Solitude via Friends

Sometimes you read something that resounds within you so deeply, that you want to leap to your feet and utter loudly, “Yes, exactly!” It doesn’t happen to me very often, but it did today. I was reading “Solitude and Leadership” by William Deresiewicz. Here’s the part that roused my soul:

So solitude can mean introspection, it can mean the concentration of focused work, and it can mean sustained reading. All of these help you to know yourself better. But there’s one more thing I’m going to include as a form of solitude, and it will seem counterintuitive: friendship. Of course friendship is the opposite of solitude; it means being with other people. But I’m talking about one kind of friendship in particular, the deep friendship of intimate conversation. Long, uninterrupted talk with one other person. Not Skyping with three people and texting with two others at the same time while you hang out in a friend’s room listening to music and studying. That’s what Emerson meant when he said that “the soul environs itself with friends, that it may enter into a grander self-acquaintance or solitude.”

Introspection means talking to yourself, and one of the best ways of talking to yourself is by talking to another person. One other person you can trust, one other person to whom you can unfold your soul. One other person you feel safe enough with to allow you to acknowledge things—to acknowledge things to yourself—that you otherwise can’t. Doubts you aren’t supposed to have, questions you aren’t supposed to ask. Feelings or opinions that would get you laughed at by the group or reprimanded by the authorities.

This describes my deepest held philosophy. It explains why I have far more fun now at 360Conferences events then I did when I ran them. It explains why the thing I miss most about 360Conferences is spending nights chatting with John about business, life, dreams, goals, etc. It explains why I can spend almost all my time with Nathan Eror at one 360|iDev, then spend just a few minutes in passing at the next one.

This will help explain me to a lot of you that know me, but whom I probably perplex at times. I like to focus on one or two people at a time. I like to get to know them deeply, talk about dreams, failures, life lessons, etc. I get to the meat quickly and often forge a friendship quicker than most others do. There is a certain intimacy (not the sexual kind) that comes with my relationships. I don’t want to talk about the weather or the latest gizmo or SDK, though I often will because they are common bonds. What I really want to know is the things deep down within you that make you the wonderful person you are. These are the things that are so unique to you that I can’t help but remember them, even though I may forget your name (because those tend not to be unique).

There are so many people and I don’t have unlimited time. Therefore, I have to focus on one or two people to the detriment of the many. I think this probably hurts many of your feelings, and that’s not my intent. This hurt stems from how I spend 4 days practically at your side then the next time we see each other, we barely hang out for more than a grand total of 30 minutes over 4 days. It’s not that I don’t like you anymore, but rather that I’m getting to know someone else just as intimately. I think my family suffers most here. I’ll hang with one aunt or cousin and thus others will not get any face time at all.

It may seem unfair, not because I’m so great and I think everyone should be blessed with my presence. Quite the opposite, all of your are so great that I shouldn’t be allowed to hog up all your time every time we meet. Plus, there’s only so much time in the day and many people we have to meet.

When I get to know you, rest assured that everything we discuss in neatly packed away into a mental box and stored safely. I’ll come visit that box during my times of true solitude. I will revisit conversations we had, ideals we discussed when I ponder something early in the morning while sitting in my office chair. The next time we do have another conversation, don’t be surprised if I bring up points from our last conversation. It doesn’t matter to my mind if we left off a year ago, when i open that box when we meet again, those discussions vividly come back into memory like they happened just yesterday.

One quote that demonstrates this clearly is one that a dear friend from high school said at our 10 year reunion. “I feel like I’m 16 again.” is what she said after we danced to an old favorite tune and had a conversation where I brought up discussion points that we left off on in high school.

I think it also explains my youthful demeanor. My wife says I’m more like one of the kids than I am her hubbie. I’m sure (or hope) that she’s jesting, but there is some truth to that. To me, to my mind, I’m no different today then I was when I was 16 or heck, even younger. Sure, things have changed but the core of who I am and what I stand for are the same.

How do I know this? Through hearing myself talk during these intimate conversations with dear friends. The things I say now are echoes of the things I’ve said back in my teenage years and during all the time in between. Yes, my life has changed from single to married, from kidless to 3 kids, from drunk to sober, from Catholic to LDS, but the core tenants are the same: I love life and the people who fill it. I still have the same dream of being a great businessman that I hatched back in 6th grade. I still want to be the best dad that I can possibly be, like I did when I read the “How to be a great parent” book when I was 8 or so. I still want to be the best husband/brother/son/friend that I’ve always strived to be.

This is the thing we need solitude for: to (re)discover ourselves. This is the reason we exist on this planet: to help each other grow but still stay true to our inner selves. Therefore, take the time to have that special one on one time; Not just with me, but with others in your life. Let your dear friends help you grow into the person you know deep down inside you want to be. Become that leader in whatever space you want to succeed in. We only have one life, so let’s make it the best we can for ourselves and those around us. While one person may change the world, it takes the world to create that person.

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