This may seem like an odd question, but here goes: What if you had to spend Eternity in a closed social loop where you were surrounded only by people you knew during your lifetime? There’d be no anonymous faces at the grocery store, on the street, in the gym, at the mall, at the airport, or anywhere else. The only people in your new permanent world would be family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and other people you’d met or worked with over the course of your life.
This might sound rather good, even comforting at first. Ahhhhh…no more annoying crowds or long lines! And, hey, there’s my fifth-grade teacher Mrs. Rossi ─ and my parents and grandparents! And all my very best friends. Okay, we’ll throw in your long-lost pets, too.
This would be kind of cool, right? Sure, at first.
Eventually you’d realize that you’d never again have the opportunity to meet someone new, likable, and interesting. If you hadn’t yet met the love of your life, you could toss that possibility out the window. And for sure you won’t be spending any more time on your favorite hobby: people-watching — unless you wanted to watch the people you already know. But, geez, what’s the fun in that?
Where am I going with this? Have I lost my marbles?
This is the hypothetical and highly provocative scenario posed by author David Eagleman in his intriguing essay “Circle of Friends.” It’s one of several pieces in his book Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlife. In just two pages I was swept into Eagleman’s strange vision. At first I was intrigued. Then I felt abruptly sad and anxious at the possibility of never again having the chance to meet anyone new, to make any new friends, or to work with any new clients. The roster of people I knew in my lifetime were it: my final, permanent network. Forever.
How would you feel about this? Does it sound good and comforting? Or frightening and limiting? Would you be satisfied with your circle? Or deeply disappointed? (Bring these questions up at the next cocktail party or gathering you attend and see what happens!)
And, while we’re on the topic, are you meeting and engaging with any new people these days? Come to think of it, are you socializing with anyone? And how do you feel about that?
Around the time this post is published, I’ll be preparing for a virtual presentation to a group of professionals on what to do about the phenomenon many people seem to be experiencing these days: way too much me-time and not enough people-time, whether it’s with folks they know or with new acquaintances.
After decades of studying socialization, I can tell you that this situation could have dire consequences. Living and working in isolation (or with the same small group of people) for too long is unhealthy on many levels. First, being alone or with the same limited community can be hard on you and your relationships. It also stunts your learning, creativity, and personal growth; erodes away at your career; generates anxiety and depression; impacts your health and ability to fight and recover from disease; and even shortens your life expectancy.
And yet, based on conversations I’m currently having, it’s clear that socializing and networking are feeling a bit foreign, strange, and stressful. After all, many of us were in the grip of an isolating pandemic for nearly three years. Our social muscles have atrophied.
“I feel like I’ve forgotten many of my former social and conversation skills,” one person told me recently. “And I’m an extrovert!”
“I’m not even sure what groups and events are out there anymore,” another shared. “So much has changed. We’ve all changed. It feels weird to talk to someone new and then ask them out for coffee.”
Sound familiar? No wonder it seems easier and safer to stay home and scroll endlessly on our devices, read a book, cuddle with our pets, play a video game, or stream yet another gripping series.
But maybe you’re celebrating and taking advantage of being free again to engage in person, enjoy stimulating conversations, meet new people, and get your calendar and network active again. I’m doing this. And while I definitely enjoy my solitude and quiet nights in with my sweetie, I have to say, I’m loving getting back out there. I’m running into people I’ve always enjoyed knowing, talking to, and learning from; seeing old friends and colleagues I haven’t seen in many years; and meeting many fascinating new people as well. I’m even joining some new groups and circles and getting back in with old ones. And of course I’m presenting and doing author’s appearances. To me, it’s a glorious social, networking, and professional renaissance.
But not everyone is experiencing this. Or even wants to ever again. This concerns me.
I admit, it has taken time to regain my own social stride. What’s more, I’m being very intentional about resuming my socializing, networking, and client work. (If you don’t know or have forgotten what this means, please refer to my classic success guide The Intentional Networker. The basic premise is that, for most of us, networking better is far more purposeful, powerful, productive, and pleasant than networking more.) So, with that….
How is it going for you? Are you inching out of your pandemic hibernation? Or are you feeling hesitant ─ and totally okay with that for now? If it’s the latter, consider this: whether you’re an extrovert, introvert, or ambivert (which is a combination of both social personalities), you are human. And we humans are designed to live and work together and to build and enjoy community. It’s how we’ve survived thousands and thousands of years. (And conversely, there’s a reason why solitary confinement is considered a devastating and inhumane punishment.)
What can we do to change things? Here are a few basic options:
- Set a goal. Even a small one. How many times a week could you get out of your home or office and enjoy some social contact with a loved one, friend, neighbor, co-worker, or social group? How about going for tea, coffee, or lunch? Or for an adult beverage or dessert? What about a brisk walk-and-talk? You don’t have to commit to hours of socializing. How about just 30 minutes?
- Get with a group. Rejoin the gym and actually go there. Take a class. Join a book or study group. Volunteer. Go to a professional event or lecture. Host a little party with people you really enjoy. Doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive.
- Pick up the phone. Call (don’t text or email!) someone you haven’t seen or talked to in a while ─ maybe in years. Sure, you’ll probably get their voicemail. But you can leave a quick voice message: “Hello, Sandy! It’s been awhile! But I’ve been thinking about you. How are you doing? What’s new?” Very few people bother to do this anymore. But it feels so great to be on the receiving end of a friendly message. And…they may call back!
- Chat with your colleagues and neighbors. A quick, in-person, real-time conversation could feel amazing!
“But then what do I do? What else do I say? How do I keep a decent conversation going? How do I keep topics pleasant and move past the small talk? How do I not get sucked into the vortex of an over-talker or a Negative Nancy?”
These are important questions and concerns! And it’s exactly where my new book More Than Just Talk might come in handy. It’s loaded with ideas for starting and enjoying more of the conversations you want to be having ─ and fewer of those you don’t. (Trust me, it’s often the latter that drains us and then keeps us isolated.) I think you’ll find my book not only liberating, but life-changing! Plus it’s filled with short, easy to read chapters so you can absorb new ideas quickly and easily.
If you’re not yet ready to buy the book, please check out all the free resources I’m offering here. And if you are indeed interested in my books, More Than Just Talk and The Intentional Networker are both out and available on Amazon and other online book retail outlets. Yes, even at BookPeople in Austin. Grab your copy today. Maybe an extra copy for someone you love.
Meanwhile, how may I help you or your team? Have a question for me? Need a presenter or facilitator for your upcoming event? Think my area of expertise is timely? Contact me at email@example.com or 512-970-8129. Let’s have a conversation and see how we can work together!