I'm back with a new conversation this week and even though you can't see me through your screen, I want you to do something quickly that may feel a little bit weird! Here it goes...Raise you're hand if you've ever felt lonely or like you didn't belong. (I am on the other side of my screen raising my hand, so know that you aren't alone.)
One of the greatest struggles of entrepreneurship is isolation. Even if you have lots of friends, both online and IRL (in real life), it can often be hard to make time for those relationships. Right now, the word community is flying around the creative world and with good reason. People are tired of being alone and tired of pretending their life looks like the perfect squares of Instagram. There is something powerful about hearing someone else say "me too" and knowing you're not alone whether your struggles are with your personal life or business.
If you aren't already familiar with the work of Brené Brown, I highly recommend that you immediately check out some of her books as she talks a lot about the power of vulnerability. This is her TedTalk and it's incredible. She says that shame is what keeps us from connecting from others and in order to connect with others on a deeper level, we have to be able to be seen. Meaning, we need to be able to be vulnerable.
So how does vulnerability work? When we are able to vulnerably articulate and share our own life, struggles, and stories, it can give others the ability to say "me too" and to realize they aren't alone. There are mirror neurons in our brain, that allow us to do just that. These neurons see other people's behavior and then allow us to imitate or mirror it, so when we see someone being vulnerable, we are more likely to do the same!
It may come as a shock to you, but I myself am incredibly introverted. As much as I love to be around people and hear there stories, I am also incredibly exhausted by small talk. What I've learned is that nobody really likes small talk, but we are fearful to connect on a deeper level, because then others may realize we don't have it all together.
While you may look at someone on the outside and see a myriad of physical differences and while their own story and journey to get where they are may be incredibly different than yours, we all crave the same thing: connection.
We are designed to be in relationships and in communities with others. Initially, this was out of a need to have physical protection, but as humans have changed and evolved, the need is also emotional. Abraham Maslow designed a hierarchy of needs, and after the basic physical needs are met, there is a desire for love and belonging. In order to feel like you belong, you have to be known, which involves sharing some parts of yourself in a vulnerable way.
Now that I've shared a little bit about why we crave meaningful connections, I want to share a few reasons about how this relates to mental health and what happens if we don't connect with others. Loneliness and depression are highly related. Typically loneliness can trigger depression and likewise, depression can create a cycle where you are too tired to connect with others.
Loneliness is one of the major triggers of several mental illnesses and the sense of isolation can have a similar effect on the brain that is noted when an individual experiences physical pain. When we surround ourselves with other people, especially those who are also doing creative things, it can both increase our own creativity, drive, and motivation, but can leave us feeling like we aren't the only ones struggling.
Here are some ways you can work to create "me too" moments around you and encourage others.
1) If you don't already, have coffee dates! I do this both in person and virtually and have loved meeting other creative entrepreneurs. My goal is to shoot for one coffee chat each week! Having them on my calendar gives me something to look forward to each week that isn't work. While we may talk about our businesses or work at first, I always want to connect with people past that level.
2) Move past small talk. This requires digging deep and being willing to share with others. You may often have to initiate conversations that go deeper than "how is the weather?" or "are you going on vacation soon?". Personally, I am not a giant fan of small talk and find that I love being able to connect with people on a deeper level and one easy way to start this is to ask people "How are you really doing?" If you ask someone how they are, the typical response is often fine or good, but asking the to tell you what's really going on, gives someone permission to know you're safe to share with.
3) Share part of your own story on social media. It may feel weird and even awkward at first to do this, but my friend Allyn Lewis is a story-telling strategist and has lots of great resources for how to start to share your story! One way that I have implemented this into the information that I share about the #mybodyisenough project is to share part of my own struggle with learning to love my body. You don't have to share your deepest, darkest secret, but when you can share someone meaningful, it sticks with people long after a pretty picture will.
4) Spend time listening to others! Often you may think you have to share in order to make people feel less alone. It's not true...in fact, often the very best thing you can do to encourage someone else is to listen to them! Let them share things with you and don't feel like you have to offer any suggestions or advice. Listening in and of itself is enough. Being heard is an immense gift you can give to someone else.
Be sure to sign up for announcements for Mental Health for Creatives and join the FREE Facebook group! What other struggles are you currently battling with as you navigate your small business journey? I would love to help! Feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions you may have or topics you would like to see covered in future posts.