When I left TV, I knew I'd lose a lot. Creative work, fame and fortune 🤓. But I didn't know I'd lose the most important thing - my sense of belonging. So this year, I'm taking on one of the toughest challenges of my career – building community and relationships.
"Bah!", the extroverts in the crowd say. "What's so tough about that? Just go out, have some beers, do something stupid like jump off a roof together and you're golden." Sadly, they're not wrong. That did work in my youth.
But shared experience wasn't the only thing that created belonging back then - my pals and I also shared an identity. We all worked in TV. We held common goals and values. We helped each other out every day.
When I left TV, I lost that identity. And have struggled to figure out where I belong since then. Yes, I've worked with incredible people, in diverse industries, wearing many different hats.
But 15 years later, I still haven't "landed". It's really frustrating. And not good for me.
A study at the University of Michigan found that lack of belonging is a strong predictor of depression – more so than feelings of loneliness or a lack of social support.
So this past year, I set out to fix it. I invested time in figuring out who I really am and came back to my roots as a storyteller. But choosing my individual identity is only the first step.
Next, I have to decide what group I want to be part of. Then invest more time and energy in building relationships with the people there – sharing experiences with them, jumping off a roof or two together.
It won't be easy.
- I live in a remote small town where everyone's retired. Most of my work happens online, making it tough to connect at in-person events.
- I'm an introvert at heart. Reaching out to connect with people I don't know well slightly terrifies me.
- I'm stupidly independent. Admitting that I need others is next to impossible.
- I get bored really easily. Commitment to one thing has never been my superpower.
So what's my plan? Take the best advice I've received over the years and put it to work.
1. Figure out who needs me most. As my friend David Drake likes to ask, "What am I being called to do?"
2. Start talking to them. Scratch that. Start listening to them. What are their dreams? What's holding them back? How can I help?
3. Just do it. Offer help. Give generously. Show up consistently. Let go of expectations and meet them where they are.
4. Ask for help. Have the courage to be open, vulnerable, imperfect. Let others know what I want and need. Accept it graciously. (So. Hard.)
5. Celebrate the little things. Stop trying to be 100% productive and take time to enjoy the moments that make us human. Eat the birthday cake. Chat about the holidays. Look at someone's family photos. (Also super hard!)
Where will all this lead? I suspect I'll find myself doubling down to focus on climate change, joining the community of leaders accelerating innovation for a better future. But that's the best part about new adventures and the new year - you never know!