August 3, 2011

The "P" Word That Make All The Difference

Sometime last year a comment was left after a post that caught my eye. Jason talked about the need for the three "P" words in life. As far as I am concerned, the first "P" he identified is crucial to a satisfying retirement and a happy life, regardless of your age or employment status. I liked his idea enough to make it the focus of this article.

People. His first word is really the key to everything else. It is not possible to have a life without some interaction with people. The question is what type of interaction will you have? Do you tend to view people as an impediment to your goals and the life you want to lead? Do you look for the advantage or the upper hand in any dealings? Is an exchange with someone else only satisfactory if it is a win for you, and a loss for them? You have 8,000 followers on Twitter and 3,000 "friends" on Facebook so obviously you must be a likable guy.

Do you see people as basically a means to an end for you? You really don't have time, or even the inclination, to develop real friendships. Business relationships are all you need. The hard work of cultivating friendships is something you are just not good at, so why bother.

Or, do you view others as something to be enjoyed and cultivated? Do you view your place in life as someone who is here to help others, even if there is some harm to you. Do you believe that self-sacrifice is a good thing to pursue? Do you believe in the greater good as it relates to people? Do you work to make friendships and strengthen those bonds?

Being quite honest, for a good portion of my life I was like the first description. I was so focused on growing my consulting business that I was a "people user." A client was just a means to an end. He or she made my lifestyle possible. Except for a select few, his personal problems and needs were the farthest thing from my mind. I had virtually no friends during my "civilian" life either. I was acquainted with lots of people, but there wasn't a single one I would have trusted with a dark secret or to help me work through a problem (not counting my wife).

About six years that changed. My wife and I decided to turn our approach around. We had recently changed churches. That gave us the perfect fresh start we needed. We decided we would meet at least one new couple every week after the church service. We would learn their names, drop them an e-mail to say how much we enjoyed meeting them, and then search them out the next Sunday. This continued for 6 months. At the end of that half year, we had developed deep friendships with several couples, and meaningful relationships with dozens of others, both couples and single folks.

That leap off the deep end for us has changed our lives. I now see people as fascinating and worthwhile. I make it a point to be the first to shake a hand. I have become involved in volunteer activities with people who I would have completely ignored in the past. People in jobs or situations that would have been invisible to me are every much as deserving of my time and attention. My life (and that of Betty) has been enriched beyond measure by opening our minds and our eyes to that glorious feast known as humanity.

Does it take being retired to accept this view of people? Of course not. I was self-centered and fearful of rejection. It had nothing to do with whether I got a paycheck.  But, what I have learned is almost everyone has that same fears.  Most of us want a deeper connection and more meaningful relationships. But many of us are too worried about exposing vulnerabilities.

Can I ask you to try something? Promise yourself that between now and the end of the year, you will take these next five months to try my experiment. You will deliberately and consciously seek out new people. You will be the first to introduce yourself in a social setting. You will give every person you meet the benefit of the doubt: that they are worthy of your time and concern until proven otherwise.

If you seriously commit to trying this, I will promise you that your life will not be the same. You will gain self-confidence and energy. You will have added dozens, if not hundreds of people to your "I know him/her" roster. And, if you are really lucky, you will have found a few people who enrich your days and fill your life with joy.

Oh, the two other "P" words? Passion and Purpose. Both are important but can't come before People.

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  1. How funny that you and I both wrote posts about a "letter" word today! See, I told you that you inspire me, even across cyberspace when neither one of us is aware of it!

    Your post is very much in keeping with something I've been reading about lately--radical hospitality. I'm leading a women's retreat in October, and this is going to be one aspect of our theme. I'm going to print your post and put it in my reference file.

    And I accept your challenge!

  2. Hi Galen,

    Radical hospitality...I like the concept. I'm honored to make it into your file for the women's retreat. Go ahead and challenge the attendees to practice it!

  3. I think that everything we do in this world is to get something from or to give something to the other people. We work hard to provide the needs of other people: our family. We cannot have fun without the presence of other people, etc.
    Thanks for this great post!

  4. GM Janett,

    I just re-watched the George Clooney movie, "Up in the Air," all about a man with no connection to people (except to fire them). It was a strong statement about how hollow our lives can be without someone to care for who cares for us back.

  5. Okay, you caught me. After years of spending all my days slap in the hot middle of the lives of several virtual strangers a day, I've gone into the witness protection program.

    I see the girls at the gym. I see my neighbor at the mailbox (we've had them to supper twice, though), I see my best buddy and we have one other couple we do things with. Other than family, that's IT!

    And those of us with mental health training know that's not adequate. There's got to be adequate mirror-neuron eye contact or we fail to thrive. I'd whine, "But I'm shy!" and "I have lots of friends through blogging!" But you wouldn't be impressed. Nor should you be.

  6. Hi Nance,

    OK, so you have a 5 month challenge to become the friendliest person in either your witness protection program or in South Carolina.

    I would like to avoid that "mirror-neuron" eye thing, though. My health insurance isn't very good.

  7. I like your honesty about how things were when you worked an how you've changed during retirement.I have another problem. I enjoy connecting with people but sometimes feel like I have too many I cannot give all my attention to them. It's because I reach out and then feel bad if I don't communicate as much as I would like to. I collect business cards at meetings and write to people, but then I have my friends, my blogger friends, my FB friends, etc., and feel like a day can go by so quickly. How do you keep all these connections in balance. I'm in FL right now, on vacation and checking my online connections!!!

  8. Sonia,

    You are on vacation and reading blogs? Put down the laptop and enjoy the beach! Actually, I'm taking the laptop and plan on blogging from Hawaii so I'm just teasing.

    That is a good question. I guess my answer would be I pruned back and the same time I expanded. I dropped FB because I didn't see the value at the time and it was cluttering my in box. I dabbled with a few forums but dropped them for the same reason.

    While I was cutting back on contacts that simply ate up my time I worked hard to strengthen the contacts with people who meant something to me in my life. Those are the people who I interact with at church or go out to dinner with or to a movie, or folks like you I have come to respect and enjoy through blogging.

    The simple answer is I know I can't interact with everyone so I prioritize: good friends get first call on my time, love, and attention. Acquaintances, blogging friends, and those who comment on this blog get regular contact. Every other connection is on an as-needed basis, meaning if someone contacts me or RTs something or asks a question I respond. But, I can't stay in regular touch with 3-4,000 people.

    Does that help?

  9. Bob,
    You made me think once again. This people thing gives me real issues. I know that people and relationships are important but on the other hand they mean work and take time. I complain about having no friends but on the other hand, I won't make the effort to form relationships. I talk about how important relationships are but yet I avoid them.
    I like the story about your change. I think that change is what makes humans special but most of us- including me- resist and deny change. Good for you for living and changing. And Good for you for sharing.

  10. Hi Ralph,

    Based on the comments you so graciously leave here, and the thought-provoking posts on your own blog, I think you may be a bit hard on yourself. Your posts are often about change, about recognizing shortcomings, and about moving forward.

    Without sounding like an amateur shrink, isn't it true that one of the toughest things about changing a habit is admitting its existence?

    I was as anti-social as they come. I wasn't rude to peoples' faces or crossed the street to avoid contact-rude, but they were just means to an end. When I finally realized how much I was hurting myself with such behavior, changing became an act of self-preservation.

    The end result was not only did my life turn an important corner, but the people around me thought I had been visited by the ghost of Christmas past.