By now, you are either shaking your head with a clear “No way!”, or raising your eyebrows with an “Obviously!” Let’s get on the same page here.
When I say “connections”, I’m not talking about the size of your Rolodex or the length of your contact list. A real connection takes place when you are able to see someone deeply, for who he is at his core, with empathy and without judgment. At the same time, you allow this person see you for who you are, deeply at your core, and you both allow yourselves to touch each other’s lives, even if very briefly.
Does this sound overly sentimental? Let’s talk in practical terms about the reasons why these connections matter more than anything else in defining you (yes, even more so than your professional accomplishments).
Let’s do a quick exercise so that you see how the idea of meaningful connections is relevant to you personally:
Off the top of your head, write down in a column on the left side of the paper the names of 20 or so people with whom you made a personal connection of any sort. These connections could be as close to your heart as your best friends, your first sweetheart or teachers who really believed in you, or as far from your current life as random strangers who showed you unexpected kindness that stayed in your memory. Think of at least 5 connections for each decade of your life.
Ready? (Please actually write the list – you’re taking time for reading this post anyway, so what’s another 30 seconds for actually compiling the list?)
Next, to the right of each name, jot down a quick note about the way this person affected your life. For example:
N., my best friend when we were 4: she always made me laugh, and had a happy spin on everything that was going on around us.
S., my first crush when we were 5: our daycare was militant about the kids finishing their meals, and S. always offered to finish the meals that I didn’t like so that I wouldn’t get in trouble.
V., a friend from my teens, who wrote the kind of letters that Shakespeare wouldn’t be ashamed to plagiarize from.
O., a high school teacher who took a chance on me, and was delighted with my progress even when I didn’t do as well as I could.
D., a cousin who gave me books by Richard Bach and Carlos Castaneda, changing the way I see the world.
P., a college professor who showed us the power of really seeing a person.
V., a guy who taught me that people will surprise you if let yourself see (I actually wrote a whole post inspired by this guy).
For every person I mentioned, there are 30 that I didn’t mention. Some of them played a huge role in my life: my adopted grandfather, old friends whose kids are now friends of our kids. Others touched my life in passing like billiard balls: the guy who was driving behind me on a highway, and patiently let me weave in and out of his lane 3 times, as my GPS died and I was frantically trying to figure out my way; the guy whom I met in the airport in England while I was flying from Italy and he was flying from Germany – it turned out that we were on the same plane to New York, and in the course of our flight he convinced me that I should go to grad school in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, not in Clinical Psychology. (He was right).
Here’s the thing: when you write up a story solely about the most moving connections that you made in your life, this story will reveal in the most deep and meaningful way who you really. This story will reveal what matters to you, what journeys made a difference in your life, what you value, and what you need.
If you ever feel lost, if you ever catch yourself saying “I don’t know who I am anymore”, write down a list of as many of your connections as you can think of, big and small.
You will then immediately remember who you really are, because the story of your connections is the true story of You.
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