Is independence more important than human connection?
Independence seems to be the currency of Our people (dare I say it — millennials?)
At this stage in Our lives, there is no such thing as saying, “I don’t know.” Or “I need help.” Or “I’m having a hard time.”
We want to figure things out on our own. We give the middle finger to anyone who tries to control us, to help us — whether it’s our parents, our bosses, our government.
We are fighting The Man every step of the way.
And, during that fight, we wear a cloak of hard-earned confidence. Vulnerability — letting others see that we might need advice — disappears. Because our society today tells us that We do not need anyone else.
It’s “Me, Myself & I” from the club, to the rent check (okay, well maybe not).
Nowadays, the most value is placed on You. You young, Independent, passionate person. It comes as no surprise that we are now seeing the highest percentages of Entrepreneurs & Single folk. Ever.
But listen —behind those cloaks of Independence, we are still human. And, humans thrive off of connection. We are meant to seek interaction and community in all that we do. Even if that means asking for help.
So, sometimes we can surrender that Independence. We can be honest. We can stop hiding behind our phones, and talkto another human being.
Because, sometimes being Alone can be Lonely. And, that’s not why we’re Here.
Greyhound Bus to Surfers Paradise, February 2014
It was sweltering hot. I was wearing my twenty-pound backpack fully strapped across my middle, but it’s weight was still digging into my shoulder blades.
I was hung-over. I was hungry. And I sure as hell did not want to sit on a four-hour bus ride in the middle of a beautiful Australian summer day.
Needless to say, I was not in the mood for conversation.
I quickly threw my pack into the jumble below the bus, and made my way inside. To my dismay — but not to my surprise — the stuffy bus was filled to the brim with travelers.
I was too late. An aisle seat was my only option.
I made myself as comfortable as I could for the long ride ahead. As I was about to put in my headphones, I felt a tap on my arm. My seatmate, the one I looked at with disdain only a minute earlier for her proximity to the outdoors, asked me, in a think German accent: “Excuse me, but this bus goes to Surfers Paradise, right?”
I looked at her in disbelief.
I was still getting used to the laid-back nature of backpackers. My intense travel plans were scribbled inside of my trusty Moleskin notebook — each hostel booked months in advance.
I merely nodded my head in agreement.
We went back about our business. I had just chosen a song and closed my eyes when I felt another tap. My seatmate couldn’t resist — “Excuse me, but do you know where you’re staying in Surfers Paradise?”
I resigned myself to the fact that sleeping just wouldn’t happen. I put down my phone and explained my plan for the next few days.
Soon enough, our conversation morphed from logistics to stories.
Just like the beginning of any friendship, we slowly started sharing small tidbits about ourselves. We ended up talking for the entire bus ride.
So much for sleep.
I soon found out that Gretchen*, my once annoying seatmate turned new traveling companion, and I had many things in common.
We both recently graduated from college, and we were traveling alone for the first time. We had both broken up with a long-term boyfriend, and our hearts were freshly wounded. We were both fiercely independent, but we deeply missed our family and friends back home. We were excited, but uneasy at the stark reality of starting our full-time jobs upon our return.
Maybe the only difference between us was my own surprise that we, such different people on the surface, could share so many common experiences.
And, the connection that I made with Gretchen couldn’t have came at a better time.
I was nearly halfway through my travels, so I was accustomed to life on the road, but starting to really reflect. I was beginning to question what I was doing traveling for 4 months.
What was my goal out of this trip? Why did I have to travel halfway across the world to find myself? Why didn’t I spend my time off more constructively, such as volunteering or studying?
Like always, I was perusing my horizon for the Next Best Thing.
The next day, Gretchen and I spent the day at the beach. Although I had only met her the day before, I felt comfortable enough that I could be vulnerable. I felt like I could question these complexities out loud, which were swirling around in my head — with a near stranger to say the least.
And although Gretchen had been traveling for the same length of time as I was, she provided me with insight that I will remember for the rest of my life. She told me in her very direct way:
“Sometimes, we need to take a step back from our lives. We need distance to see the truth. You shouldn’t feel guilt for traveling the world. You should feel lucky.”
Maybe it was her European perspective on living. Or maybe it was comforting that she was at the same point in her life as I, but reassured me that it was all going to be okay.
Either way, I knew that this connection I made was much needed. Gretchen would be a friend I would keep no matter what hemisphere of the world that we lived in.
And, it all started with her asking for a little bit of help, and providing me with some in return.
It’s so easy to get stuck in the mindset that the World Revolves Around You.
And that you need to solve all of your problems.
It doesn’t. You don’t. Because, that’s what friends & other humans are for (even single, entrepreneurs need People sometimes).
Life is kind of weird. Especially when you start to enter that hazy phase of early adulthood. You want to do things on your own — make money, have an apartment, travel— but, you still don’t know how to get health insurance.
It’s okay. We’ve all been there (are still there).
But, when you admit that you‘re struggling with something, when you show your vulnerability, people want to help you out. You are not wrong. You are not weak.
You are merely a human being.
Surrendering your independence, even just a little bit, is refreshing. It cracks the surface. It allows for deeper, more meaningful conversations — that can help you work through some of those really tough, confusing times. It allows others to open it too.
Sometimes, you need to take the first step. You need to be the one who starts the conversation. Maybe it begins with a close friend, a sibling, or a roommate. And then — branch it out. A co-worker. A friend you lost touch with. Heck, even a neighbor (we have those?)!
Because, there’s nothing worse than going at this thing called Life alone. There’s nothing worse than bearing the weight of this confusing time All By Yourself.
And honestly, you shouldn’t have to. Everyone else is feeling it. Someone just has to be brave enough to put their cloak of Independence aside, and bare some Vulnerability.
Why can’t it be you?