Updated: Mar 23
How is it that we meet so many people, but no-one knows us?
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What frequently passes for connection in this diplomatic life is weird.
Diplomats are the world champions at speaking without saying anything. We can have entire conversations with others where we don’t actually say anything. We can work a room and collect fistfuls of business cards. We’re amazing at speaking – at length – about our work or other safe topics.
Safe topics include:
- Our work (in the work context);
- The weather;
- Where to find something in the city;
- Places to visit;
- Commonalities between our home country and the other’s country;
- Our children (if applicable).
And we meet so many people through our work and time living away on a diplomatic posting.
The desire to meet new people is understandable and exciting. Meeting new people is a clear highlight of living this diplomatic life. Further, a diplomat must make as many contacts as possible. It’s always good to have the contact details of just the right person when you need to get something done, right?
Some of the people we meet are so deeply impressive and wonderful and we hit it off immediately. The relationships – romantic or platonic – can be intense. Indeed, diplomats are very interesting people.
What’s the problem?
It can feel like we do nothing but meet new people.
All this meeting of new people coupled with the environment in which we diplomats and those who live the diplomatic life live can mean that we don’t get the type of connection we need.
We may have many contacts and people who we know on the surface, but not have friends.
Let me explain.
If you’ve had a few diplomatic postings, I invite you to think about how many people you’ve met as you’ve lived your diplomatic journey. How many friends/followers did you accrue on social media? If you’ve moved on from that posting, how many are you still in regular contact with?
You’ve likely accrued a few friends on social media, right? It is, after all, how most of us stay in touch with each other.
Remember: hitting ‘like’ does not meaningful connection make.
You genuinely may have many friends from your time living the diplomatic life. You may have lots of people with whom you could stay if you were to every spend time in their city. There are friends with whom you’d love to catch up over a coffee or a meal should you ever be in the same place.
Real question time: How many of the people you meet now or have met in the past ever moved past the stage where you go beyond safe topics and the surface-level platitudes? If there are any, are you still able to go beyond the platitudes after you’ve moved cities?
How many of your friends in your contacts are what we could call friends in ‘good times’? How many people in your friends/followers list would you be comfortable picking up the phone and having a real conversation when you really need a friend? You know, the type of friend you could call when you need to talk about stuff that really matters, like when your relationship is going through a rocky patch or are going through an existential crisis at work.
Are you surrounded by people but feel that no one knows you?
If so, you’re not getting the connection that you need.
What’s the connection you need?
The connection you need – indeed, that we all need as humans – is to be seen, to be heard and to feel that we belong. No bullshit. No pretences. Simply being seen as our selves in our awesome humanity.
Are there people in your diplomatic life with whom YOU feel seen, YOU feel heard and that YOU feel that YOU belong?
Please, think hard on this. We have lots of people in our lives who relate to us via the masks that we wear. But that’s a relationship with the mask, not our selves.
If you’re constantly relating to, and engaging with, people through your mask, then you’re not being seen, heard and getting that feeling that you belong.
Can you allow your self to be seen?
Consider this: Are there people in your life who, if they visited your house, you’d not tidy up for? Who you could answer the door without changing clothes or getting yourself ready for (like putting on makeup)?
Do you have three people with whom you know you can be yourself? Who you KNOW will answer your call right now and will listen to you and respond with empathy?
Surface-level conversations aren’t connection; They’re foreplay.
Conversations about work aren’t connection; They’re interactions through our masks.
Gossip is not connection; Gossip is toxic.
Connection requires vulnerability.
Vulnerability is terrifying for diplomats and those who live the diplomatic life [more on this in a future post].
This was the source of my loneliness: My need for authentic connection where I was seen, I was heard and I felt like I belonged was not being met. My body was surrounded by people, but I wasn’t allowing myself to be wholly mentally and emotionally connected with others or even my self. I wasn’t letting myself – my self – be seen.
I was scared to let people see me. I was scared of me.
There were so many reasons for that. On one level, I believed that I was a liability and that other people were engaging with me because of my job and what I could do for them rather than engaging with me. On a deeper level, I know now that I was scared of being seen, heard and belonging. I know that I was desperately trying to control the narrative of how others perceived me. I hustled for the acceptance of others ceaselessly. I put the needs of others consistently above my own, believing that to do otherwise would be selfish.
I was regularly engaging in conversations that rarely went below the surface and believing that those were enough. I could chat about a chunky work problem until I was blue in the face. I loved a good gossip session (while hustling desperately to avoid being the topic of gossip myself).
Does this sound familiar to you?
I’d so completely lost myself that I needed help to find out who I was. I got that help and started the work I needed to do to be me (this work is ongoing, by the way).
The moment when I decided to start putting me into the world was terrifying. I thought that I’d be awful at my job: I actually got better because I was happening to my work, rather than moulding myself to what I thought work wanted me to be. I thought that people would leave me and I’d be even lonelier than before: I actually felt more connected to myself, those I love and to what I did.
The same feelings of connection can – and I daresay, will – happen to you. But I know that it’s hard to take a step.
But that first step is awareness of the quality of connection in your life.
Can you be you as you lead your diplomatic life?
It’s a truth that you cannot get the connection you need in life alone. I’m here to help you as you embark on your journey towards authentic connection in your life.
Counsellor, Minister and Ambassador-level site members can participate in quarterly webinars where we can discuss issues relating to diplomacy, competition, resilience, loneliness and connection in a safe, and private, way.
I have regular 1-on-1 mentoring calls with Minister and Ambassador-level members.
Want to know more?
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I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post and suggestions for future posts.