This is part of my “How to Become the Person You Were Made to Be” series. Here are the other sections if you missed them:
Listening (read this post for the introduction to the series)
Part Four: Getting Outside Yourself
What does it mean to get outside yourself?
When I reference “getting outside of yourself” I’m talking about community, friendship, family and general service. We are communal being regardless of what the media suggests. We need friendship. We need human interaction. We cannot be the person we were made to be without others. All the other parts of this series have been leading up to this one.
By now you should be at least a little more aware of yourself, aware of others and you should be habitually listening. These practices make community easier and more natural. And community makes being the person you were made to be easier and more natural. It is a beautiful circle of happiness and contentment. And it is one that is normal. Loving others and loving yourself is what is and has made the world turn since the beginning of time. We all experience this love one way or another, but we don’t all cultivate it.
Community cultivates the love that has always been inside us and draws it out into the world.
Community correlates to better health for us and our friends. In fact, it is so important that lack thereof was proved in a 2010 study to be more detrimental than obesity, habitual smoking and alcoholism.
I am right in the middle of this journey. I used to have a tight-knit group of close friends – a couple of which had been my confidants since birth. But when we all graduated college, we moved to different areas (different countries even) and pursued different lives. Then I got married, got my first job… and I’m still having a difficult time adjusting to the fact that I have almost zero really close friends.
It just takes so long to make them. It took the better part of 4 to 10 years for me to be so close to the friends I had. I feel exhausted just thinking about investing that kind of time as an adult with a job and significant responsibilities.
But I recognize now, more than ever, the importance of adult friendships. I recognize that I cannot continue on the path of being who I’m made to be if I’m not regularly involved in the lives of others.
So how can we start doing this really good thing?
Practical Ways to Get Outside Yourself
If you are regularly attending just about anything, you will get to know the people. Join a book club, a knitting club, a church, a spinning class, a hiking group, a nature center…. Join something and show up often. Once you become familiar, it is easier to make conversation and friendships. Heck, go to the same diner every week and make friends with the waiters.
Regulars are comfortable and approachable.
Be Open and Honest
We’ve covered this one in a previous article, but I cannot stress its importance. In an experiment on interpersonal closeness, psychologists found that people who ask and answer deeper questions feel closer to the person they are conversing with, even if they’ve never met them before.
Small talk is great for the elevator (NOT), but it isn’t so great for making friends. Scrap the small talk and ask questions that merit thoughtful responses.
Studies have shown that community service gives us a stronger sense of purpose and prolongs our lives. Maybe that’s why our schools and colleges force students to volunteer. Either way, willing service is likely to be much more beneficial to our health than forced.
I have a friend who suffered a nasty divorce that left her friendless. She could be bitter and angry and solitary, but she isn’t. She regularly volunteers at a local urban farm, a nature center and an organization the clears hiking trails. She has made substantial friendships from her service. Friendships that permeate all other aspects of her life. She also has inspiring relationships with her children. She is quite content with her lot, and it is because she chose to get outside herself.
Remember, It’s in Your DNA
In a study done in 2000 at the University of California, researchers found that through natural selection and biology, women do not traditionally respond to stress with a “flight or fight” response. Instead they respond with “tend and befriend.” They tend their offspring to protect them from said stress, and they surround themselves with friends to gain support in beating said stress. These are traits which reside in our very DNA. They are undeniable.
And we’ve all heard the phrase “it takes a village”. Well, this study found that women biologically and subconsciously benefit from a small circle of friends to physically and emotionally help tackle life. Friends literally make life less stressful.
Of course, we are talking good friends here. A sister, a best friend, a mother. A group of women who mutually have the others’ interests at heart. These kinds of friendships decrease the hormone produced when stress occurs, making it easier to cope.
Who Were You Made to Be?
Because of all the hype around “finding ourselves” and soul-searching, it is difficult to remember we were all made to be normal human beings, content and happy with our lot in life. We were all made to be our essential selves, rather than our circumstantial selves. While everyone’s essential self is different, we all need the same basic things. We need to love others and we need to love ourselves. While that may seem like a wholly unimpressive end to a means, it is absolutely necessary.
If we practice listening, paying attention, self-awareness and community, we will experience that kind of necessary love.