👋 Hello to the 522 smart, curious, and thoughtful Intentional Wisdom'ers receiving today's email. And a special welcome to those who've recently joined us! You may have noticed... I just took the longest break that I've had from writing in over a year (3 weeks), and frankly, I needed it. I appreciate all of the responses to the survey in the last edition of the newsletter. 72% of you said you preferred to receive Intentional Wisdom every two weeks, so I'm going to try out that cadence. I hope it gives me a bit more time for research and you more time to catch up on older issues. But I'm slightly concerned that it may give me too much time—time that I might use to purchase excessive amounts of cryptocurrencies or make ill-advised podcasts. But let's cross that bridge when we come to it. On to the important stuff...
💡 The big idea
Not long ago, I wrote an article titled When the wheels come off, in which I used the analogy of a golfer struggling through a rough 18 holes to represent what you and I often face in our day-to-day lives as we try to stay centered.
I noted in that article that one thing I've observed among really good golfers is that they're not necessarily always good. Don't get me wrong, they're good. But they can also go off the rails from time to time.
The difference between very good golfers and your average weekend warrior is that the good golfers have the tools in their toolkit to get them back on track when they fall off. They may not show up to the range in the morning with the perfect swing, but they've had enough experience and reps that they know the adjustment to make when they start to slice it, or the tweak that's needed when that snap-hook rears its nasty head.
The same is true off the course for you and me. To expect that we're going to show up every day and be perfect is unrealistic. This goes for our careers, our health, our relationships—you name it. A more realistic approach is needed.
Author James Clear has said that we don't rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems (or more specifically, our habits).
So when we find ourselves going astray, it's our systems that we need to rely on to get us back.
And we can go astray in many parts of our lives (too often, it’s all at once):
Encountering a rough patch in a relationship
Falling off the wagon with our fitness or nutrition
Finding ourselves in a career rut or seemingly hopeless situation
When it happens, we must find a way to course-correct. And that’s where having rock-solid systems to fall back on becomes critical:
Ruthlessly adhering to healthy sleep habits (same time in bed, same time awake, no phone in the room, etc.)
Exercising strenuously every day
Eating healthy, nutritious foods
Practicing some form of mindfulness daily - meditation, gratitude, prayer - maybe all of the above
But what's not covered here—and truthfully, what I've probably not spent nearly enough time thinking, writing, or talking about—is the powerful role that human connection and relationships play in all of this.
In fact, the relationships that we build and nuture over time can be the ultimate tool in the toolkit to help us get back on track.
Intuitively, it makes sense. We know that we are social creatures.
We long to be:
The problem is that when encountering rough patches in life, we often have a natural tendency to try to fix it ourselves. We feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders alone. And as a result, we can't always see our situations for what they are. Our emotions blind us. Our judgment is clouded. And once we fall down that nasty spiral of poor sleep, unhealthy eating, and a general neglect of our healthy habits, the problem becomes exacerbated.
Relationships to the rescue.
While it's bad news that we can't always see our own situations for what they are, there is good news: someone else probably can. Our spouse. Our work colleague. Our friend. Really anyone who we feel that we can have honest, no-holds-barred conversations with. They often have the ability to see what we perceive to be an impossible maze for what it really is: a temporary bump in the road.
The impact on our psyche of simply being able to talk to someone about all of the worries, fears, resentments and injustices that are swirling around inside of us can be transformational.
Of course, trusted relationships don’t sprout in a day. They must be invested in and nurtured over time. They are built upon mutual trust, respect and open communication. And those things simply take time.
It’s easy for us to deprioritize our relationships when more pressing matters are inevitably calling for our attention. But perhaps there is no greater asset that we can invest in.
Not only do strong relationships make life easier—the friend who can pick your kid up from practice at the last minute, or the colleague who has no problem logging the extra hour of work to help get your project done—but they are the most fulfilling parts of life, too.
And ironically, the really fulfilling parts come not from receiving the benefits of friendship, but rather from giving. Investing in relationships doesn’t just mean agreeing to do drinks, it means getting out of bed early to help the friend who calls up with the pressing emergency, or simply listening to the colleague who is pulling her hair out dealing with a workplace injustice.
When we do these things—when we serve others— we satisfy our uniquely human desire to be useful. To add value. To lend a hand. And it ends up fulfilling us even more than the person we are supposedly helping.
Of course, establishing and nurturing relationships has become exponentially more difficult in this strange COVID/Delta/hybrid/Zoom whatever-we-want-to-call-it world we’re living in, right?
There’s no doubt that hybrid and remote work have made building and maintaining meaningful relationships more difficult in a number of ways. When we're not physically in the same place as our colleagues, we miss out on the chance interactions and the small talk that actually plays an important role in keeping us sane and connected. Perhaps more concerning is that we're more prone to loneliness, isolation, and falling into unhealthy thought patterns. When there is no one there to help us see clearly, we can easily assume that others have bad intentions or that our personal prospects have dimmed, when, in fact, reality may look much different.
But all is not lost, even as the Delta variant renders return-to-office plans more uncertain than ever. Remote and hybrid work can actually lead to better (not worse) relationships. And I'm not talking about mandatory Zoom happy hours. (Team - At our 5 o'clock Friday meeting, we are all going to have fun. And that's an order. - The boss, probably). I'm talking about the fact that many (most?) modern workplaces are not set up for meaningful conversation in the first place. I've personally spent the last 20+ years working on trading floors and within open floor plans. Over that 20 years, I've witnessed something close to zero meaningful conversations in the space where the actual work gets done. Everyone knows, if you need to have a real conversation, you have to go "off the desk." Why? Because inquiring minds want to know! When ten or twenty or thirty people are within earshot, you better believe at least some of them are listening. And our conversations are therefore naturally guarded, reserved, and manufactured—like we're on stage—which we essentially are.
But when we're remote, we don't have to worry about this. On Zoom or over the phone, we still have an opportunity to connect one on one. And that is where actual, meaningful, important conversations almost always take place—one on one.
We just need to take the initiate to have those conversations.
And that is where I will land this ship.
If we take it as a given that building and maintaining relationships is just as important—if not more so—than the other habits we work so hard to adhere to, then we need to give our efforts in this area the proper attention.
For me, what gets measured gets done. And this is no exception.
I mentioned way back that I’m a fan of the Habits app. And each night, I like to check on my habits.
Did I exercise?
Did I hit my sleep goal?
Did I drink that gallon of water?
Did I practice gratitude?
Some days I hit them all, some days none. But if I’m tracking them, my chances of success increase exponentially.
What if we treated the investment we’re making in our relationships the same way?
What can this look like? Well, if we’re talking about our careers, for instance, it can be as simple as this:
Weekly goal: One meaningful conversation at work.
Too busy? Consider this: If that conversation takes 30 minutes, it’s about 1.25% of your week.
Remember the Pareto Principle? This is that on steroids.
Focusing. On. What. Matters.
Simple, but not easy. Try it. You might just find that the investment you make is more valuable than… dare I say, CryptoPunks.
That's it for this week. See you in TWO weeks.
Image credit: CryptoPunks/Larva Labs. Crossing my fingers that I know how NFTs work and that I don't have to pay someone 5 million dollars for using the above JPEG.
📚🥑Content Diet - A book, a newsletter, and a throwback
📕Draft No. 4 by Jon McPhee — If you're into books about writing (okay, keep reading one reader who is still with me), I've recently found John McPhee by way of Tim Ferriss. This is a beautiful little book from the famed Princeton professor, which somehow manages to both teach advanced writing techniques while also entertaining.
✉️ Status Monkeys from Packy McCormick — Okay, I used an image of CryptoPunks for this article, so if you're feeling duped, I'm sorry. But I come bearing gifts. If you are completely confused as to why digital Punks, Apes, Rocks and something called Meebits are getting purchased for hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, Packy breaks it all down in this piece. I wrote about the NFT space here, but it's all moving so fast I'm frankly having a hard time keeping up. Packy's work helps in this regard. Not to scare you, but if you don't learn about this stuff, the video below may soon be your fate.
"Alison, what is internet?"
That’s really it! — Greg