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  • Phil McAuliffe

Connection and the modern diplomat

Connection is a big deal

You need connection to survive

Why aren’t you prioritising it?



Connection is the publicly acceptable c-word that everyone’s saying now. Everyone’s all about the connecting, aren’t they? We don’t meet someone, we connect. Relationships – friendships and romantic – end because there was no connection.


Why is it so important?


Simply, connection is kind of a big deal. Connection is the antidote to loneliness.


As my intellectual crush Dr Brené Brown puts it, humans are social creatures and we are hardwired for connection.


We humans need to be seen. We need to be heard. We need to belong. When we feel that we are not seen, heard or do not belong, feelings of loneliness start to creep in.


We all must have connection in our lives and, where we don’t, we work to somehow fill the void that the absence of meaningful connection has left within us.


We do the most amazing things to feel connection and that we belong. We do things that uplift, unite and serve each other. We also are capable of doing things that do not serve us to feel that sense of belonging. There is a reason why people join gangs, cults and engage in activities that are damaging to their health and well-being.



The need for connection is innate.


Think about this: do you feel like you belong where you are? Do you feel like you belong to yourself? Do you feel like you belong in your workplace? Do you feel like you belong in your community? If one or more of the answers to these questions is a no, you’re likely to have felt at least frustrated and possibly lonely.


Conversely, where do you feel like you belong? How do you feel when you’re there? You feel connected, right?




What does connection even feel like?


I could provide some dry definition, but connection is a feeling that I can best describe from my own perspective. I’ve learned to pay attention for what I call the ‘spark of connection’, which for me is a shiver up and down my spine when I’m feeling seen and heard by the person with whom I’m speaking and I’m really in the moment.


This feeling is everything for me and is a reliable sign that I’ve gone from a mere social interaction into real connection. The spark also happens when I feel like I belong somewhere, like what I’m doing aligns with me and I am part of something bigger than myself.


Do you get this feeling too? Or is it just me?


Connection can also feel like those kinds of conversations, tasks or other activities where time flies by I forget to check my phone, email or the news.


For diplomats and those who live the diplomatic life

My work here at The Lonely Diplomat is helping you feel more connected and less lonely as you live your diplomatic life.


At the risk of sharing something that’s blaringly obvious, I want to say that this topic is important to you as a human who’s living a diplomatic life.



Everything about connection when living the diplomatic life can be challenging.

It can be tough to create new connections when you arrive in a new place and start meeting new people. It can be hard to maintain connections when you leave a place or a friend leaves a place.


Our connection skills can get rusty as adults, as we no longer want to put ourselves into meeting new people and making friends with the same openness and gusto as children do. Children are usually more willing to be vulnerable and open than adults.


And as diplomat or someone living the diplomatic life, you’re always on. You can feel that you need to be open and vulnerable only to a reasonable point in your private life.


However, your work life is all about creating and maintaining connections. Diplomacy is all about connection and cultivating connections to help make things happen. You can make connections easily when you’re working, but those official connections are hardly going to hold space and listen to you when you’re going through a tough time in life.


Can you imagine the conversation with a contact at your host nation’s foreign ministry? Care to come over and hang at my place in our pyjamas and eat ice cream and watch movies?


I think one word there gives us a big clue: they’re contacts, not connections.


And it can feel like you’re surrounded by contacts, but very few real connections.

What a lonely life this can be. Read on.




Three pillars of connection


In my book ‘The Lonely Diplomat: Reconnecting with yourself and the world around you’ there’s a whole chapter on connection with thoughts about how you can do connection and feel connected as you live your diplomatic life.


I’m not going to re-hash those words here. I’d prefer that you read my book so you get the thoughts on connection in a wider context.


For now, I want to introduce you to what I call the three pillars of connection.

In my work on loneliness and connection here and at The Loneliness Guy, I’ve come to realise that there are three pillars that hold up the connection ceiling. I believe that each of our three pillars of connect MUST be as strong as the others if we are to feel connection.


The problem is that we often rush to work on two of the pillars and leave out a third. Sure, two pillars hold up much of the connection ceiling, but not all of it.



The three pillars of connection are:
1. Connection to self
2. Connection to those most important to you
3. Connection to community

It’s clear that connection means connecting to others in our lives. Connection to our where we are in the world (like our communities, workplaces, groups, clubs, etc.) is also important to cultivating the feeling of connection. But it’s all meaningless if we’re not connected to who we are.


If we spend time connecting with others and our communities through the masks that we wear as diplomats and connecting in a way that we think others want us to be rather than our real, authentic selves, then that connection is not real.


Looking for connection in all the wrong places


In our too-busy lives ruled by commitments, protocols, obligations and, well, busyness, we feel that we don’t have the time to cultivate the type of real connection that nourishes and uplifts us. We want a short cut to feel seen, heard and belong: that spark of connection.


Instead of investing the time needed to courageously put our real selves out there, we look for connection in convenient ways: such mindlessly scrolling social media. Don’t get me wrong, we know that social media can be a POWERFUL tool for connection.


The problem comes when we reach for our phones and mindlessly scroll through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, dating apps, Tik Tok or the dozens of other services that are a tap of a screen away. Hitting ‘like’ and scrolling on feels like connection. But it’s not.


I’ve got three things to say now:


- Hitting ‘like’ does not meaningful connection make;


- Reaching for social media when feeling lonely and needing to connect is akin to drinking saltwater when thirsty. It feels like you’re drinking something, but it ultimately does you harm;


- Your need for connection was not met if you leave a social interaction – a conversation, a date or any other social engagement - feeling emotionally and mentally emptier than when you arrived.


What we must do instead


Because connection is an innate need all humans have, we need to go retro. We need to connect the old-fashioned way. You need to put your self out there. Prioritise the time needed to really connect with those around you. Prioritise the time needed to really connect with your community. Prioritise the time to really connect with your self.


‘Your self’ is not a typo here. It’s deliberate.


You need to put your authentic, real, human self into the world.

While this may sound quaint and old-fashioned, as you’re reading these words, you’re likely holding in your hands the most powerful connection tool the world has yet known. You can use social media to call someone and speak to them with your voice, and they can see you in real time.


We need to use social media for good.


To connect is a verb. Get doing.


You're too busy for all this?


Yes, you’re busy. But I don’t care who you are when you’re at work: I kindly and respectfully call bullshit on your busyness. Busyness is a choice. If you really wanted to prioritise your social health and well-being, you’d find the time to do so.


I’m sure if we did an audit of your typical day, we could find 15-30mins (or more) that you spend mindlessly scrolling social media or otherwise pfaffing around to devote to real connection to yourself, those around you or your community.


Being too busy to connect says to me that you’re not prioritising connection over whatever else you’re doing.


Busyness feeds your loneliness. Deliberate, mindful and considered connection starves your loneliness.


Let’s connect, shall we?


Is there a friend or someone in your family with whom you haven’t spoken for a long time? Why not reach out to them immediately after reading these words and asking if they’re free for a chat right now. If they’re not, make a time – and treat it like the important meeting it is – and connect later.


You get extra credit points from me if you told them about this article and my work.


Introducing the logo


Finally, I want to introduce you to the logo for The Lonely Diplomat. It’s the three pillars of connection cradling a cube. That little cube is you and the three pillars of connection help make you feel whole.


Isn’t it clever?


Jeff, my partner, designed it back in 2020 when I was starting work on The Loneliness Guy. I want to bring some consistency across the two platforms and I’m excited that The Lonely Diplomat finally has a logo!


You’ll be seeing it across the website and the social media content over the coming weeks.


Now, stop reading this and go and do connection.


 


 

Get me in your corner


Do my blog and podcast resonate with you? Do you feel seen and heard? Do you not feel as alone?


Did you feel like I was speaking directly to you and knew your lived experience?


You can talk to me regularly – and in real time! Tap on the link or picture to get me in your corner; serving, supporting, challenging and inspiring you as you lead your diplomatic life.


Having me in your corner gives you personal access to the insight and wisdom as a global loneliness thought leader, with insights learned from my lived experience as a posted diplomat, an accompanying significant other, a parent AND as someone whose relationship ended and reckoned with my sexuality while on a diplomatic posting.


More details are here.


I've written a book


I've written a book on how living the highs and lows of this amazing diplomatic life can affect us and our mental, emotional and physical well-being.


It's available in e-book and paperback from Amazon.


Let my book serve, support, challenge and inspire you as you reflect on how you're living your diplomatic life (or if it's living you).






Thank you for reading this post. I hope that my work continues to serve, support, challenge and inspire you as you reconnect with yourself and the world around you.


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post and suggestions for future posts.



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Important notice: All views expressed above are my own/the author's and 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.