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Be a connected diplomat

  • Writer's picturePhil McAuliffe

Loneliness and the absence of real connection

Updated: May 7

Loneliness is everywhere,

but remains socially taboo.

Millions endure it, but few realise it,

let alone acknowledge it.

​Let's revisit loneliness.

As The Lonely Diplomat, I have the privilege of having many more real conversations than I ever had previously. I find that, generally, you - as my audience - engage with my words and lived experience in a way that makes you consider your own situation with kindness and honesty.

These conversations never fail to give me the 'spark of connection'. This is the tingly feeling I get at the back of my neck when I feel that I'm really connecting with someone. I've learned that this feeling is a reliable indicator that the conversation has gotten real, I'm fully present in it and others in it are also fully present.

I had one of these conversations with Vaughan Carder when I was in Canberra recently. Vaughan is another coach and specialises in personal development and strength coaching (he handles the mental, emotional AND physical aspects of life). Over coffee and brunch, we had a great chat about what each other is doing. Soon, the conversation got real.

I felt the tingle. Time flew by.

Afterwards, Vaughan posted some thoughts on his social media platforms about loneliness and connection based on our discussion and the questions I asked him.

His thoughts were so clear that I set aside my publishing schedule and asked him to write this post. You're about to read his words.

Before you do, I want to make one thing very clear: Connecting in a real and authentic way requires courage. While I am vulnerable regularly, I still fear judgement and ridicule - both from others and from within myself. Also, only a very privileged few have earned the right to hear my full story. I seek real and authentic connection because I know that great things come from when I am seen and heard for being myself, not who I'm working so hard to be like. Courage begets more courage. Real connection begets more real connection. Authenticity begets more authenticity.

You get the point. Let's read Vaughan's reflections on loneliness and learning how to connect from after our chat.

* * * * *

Very few people will identify as being lonely. It is more common for us to label others as lonely, loners, alone. We can more easily say ‘I am alone’, but apply this to a physical state rather than to a deeper emotional and mental state. But if we really look, if we really probe deeply and push behind the façade, the masks and the stage make-up, I think you would be both surprised and saddened. We are genetically primed to be social creatures, to form tribes and social bonds as part of need to survive. Without this connection we risked of being killed by hungry animals or other tribes. Today, we still carry this deep genetic coding to create social connection, however there aren't the same savage animals threatening our lives, there is a new savage beast threatening us and that beast is us. We have created our own threat and fears and these threats have created a whole new way of living where we live amongst the masses yet shield ourselves from them at the same time. Think about this: If I asked you to give me five "I am" statements about yourself right now, what would they be? Would you come up with five deeply vulnerable statements that express your deep fears and needs as a person? Or would they be the statements to gloss over and appease those looking in at your life from the outside? Those from whom we fear judgement, rejection and exposing our real self and real feelings too? So why can't we modern humans reveal our raw and vulnerable selves? We fear the outcome. Why? Because we don't have a connection with the majority of people we interact with that allows us to be open and real. We are protecting ourselves from what we see as the biggest threat to our modern survival, exile from our social group. We fear judgement, ridicule, rejection and the perceived pain that we might feel because of this. What do we do to avoid this fate? We hide ourselves behind layers and masks and performances which are all designed to please the social group at a surface level, while protecting us, the real us, from the modern-day threat. "What we consistently think, we become" is a nice sentiment, but it is also a lie. What we continuously think, allows us to create a strong mental framework, however, without action, will be nothing but a mental fiction we have created inside ourselves. This allows us to create a false persona that we wear around to navigate our social environments. Without actually acting to become outgoing, funny, empathetic, loving, passionate, smart, witty, we can make ourselves believe we are all these things. Sadly, much of it is an act to cover our reality. How often when you meet someone new do you open up to them? Or do you give them the glossy resume version of who you are, like a well-rehearsed job pitch aiming to tick the right boxes in the other person's friendship or relationship criteria? And the duet plays out with polite candour and life goes on, we may have a new friend to add to the list, but deep down we have protected ourselves from exposure and letting anyone know what we are screaming out to say.

We are overwhelmed with people in our lives, yet lonely and longing for deep, raw, judgement-free connection. We don't need to be alone to be lonely, and likewise, can be alone and not feel lonely.

Let's frame this differently, because before thinking about this post and having an awesome chat with The Lonely Diplomat when he was recently in Canberra, I wouldn't have considered that I was lonely. But our conversation really made me think. What does lonely really mean? Lonely is far more than to be alone. It is more than just a physical isolation, it is to feel isolation, to lack connection, regardless of who – or how many – people are around. To me the key is true CONNECTION. This is what determines if we are lonely. Do you struggle with having deep connection with people in your life? People you can sit and spill your mind, heart and soul to, and who you also listen when they spill theirs? Devoid of fear of judgement, but also valuing their feedback. Someone with whom you share connection with even when not in the same place? Someone who allows you to feel heard, to feel valued and to feel like you can be yourself? Do you have engagement that is meaningful or merely transactional? Do you act out of expectation or because you want to go deep with that person no matter where the conversation goes? Are you getting through your day ticking boxes and not actually getting to know, understand and appreciate the people you engage with? From my own experience, I tend to hide from and avoid these connections because they bring out risk of exposing my flaws and my perceived brokenness which I like to hide from the world. I would rather play games on our phone, surf social media pretending that followers and likes add value to our lives, watch Netflix, drink, smoke, exercise, read, sleep, draw, even blame and discredit... the list of things I use as tactics to isolate, insulate and protect ourselves from discomfort goes on. Do you recognise yourself in these words, too? More of us need to recognise and admit to being lonely, not as a punishment or acknowledgement that we somehow lack the ability to be social, but so we can learn better connection with those we engage with and take the right action to live more fulfilled, connected and engaged lives. It's not bad to be alone, but it isn't healthy to be lonely. Before I leave you to ponder how you will use this information, remember that the cure for loneliness is connection, but connection isn't just about having someone you can dump on when it suits you. Connection is a two-way street. You must first open up, become vulnerable, real and raw with someone who has earned the right. You need to step out of your comfort zone and start a conversation. Don't wait for someone else to facilitate you, YOU must initiate, engage and only then, do you have hope not creating connection. Someone else will appreciate you for it. Reach out. Be open to difficult conversation and open to sharing your own challenges. Be courageous and grow through your fear to reap the amazing life of connection waiting for you and break the cycle of modern-day loneliness.

* * * * *

I'll give you a few moments to process and reflect upon Vaughan's words.

I want to thank Vaughan, publicly and most sincerely, for being so open and willing to share his thoughts with you. Loneliness is pervasive in modern life, but it takes real courage to admit that one is lonely.

I'm really pleased that one real conversation with me prompted this examination of Vaughan's life.

* * * * *


When was the last time you felt that spark of connection?

Do you perceive vulnerability to be a strength in others, but a weakness in yourself?

Do you have at least three people in your life who you know, without doubt, are there for you?

Are you there for them?

Be careful with your answers, please. In my experience, we can be all-too-willing to help and support someone when they reach out for help, but we can be reluctant to reach out and ask for that same help ourselves. We all need help sometimes.

Want to know more?

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Important notice: All views expressed above do not reflect any official position. The words published above are intended to support, challenge and inspire diplomats and those living the diplomatic life as they reconnect with themselves and the world around them. They are not intended to, nor should they, replace the advice of a licensed helping professional.


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