Social media is an odd place. It has been, and often still is, a cheerful distraction, full of insight and generosity; and it can be an extraordinary force for good. However, it is also a place for confected rage, pointless stridency and shallow promotion.
My Twitter profile says I joined in May 2009, and that I have 3318 followers. The language is seductively clever, isn’t it? The word “joined” offers that sense of club and community and a place to belong. While having “followers” permits a mostly harmless self-regard for our own opinions on everything from croissants to climate change. I am absolutely certain however, that in any other part of my life, if I spoke of “my followers” the response would be a deserved awkward silence, at best.
I may have joined Twitter in 2009, but I joined the real world in 1962. Sometimes I feel I belong there and sometimes not. As for followers, on most days I am confident of only one and she is a cockerpoo called Crumble. My real world does not indulge me like my virtual world, but I know my place in it and I know I am blessed.
Earlier this year I decided to come away from social media for a while. I did not find the decision very easy, and I often think about what might be happening there without me. Not so much a “Fear of Missing Out”, more a “Fear of no one noticing I’ve gone”.
(I guess FONONIG doesn’t quite trip off the tongue like FOMO).
I was however undoubtedly overinvested in a facsimile community, in the certainty of opinions and in the weird currency of followership. These are all good reasons to take a break. A chance to reset and reflect. A chance to be forgotten, but not gone.
I have an increasingly clear view of my purpose (which at my age is about time!). My purpose is not to build a vantage point from where others can see me, but for me to use the experiences and insights of decades of observation to help others see themselves more clearly.
A perfect day for me is one where no one knows or cares what I do, but where I know that a quiet thought, shared with love, has helped someone take a single step towards owning their full and amazing potential.
A little earlier I mentioned the opportunity I am taking to reset and reflect. A chance to be forgotten, but not gone. I would like to develop this thought a little more with you if I may. I think there is something here for all of us.
I think it might be especially important if you have ever found yourself between roles or if you have been on an extended break through illness or perhaps a maternity leave. These periods can make us feel a little lost. We are separated from teams, colleagues, buildings and the rhythms of our working lives. We also learn how everyone can cope very comfortably (a little too comfortably) without us. We know we are missing out on the in-jokes, the small talk, the gossip, the usual irritants that bond and the shared highs and lows of success and failure. Absence is a chilly and muffled separateness than can sap confidence and leave us feeling outsiders in a world that used to be so familiar.
I know this is how it can feel, but I also believe that being forgotten but not gone can be a powerful and rejuvenating place for us to be. You are not validated by your job, if anything your job is validated by you.
If we believe in our gifts and if we accept that we are always only lending our talent to our employers, then in the inevitable periods when there is a break, there is precious time to replenish our depleted energies. We can smooth off all the barnacles of office life and reconnect with our values and dreams. We can find again the nervous anticipation of new adventures and learn to love the opportunity for renewal. To be forgotten but not gone is not something to dread, but perhaps a blessing in an otherwise relentless world of work. My encouragement is to embrace its offer and love the journey that will then unfurl.
In a small way, my time away from social media is a time for me to be forgotten again. I can still write, still have calls, still meet people, but without looking over my shoulder at 3318 avatars and doom scrolling a timeline that tells me everything is rubbish, wrong or a puppy.
If you are between jobs, or if you are on maternity leave at the moment, and if you are feeling separated and a little lost, please try to relish these days. It will not be long before you are once again loaning your wonderful gifts to somewhere new (or back where you were before). This time, however, with fresh thinking and all the new colours of experiences and insights that you bring from the perspective of a space and time which allowed you to step away and be yourself.
There is anxiety when we are separated from our familiar world of work, but often the anxiety we feel is from other people around us. Well-meaning family and friends only wanting the best for us, but often they are projecting their insecurity rather than reflecting ours. I am not suggesting we can be selfish or cavalier with the needs of others who rely on us; but a break from the habitual and the constant pressure of the moment means we can step aside for some much needed renewal.
To retreat, to be forgotten but not gone, to reconnect with all that we are and all that we offer the world, might be our temporary and essential place for perspective, self-love and growth.
Take care. Paul xx