I’d like to think that as a 50-year-old Gen X’er, I’m pretty connected to other people. But now that I’ve left full-time work, many of the connections I make are virtual. I teach online, I have email accounts, I blog and correspond with people here in the comments, I run a 275 member Younger Next Year Facebook group, I participate in other FB groups, and I’m active on Twitter.
And what’s really exciting is that some of the virtual connections turn into face-to-face connections too! Last fall, we attended the PopUp Business School at Mr. Money Mustache’s Headquarters in Longmont. Since then, we’ve had a number of meet-ups with people we met at PopUp in different places in the country! I also had a blog reader meet-up when we were in Colorado. Carol now has her own great blog focusing on the benefits of part-time work.
We also went to FinCon in Dallas last October and met a bunch of people I’ve connected with online. And some folks from Longmont were there too – so we were able to have a mini-reunion! And tomorrow, we’re going to have our first Younger Next Year Facebook group member meet-up in a park here in Florida. We’re so excited to meet more of our virtual friends and get to know them better!
But without the virtual connections, none of these face to face meet-ups would have happened either.
But there is another group of people that we really need to get connected to now. And that’s the other owners in our condo complex. For the last five years, we’ve been “drop in” owners. We’d show up for five or six days and then we’d be gone for a few months. We were more of vacationers, than residents. And by the time we showed up again, people recognized us – but couldn’t usually remember our names. And we were at a loss for coming up with people’s names too. We didn’t really feel connected at all.
Now that our plans are more flexible, we plan to reside here now for periods of time, rather than just drop in. So it’s time to commit to connecting.
I like to head down to the pool after my long morning walks. I usually take along my phone and laptop so that when I get out of the pool, I can answer emails, catch up on blogs, check the weather, and connect on social media. I say hello to the folks at the pool and make small talk, but then I go right back to being connected to my devices.
We know it’s important to disconnect when we are home with our children and when we want to have good conversations with our partners or friends. It’s hard to connect with the people you love when you are constantly connected to a device and not them.
But what about when you are around a group of strangers?
The other day I decided that I would try to disconnect at the pool. No phone, no laptop – not even a book. I swam for awhile and then decided to relax in a lounge chair and drink some coffee. And I was pleasantly surprised with what happened.
I had three conversations with people, rather than simple small talk.
One man talked with me about moving his 97-year-old father from Indiana to an assisted living facility in our town last week. He shared that his Dad got sick the first night and had to be rushed to the ER. They thought he had vomited blood – and later found out it was chocolate pudding. Crazy. Since my father is also in an assisted living facility, we had many things in common to talk about. The conversation wasn’t just about the beautiful weather.
Then I talked to a retired school counselor. She is in charge of planning social activities in our association and she also volunteers in the local elementary school. She talked with such excitement about how the kids are learning to read and that they are excited to sit and read to her. We also talked about travel and all of the countries she and her husband taught in over the years. We have friends who have done that too, so we had lots to talk about.
The third person I talked to lives directly above us. She shared her struggles with exercise and we talked about what a challenge it is if one person in a couple is committed to healthy food and exercise and the other person has a different outlook. She told me about the Sarasota Farmers Market and thought that we’d really enjoy it. I told her about the Younger Next Year book and she was going to add it to her reading list so that we could talk about that too.
And that all took place in just over an hour.
We also call each other by name now when we see each other.
It was a great reminder that devices can become a crutch to cut conversations short or to avoid them in the first place.
That tool you use to connect can prevent you from making new connections.
Will I be leaving my devices in the condo every time I go to the pool? Probably not. I am sometimes there when no one else is there and I do get a lot of work done while enjoying being outside. But I will put them down and seek real conversations with my neighbors because it’s so important.
One of the Younger Next Year rules is connect and commit. Another is to care. The book talks about the importance of socializing and being a part of a group and how isolation kills. We need to “default to yes” when it comes to making time for conversations and activities with our neighbors. Being a good listener and caring about these people is important. We’ll see these folks more than we will see our families each year.
I’d encourage you to make a smart decision and connect with those around you – especially if you are in a new setting. It’s easy to stare at your phone or type on your computer and connect to whatever or whoever is on the other end. But you might be missing out on some really great people and experiences.