A meaningful life starts with an honest relationship with ourselves and genuine connections with others.
If we want to succeed in life, we need to accept that we cannot do it alone. Success is only achievable with the support of our families and the communities we are part of. Therefore, a conscious shift in our thinking is required, away from individualism and towards collectivism.
In his book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari put forward the theory that what has permitted Homo Sapiens to become the dominant species on our planet is our capacity to organise and spread ideas. Despite the power of this notion, we often won’t ask others to support or join us on our quests. We expect others to understand us without fully revealing our feelings, thoughts and needs. Have we forgotten the lessons taught by our ancestors and the reasons why we exist?
Having Connection vs Being Connected
This lack of communication and self-awareness is exacerbated by an increasing level of virtual rather than physical connections. The disturbing paradox of our modern society is that it offers so many more opportunities to connect anytime, anywhere, and with anyone, yet more and more of us feel lonely and detached. This loneliness affects our mental health, distorting how we perceive our relationships and creating a vicious cycle of further social isolation.
When you add to the mix a global pandemic, traumatic events, or exceptional life circumstances, it quickly becomes apparent that deep, genuine connections are a fundamental human need that we can’t do without. This is clear to see in Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where ‘love and belonging’ is the third level in his model, preceded only by physiological needs and safety. The importance is even more apparent in Manfred Max-Neef’s model of Fundamental Human Needs, where deep, genuine connections are explicitly involved in at least six of the nine needs: Protection, Affection, Understanding, Participation, Idleness, and Identity.
The fundamental nature of this need makes total sense, given that we are social creatures. Our physical bonds to friends, family, and community have been the foundations from which our cultures (and ideas) have developed. This attachment to others is a means of giving and receiving love. So if we understand the importance of deep connections to a well-lived life, how can we build and maintain them?
Being authentic doesn’t mean acting, thinking and feeling the same way indefinitely. Living an authentic life is about embracing the changing nature of things whilst remaining true to yourself. You may define yourself by a set of core values or life principles that act as a compass, helping you navigate life decisions. But perhaps you have also experienced a shift in these values and a recalibration of your compass—what felt important before no longer does, or vice versa.
When you disconnect from your truth, you leave your compass uncalibrated. You shift into autopilot, setting sail and charting the same familiar course. But you’re heading in the wrong direction – a direction that lacks meaning and can lead to a myriad of problems. It’s very human to let go of our higher selves, drifting back into self-limiting belief patterns. But by not calibrating to our higher selves, our relationship with ourselves and others is negatively impacted. The trick is knowing what causes us to lose our authenticity.
We often go through life pretending to be someone we’re not by hiding behind different masks. We fear that others will reject us if we reveal who we truly are. But these masks are too heavy to wear and take their toll on our self-esteem and self-belief. If we can instead choose love over fear, we will become more real – speaking the truth of our higher self more freely. When your actions come from a place of love, you don’t have to expend energy holding up a mask. Instead, the true You meets others in deep and meaningful ways with all of your energy.
Lead with trust
In my first coaching session with my clients, I repeatedly state, “Trust has to be given, not earned”. If you need to take time to trust someone, perhaps you’re not so trustworthy yourself. Not trusting others can arise from fears of being disappointed, betrayed, or hurt. But however it arises, it’s nonsensical to think that you can build a healthy connection with someone you don’t trust. It might be scary, but trusting others is absolutely necessary for creating long-lasting and genuine rapport.
When you open up to someone, you express something uniquely human: vulnerability. You can’t know how the other person will react to your truth, so you must trust in yourself. You must trust in your capacity to overcome adversity (if it arises) and to deal with its consequences. When you feel safe, you make others feel safe, and that’s how great connections are born.
Let go of the cliché
When you make a point to prove you know about someone else’s dogma, origins, or intentions, you miss an opportunity to connect with someone truly. No one likes to listen to generalised comments about who they are or to be labelled based on their quirks. Despite our best efforts, we can all be judgemental. It’s often used as a deflection tactic to offset the discomfort of our own insecurities. When we act upon our assumptions, we depersonalise and dehumanise the exchange’s nature, and nothing enjoyable can come from that. Our differences have to be embraced without fear or preconceptions.
The best response to overcome judgemental behaviour is to educate yourself: become curious about the other person and the parts of their life you don’t know or understand. Ask about their experiences, culture, beliefs, and aspects of them that are different from you. It’s the habit popularised by Steven R. Covey of ‘seeking first to understand, then to be understood’. This challenge to your assumptions may feel uncomfortable if you have strong opinions about how others should lead their life. But if you stick with it, you will gain insights into what, how and why the person thinks and acts the way they do.
The key here is to remain mindful and see others as they are, not as you think they might be. It’s an instinctual reaction to be on guard at first, but by letting go and embracing vulnerability, you can surrender to the beauty of the unknown. You begin respecting them for who they are, even if you disagree with their choices, trusting that they will do the same for you. This mutual respect building is a very enriching experience.
Link your goals to people
We often struggle to articulate what we expect from those around us. Scared to be deceived or wrongly perceived, we prefer to remain superficial with others. When we aren’t honest and upfront about our intentions for connecting with others, we make the relationship less interesting and disingenuous. All interactions are value-based exchanges, and you should be crystal clear about what you have to offer and what you’d like to receive: authentic admiration, advice, help, unconditional love, assistance, or business, to name a few. I believe that we can not only save a lot of time but also further our growth by being more explicit about our needs, gifts, and expectations. By doing so, we become more meaningful to others and build stronger bonds.
As Zig Ziglar said, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”
An inauthentic relationship is often the result of a lack of self-awareness, personal skills and self-esteem. When we feel uncertain about how we look, how we carry ourselves, how we speak, we create barriers for others to connect with us on a more profound level. We build walls of insecurities around us. We project an image of ourselves to the world that is borne of (and limited by) these self-perceptions. By developing our confidence, improving our wellbeing, learning new skills and stopping self-judgment, we give others a chance to meet us in our true light. We are more than what we think we are, and we have more to offer.
Relationships build and destroy empires. Genuine connections are essential if we want to serve others and lead a fulfilling life. So many opportunities and experiences are generated by the noble intention to get to know others, learn from them, and share what we have. Comfort, intense feelings, discoveries and significant innovations are all the product of meaningful interactions. The people around us are already part of our life, so why not foster these existing connections to a deeper level?
Gaining and maintaining deep, genuine connections with others requires continual effort. The effort to calibrate your compass and remain authentic. The effort to go against your feelings of fear in order to trust others. The effort to find out ways of getting to know those around you more deeply. The effort to honestly state what you want from your connections with others. The effort to work on yourself and overcome your insecurities. If we can commit to these practices, we will be rewarded with the richness, understanding, meaning and closeness that only deep connections can bring to our lives.