Many of our readers – graduating residents and fellows – have recently moved to a new city or new work location, and this change is the impetus for my topic today. Completing training is an exciting and disorienting change for many. It is the first time that many psychiatrists are NO LONGER surrounded by their peer group. You now may be the only psychiatrist in a practice or, if not, the only one of your generation. It can feel lonely.
Today’s message, of course, applies to nearly everyone: you, your family members, and patients. Who hasn’t been lonely at some point in life?
I have assigned a challenging task for myself today: to provide advice on how to never be lonely again. To be blunt I believe that being lonely is a choice. There, I said it! Of course, it is only partially a choice, but enough of one to provide a range of possible actions to overcome it.
I speak from experience as an introvert. Don’t think because I have little fear of public speaking or enjoy being around others that I’m not an introvert. I am. I have trouble meeting new people, making friends, and especially hate going to parties where there will be lots of people I don’t know. I’m not shy. Rather I’m just not very good at small talk nor very interested in it.
I’ve spent most of my life around people I met a long time ago, and sometimes that’s enough and sometimes it’s not. Many times I wished I had someone I was excited to see and spend time with, but I didn’t. Some of those times I gathered myself up to do something about my loneliness and sometimes I didn’t. The times I did have been some of the most gratifying of my life, while the times I didn’t have been the most disheartening for me.
This is what I’ve learned – from observing myself and others: most people are rather passive about meeting others and making friends. Well, none of us need to be. What I’m about to tell you works even if you’re very shy and even if you’re an introvert, for those are not the same thing.
Here is my advice: make the first move.
Ok, sure. But how do you make the first move if you are shy or introverted?
Like this: assign yourself a role. Do not make the first move as a “lonely civilian” but rather as someone with a “job” to do. Here are two examples first; then I’ll explain the concept.
- You start a new job and you don’t know anyone. Maybe everyone is very busy and doesn’t have the time or inclination to be particularly welcoming towards you. That’s ok. Don’t take it personally; most people these days have time-hunger. Many people are overworked, overscheduled, and overstimulated. You understand this but don’t let it get in your way. You assign yourself the role of host. On a day early in the week, you let everyone at work know you’re holding an impromptu get together after work on Friday. You say you’re doing this because you’re new, you don’t know anyone, and wish to get to know everyone a little better. Basically, you’re telling them the truth. This helps when you’re shy or introverted; you probably aren’t good at telling social white lies. You invite everyone to your apartment, or the common room in your complex, or just some casual restaurant nearby. Afterward, you receive a lot of “thank you’s” because, you learn many other people were lonely or disconnected, but no one did anything about it. Finally, it was you who took the initiative.
- One day you look in the mirror and the thought strikes you that you don’t have many friends. If you wanted to invite someone for lunch or dinner, you don’t know who that would even be. So, you reach out a community charitable organization, your house of worship, or similar. You say you’re interested in volunteering and ask if they have any open positions – they usually do. Voila, you have just become a greeter, coordinator, planner, or doer of whatever needs doing. You’ve assigned yourself a role. You don’t talk to people because you’re lonely and want to make friends. You talk to them because it’s your job.
The concept here is that we are all (at least somewhat) good with people, are surrounded by people, and probably enjoy being around (some) people some of the time. Despite these skills and opportunities, too often we don’t know how to take advantage of them because interacting on a “professional” level is something we’re skilled at while interacting on a personal level, especially when it involves breaking through that invisible barrier that surrounds most people, remains challenging. SO, we play a Jedi mind trick on ourselves and assign ourselves a professional role, like being a host rather than a guest. All of a sudden, we know what to do and are happy to do it. Then we let nature takes its course. Strangers turn to acquaintances, friends, or lovers.
BTW, it is this belief of mine, that we all on some level to connect with others, that drives me to always make everyone introduce themselves at all our courses and conferences and that leads me to say to everyone, “Never eat alone while you’re here.” It’s also why we have interactive activities at the Oasis Conferences. These simple statements and activities are among the most common things we do for which attendees thank me. I’m glad. As an introvert, playing the host is the job I’ve assigned myself, one that allows me to overcome my loneliness as I help you overcome yours.
Until next time.
“Solitude is fine, but you need someone to tell that solitude is fine.”
Honore de Balzac
“I am awfully greedy; I want everything from life. I want to be a woman and to be a man, to have many friends and to have loneliness, to work much and write good books, to travel and enjoy myself, to be selfish and to be unselfish …”
Simone de Beauvoir
“Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”
Arthur C. Clarke
“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”