Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not actually conspiring to take you down.
My friend, Max, is an experienced CEO. In fact, he’s so experienced, he provides coaching to CEOs of every caliber. I recently read an article in which Max spoke of the “loneliness at the top”. Rather than plagiarize Max, I’ll quote him verbatim. Max gave me some additional articles to read on this subject but none seemed to sum it up as concisely as this one did, so here ya go.
This may seem old hat to you, but to me it was a revelation. I’ve worked for CEOs before but I never thought twice about their world. I’ve owned my own company for over thirty years but I intentionally avoided the drama of office politics by staffing entirely with freelance and contract talent. Apart from my wife, I put significant trust in almost no-one, and I had zero close friends in whom to confide. Oddly, this seemed entirely normal to me.
It wasn’t until ten or twelve years ago that I even recognized the event(s) that steered me down the path to isolation, events I had essentially blocked from my mind. One night, I was tinkering around on Facebook (yeah, bad idea. I know.) and I got a friend request from a woman. It said, and I quote, “Is this the Guy Lawson who stomped on my heart and made me feel like shit in 1966?” I mean, how do you possibly resist a friend request like that? Like the stupid cat, I let curiosity get the best of me, all the while, assuming it was a hoax.
The Big Rewind
In the Autumn of 1966, the Vietnam war was in full swing, the Russians had apparently finished licking their wounds over that whole Cuba thing and decided against nuking us to death, and the St. Louis Arch was completed. I was in the sixth grade and, like my friends, suddenly noticed that the girls in our class were not the same as the boys. The accepted social norm seemed to revolve around “going with” a girl that everyone liked. If a fellow was ambitious enough, he could even capture the affections of a really popular girl, thereby elevating his own social status. I set my sights on a mousy little girl named Martha (not her real name for obvious reasons).
On the appointed day, it was arranged that I would consummate our arrangement by walking Martha home and carrying her books (that’s as far as it went back then). I even took a shower before school that morning and washed my hair for good measure. After school, we made the requisite trip to Martha’s house.
Once inside, Martha’s mother called me aside and informed me that my family went to the wrong church so I could not see her daughter anymore. I left. She told Martha a different story – hence the cryptic message 40+ years later. What I didn’t realize at the time was that Martha called her best friend (also in our sixth-grade class), broke down in tears, and told her what a terrible, horrible, mean ogre I was. To make a long story short, I unwittingly became a pariah to all the females in my sixth-grade class before I ever even got my first kiss.
Luckily, two days later, I came across a non-working Cushman motor scooter which I purchased for $50.00. I forgot all about girls as I emersed my brain in the Cushman mechanic’s manual and learned all about internal combustion engines. With help from my dad, I rebuilt that scooter from the ground up, including unsticking a rusted piston, boring the cylinder and replacing the magneto. (Who leaves a motor scooter sitting out in the weather without a spark plug to keep the rain out?) It took two years to rebuild but by the Spring of 1968, I had my first motor vehicle although I was two years shy of being a legal rider. (Traffic laws are really just suggestions). That year, I bought my second Cushman, a three-wheel Trickster, and set to work on it.
The bottom line is that I learned to enjoy solitude and doing things for myself. That’s a trait that still dominates my life 55 years later. What I unknowingly missed out on was the value of close friendships. Even when I began dating in high school, it wasn’t their brains and advice I was chasing.
Back to the Present
Two weeks ago, I began reading a new book titled, “The Good Life” by Robert Waldinger MD. And Marc Schulz PhD. It’s a series of findings from the famous 84-year Harvard psychology study. They started with 80+ students – some wealthy, and some from poor backgrounds – and they’ve followed those people, their spouses, and their children for all these years.
The study has also merged with other long-running studies to document what makes people flourish in this life. Spoiler Alert: It’s not money, success, fame, or even genetically driven good looks like mine. It’s relationships – long term, serious, honest relationships. They’re the key to both health and satisfaction but they come with a lot of strings, one of which is that they are NOT social media relationships. They are one-on-one, face-to-face, no-holds-barred, down-and-dirty honest relationships built on trust and respect.
Those isolated CEOs at the top of the heap? It’s no wonder they’re having heart attacks. Those smiling kids in the famine-plagued African village? Maybe they found something that we lost in the supermarket aisle.
You know where this is headed. Pick up the phone and call me, or at least email me. If you don’t want to know someone like me, find someone you do want to know and take ‘em out for coffee, or lunch, or beer, or just a walk. It also wouldn’t hurt if you read the book. I’ll include the details below.
Want to get together and engage in that time-worn tradition of real communication? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org but don’t get angry if it takes me several hours to reply because that annoying ping no longer interrupts my concentration. Perhaps we could even collaborate to launch a “Stomp on your smart phone” challenge for social media.
“This does not matter. This is not anything yet. It all depends on what you do with it, afterward.”
— William Faulkner
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The Good Life
Lessons From the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness
— Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz
The 84-year Harvard Study of Adult Development, the longest scientific study of happiness ever conducted, provides valuable scientific analysis of difference between flourishing and withering. Sounds boring doesn’t it? These guys make it interesting and relevant.