Do you actually need to be surrounded by like-minded individuals, or is it enough to connect on social media and chill in your own space?
In the book The Originals by Adam Grant, there is a retelling of a dynamic story. It is the story of Rufus Griscom, Co-Founder & CEO at Babble, who pitched his startup by telling investors, “Here are the three reasons you should not back my company.” So here is my take on that concept. Here is why you don’t need a community, and through this article, I hope to eliminate your arguments about getting out there, finding, and being with your people.
Reason #1: I am an introvert and prefer being alone
n 1938, during the Great Depression, scientists began tracking the health of 268 Harvard sophomores and other 19-year-olds from poor regions in Boston. They still, to this day, track the men who are still alive and have started tracking their kids. What does this study have to do with being an introvert? Well, the purpose of this study was presented in a TEDx talk by Robert Waldinger called “What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness.”
The study, which Waldinger currently directs, has found that the people with the strongest relationships lived longer, reported higher levels of happiness and satisfaction, and had fewer memory issues as they age. In Waldinger’s words, “Good relationships don’t just protect our bodies; they protect our brains.” Strong close relationships had a bigger impact on longevity and happiness than money, fame, social class, IQ, or genes. This is because your genes are like the keys to a piano, and the pianist is your environment. It chooses what keys get played or don’t get played at all.
Martin Seligman asks in his book Flourish. “When was the last time you laughed uproariously? “The last time you felt indescribable joy?… Even without knowing the particulars of these high points in your life, I know their form: all of them took place around other people.” People and relationships create your environment. You can still have your alone time, but others are a catalyst for you to live your life to the fullest and healthiest. So get out there and find your people or schedule more time with those who help create your high points.
Reason #2 Just because you are with people doesn’t mean you won’t feel alone
Loneliness and being alone are very different things. As an extrovert, I have learned that great things can come out of my time alone when I have time to process and deep think. I can also tell you that the times I have felt the most lonely have been when I was with people.
You can be lonely in a crowd, and you can be lonely in your relationships. Often it can be easier to derive strength from a sense of rugged individualism rather than put forth the effort to make relationships strong. But our brains and biology have not been shaped for us to become autonomous and solitary creatures.
One in five Americans reports that they are lonely, and it is unlikely that these people would also say they don’t know anyone. But I believe these individuals don’t feel known by the people they know. It is not the number of friends you have or if you are in a relationship. It is the quality of just a few relationships you have with others. Living in the midst of a good and warm relationship protects us mentally and physically and keeps us from feeling alone when we are with others.
Reason #3 I am good all by myself, I like being self-reliant
There he was at the end of the driveway blasting music while he worked on what was probably his car from high school. Of course, I am recalling a scene out of the movie Old School where Frank is about to have a conversation with his wife, which significantly foreshadows the rest of the movie. The music being blasted out for most of the scene is the White Snake song, “Here I Go Again,” and the chorus goes a little like this:
Here I go again on my own
goin’ down the only road I’ve ever known.
Like a drifter I was born to walk alone.
An’ I’ve made up my mind, I ain’t wasting no more time.
If you have time, please watch the music video because, first off, those haircuts are 100% coming back, and you will finally be at the front of the trend when you get one. I think this chorus could be the heart’s cry of every loner and what they use to validate their loner way. You could just live in the chorus of this song without acknowledging this verse which is also a part of the same song:
Just another heart in need of rescue
waiting on love’s sweet charity
an’ I’m gonna hold on for the rest of my days
‘cos I know what it means to walk along the lonely street of dreams.
What you replay is what you remember. It is easy to replay that horrible relationship with someone who was a significant other but isn’t anymore. Or to replay that one with a family member who was supposed to love you no matter what. If you only replay the bad parts of your story with others, those stories are what is defining your thoughts on life in a community. You are letting those stories define who you will reconnect and connect with in the future. Past stories make up who we are, but they can’t help us live out our future stories with purpose. Future connection is what eliminates those lonely streets and makes it, so you don’t have to walk alone anymore.
Reason #4 Life is easier when you don’t have to rely on others
A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.Ecclesiastes 4:12
Solomon, a king of the Israelites, wrote the book of Ecclesiastes. He is known for having everything money could get you in life, and in most of Ecclesiastes, he discusses how it is meaningless all of it was ‘like chasing after the wind.’ However, a few times, this super rich and powerful guy states something is worth a darn, and one of those is relationships.
This verse is a great illustration of friendship. When we live life alone, you don’t have to worry about being let down or betrayed. However, when you go through a hard time or a period where life is just mucky, the people you surround yourself with can help dig you out.
Life in a community with real friends helps you up, keeps you warm, and guards your back. Life by yourself is cold and lonely. But together, things are different. Solomon uses a cord of rope to illustrate the need for community. When you weave several strands of a cord together into a rope, they strengthen each other. The harder you pull, the stronger they get. Others make you stronger, and you make them stronger.
Reason #5 My people are all online, so I don’t really need anyone else
On some level, we all know that most relationships that are lived exclusively online do not have the same meaning to you. While they are not meaningless, being “connected” on social media isn’t the same as feeling connected in real life. There is the added issue that online “communities” too often turn into polarized tribes where you can be afraid to have any disagreement with group members. Holding back your thoughts and opinions can be incredibly lonely as you are forced to hide part of who you are or are worried to show the messy side. You are afraid to show the real-life side where everything is not put away and perfect.
Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook executive, spoke at Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2017. He noted that online, “We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection because we get rewarded in these short-term signals: hearts, likes, thumbs up…And we conflate that with value, and we conflate it with the truth. And instead, what it really is is fake. Brittle popularity that’s short-term and leaves you more—admit it!—vacant and empty than before you did it.” Having exclusive online relationships can be close to social isolation as we don’t have the chance to share who we are with others.
Humans are a social species, and even the most introverted among us still are programmed to exist in groups. This is why social exclusion hurts so much. When it comes to environmental factors that are important for our physical and mental health, strong relationships are at the top of the list. There are so many health problems associated with loneliness that Steve Cole, a researcher at UCLA, refers to loneliness as a “fertilizer for other diseases.” Social isolation and loneliness are associated with higher risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity, and depression.
This message that good, close relationships are amazing for our well-being isn’t new. Why is it so hard to follow and so easy to ignore? Because we’re human and what we’d really like is a quick fix. A McDonald’s type friendship where we can just roll up to the window and get a quick hit whenever we need it. Instead, relationships are more like a progressive dinner with never-ending courses. Some of them are messy, and some are complicated, like if you are going to peel a pomegranate with white gloves while also trying to catch a two-year-old covered in brownie mix.
Spending time building relationships with family and friends is not sexy or glamorous but it most definitely contains some belly laughs. Building your relationships never ends. Most of us start out in life hoping to make something of ourselves and to make a lot of money while doing it, and have no thought for our community. But the people who do the best in life lean into relationships and live richer, more meaningful lives now and in their eighties.
DIG (Get Deliberate, Get Inspired, Get Going) Deep Action Steps:
Get Deliberate: To make community happen, you will have to make it a goal and a priority. It might be doing something as simple as replacing screen time with people time or doing something new with someone you care about, like a stand-up comedy or underwater basket weaving class.
Get Inspired: Mark Twain once said, “There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that.” Easier said than done, but it can be done. Viola Davis, the oscar winning actress, is a real-life example of someone who has lived out Mark Twain’s words even though she had real reasons never to forgive and forget.
Get Going: Your genes are like piano keys, and your environment is the pianist. Make a plan for the next 3 months on how you will change that pianist, so it starts playing a good tune before the start of a new year.