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Got Friends?

Do you feel alone with your job search? How many people can you share your career/life challenges with? How many confidants do you have? This week’s podcast is with distinguished University of Chicago Professor John Cacioppo, the author of “loneliness”. John, along with Canadian researcher Louise Hawkley (University of Chicago), has done pioneering research on human nature and the need for social connection. Unfortunately, Frank Sinatra was wrong on this one. Connecting isn’t by doing it your way – connecting is in our genes.

According to a 2004 survey published by The American Sociological Review, the most common answer to, “how many people can you share the struggles of your life with?” – is none. This compares to the same research in 1985 when the most common response was 3. In my opinion, we have never been more connected yet more alone. It is ironic. In a world of BlackBerries, Facebook, email and v-mail we have fewer and fewer real relationships. Frank, in his very famous song shares, “I did it my way”. This exact philosophy leads to lower income, less promotions, fewer friendships and a shorter and less fulfilling life.

What are some of the challenges in our culture? They are in large part busyness, more demands for more with less, technology, travel time and even architecture. I call this the “Garage door syndrome”. Door opens, bypass neighbor and head straight to the T.V. Yet, when we are in crisis such as ice storms, power blackouts and 9-11, what happens? We stand on our driveways and in the hallways of work and relate to others. We leave these conversations fulfilled, energized and generally more hopeful.

Loneliness can make us demanding.
Loneliness can make us critical.
Loneliness can make us passive.

So how do we change?

According to John, “effective change requires more than altering our thinking. It requires a change in behavior by easing into a new way of relating to people by taking baby steps”. In his book, he suggests four simple ways to help you use the acronym – EASE.
E – Extend Yourself. This essentially means to get a bit more involved in your workplace. Join the social committee, volunteer at the food bank, help tutor children.

A – Action Plan. For example, creating a 90-day career search plan involves changing our attitude from passive to intentional. Your plan doesn’t have to be extensive. Start with one page of your goals and actions. This one idea will give you a greater sense of control.

S – Selection. It is not how many people you have on your Facebook page; it is the quality of these relationships. Reach out to some of the healthy relationships that you may have had and let slide. Meet for coffee. You will be surprised what kinds of opportunities could arise.

E – Expect the Best. You and I can be negative or positive about the job market or opportunities within the current climate. The evidence proves that being positive will achieve the things that most of us desire in our career and our lives.
As John says, “As individuals and as a society, we have everything to gain and everything to lose on how well we manage our need for human connection”. Ease into it. Remember, baby steps.

Many professionals, and especially leaders, think that the best way to get things done is on their own. John’s overwhelming evidence proves that the most effective way to achieve a more fulfilling personal and professional life is by being in healthy relationships with others. As the African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. Reach out and touch someone this week – you’ll both win.