who matter most to you and those whose opinions you value. Engage with them on a deep level. Enjoy the good company. And most of all, be willing to listen and to hear what is shared. Through connection and community, the trajectory of our lives can become not only more rewarding and fulfilling, but also more clear. Our individual success, in other words, is dependent not just on our own abilities, but also on our willingness to accept the support of those around us. This week, observe your life as it intersects with those you love, accept the profound value that your community and your connection to it offers, and grow.
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