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Healing through connection
Q: Have you felt alone recently?
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Last week I was catching up with some dear friends who I had not seen in person for over three years. As the conversation veered towards work, they shared how raw and burnt out they were feeling. I had hired them at Google and it pained me to see them struggling to regain their self-confidence and motivation to stay in their jobs. They were strong women who had always taken risks in life and were now being asked to quieten their voices and toe the company line.
As I walked away from the conversation, I felt the need to help them. I realized that I had already helped them - by listening to them and giving them my undivided attention. I was curious to hear what they were going through. I also reminded them of who they were and how I had seen them thrive in many complex situations at work and outside of work.
They needed some healing. They needed to be reminded of the value that they bring to the world. They needed to find their inner voice and rediscover the power within themselves. In times when I have lost my way, I have found reaching out to friends, mentors, colleagues serves as a reminder - of who I am, of my values and of the good I bring into the world. I was glad to be able to do that for them. The act of helping another person made me feel less alone that day. Each meaningful conversation ties me back to humanity.
If you find yourself feeling alone, questioning everything, frustrated with life, hating your job, snapping at your loved ones, here are two tips that I shared that day -
Connection with self - Take 15 minutes for yourself. Yes you are a busy employee, leader, mother, husband but you have to water your own garden. This could be singing your favorite song on your commute home, locking yourself in your bathroom and taking a long shower/bath or curling up in your bed with your pet. It is important to carve out the space and time to reconnect with yourself.
Connection with others - Have one meaningful conversation a week. It's never too late to ping someone that you love and care for, even if you have been out of touch for years. People are hungry for connection. It doesn't have to be in person. Speaking to someone that knows you well or knows your work, will remind you of who you are and what you bring to the table.
This week we visited our friends that had a baby two months ago. Seeing the parents of a 2 month old baby, joyful yet exhausted took me back to 2019 when we had little A. The compassion I felt for them, especially the new mom, was instant. I had been standing in the same spot where she was just four years ago when A was born. Tired beyond belief. Surviving on barely enough sleep. So full of gratitude when friends stopped by to visit and brought us food and could hold our baby for a few minutes. It also reminded me of how lonely, isolating and emotional it is to be a new mom. Especially in this country where we don't have the family and community support systems that exist in many other countries.
This past weekend I listened to a podcast episode from The On Being Project with Dr Vivek Murthy, the US Surgeon General, on the art of healing. He talked about loneliness being an epidemic in the country, something he’s raised as a public health crisis since 2017. He also shared some other incredible insights on how we define success and wholesomeness and how we heal as a community and as a country (highly recommend listening to it).
Here are some of his words on loneliness, about what it is and what impact it has -
But loneliness is not so much about how many people you have around you. It’s about whether you feel like you belong. It’s about whether you truly know your own value and feel like you are connected to other people. It’s about the quality of your relationships with others and yourself.
...We know that when people struggle with that sense of disconnection from one another — loneliness — when they don’t feel like they belong, it actually impairs their function in the workplace. It reduces productivity, creativity, and engagement, and ultimately retention.
Dr Murthy offers four simple steps to move away from this social reality (two of which coincidentally Mitali shares above) -
Connection - Spend 15 minutes a day connecting with somebody you care about. It could be calling them up or video conferencing with them. It could be sending them a text just to say, “Hey, I’m thinking of you. I just wanted you to know that you’re on my mind.” It has to be with people you don't live with.
Attention - Give people your full attention when you talk to them. If you can take even one conversation and just give somebody the gift of your full attention, your attention has the power to stretch time. It can make five minutes feel like thirty minutes.
Service - Find opportunities to serve others. When we help each other, we not only forge a connection with someone else, but we also reaffirm to ourselves that we have value to bring to the world. And that’s important because when we struggle with loneliness for a long period of time, it erodes our sense of self-esteem and self-worth. We begin to think we’re lonely because we’re not likable, that it’s our fault somehow. But service shortcuts that circuit and helps us feel more connected to others and ourselves.
Solitude - It is in moments of solitude, when we allow the noise around us to settle, that we can truly reflect, that we can find moments in our life to be grateful for.