Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

The Island of Isolation

[Check out the other posts in this series: Indecision, InactionImpatience.]

If you were stranded on a deserted island and you could only bring one thing with you, what would you bring?

Maybe you would bring a knife or a sat phone or a genie or a water purifier. I know what I would bring—someone else.

Photo credit jaci Lopes dos Santos (Creative Commons)

Photo credit jaci Lopes dos Santos (Creative Commons)

I’ve noticed something about myself. Part of me longs to be alone. Another part longs to be with people. When I am alone by choice, I can focus and accomplish so much. When I am alone because I have no one to be with, I crumple in on myself.

Maybe you know what I am talking about. Some of us have found our way on a deserted island without ever stepping foot on a boat. We’ve created our own isolation right where we live.

The problem is:
Without others, we cannot be who we were made to be.
Without others, we cannot do what we were made to do.
Without others, we cannot live as we were made to live.

Isolation is an inhibitor to life. In the stupor of isolation we stumble about like a drunk in the night. We need other people if we are to be the person we long to be.

So, how do we end up isolated?

We are so focused on the goal, we forget people

This is my personal challenge. On the DISC personality profile, I am a D. That means I am a driver. I like to lead. On Strength Finders I am an Achiever. I like to get things done. I focus on a goal and go after it with intensity.

When I played basketball in high school, it wasn’t because I loved wearing short shorts and hanging out with the guys. I played ball because I love to compete and win.

Focus and intensity are not bad things. In fact, if you are going to overcome resistance and accomplish your goals, you will need a healthy dose of both. However, we need to ensure our intensity helps us crush our goals not the people around us. Goals come and go, but your friends, your family, and your community remain.

This imbalance is why many middle-aged men spiral into crisis. During their twenties and thirties, they choose advancement over relationship. All of their energy goes into achieving their work goals. And the crazy thing is, many of them succeed. They get the corner office. They have the respect of their boss and work peers. However, on their 40th birthday, they look around and the room is empty. Their success was built on the grave of broken relationships.

So what do they do? They go back to the last time they had significant relationships—college. They start dressing like a teenager, buy the car of their freshman dreams, and (often) find a younger woman. All of this in search of the relationships sacrificed on the altar of success.

If your goals don’t include other people, you might want to get better goals. 

We view others as the competition

How do you define success? If you are a blogger, do you consider yourself a successful blogger when people read your posts or when your blog is more popular than others?

Somewhere deep inside we believe that only a few of us can win—that there is limited space in the winners circle. If we want to succeed, we not only have to accomplish our goals, but do it faster and better than anyone else.

This thinking is harmful to your success (and to your health). When we view others as competition, we don’t share our best practices or help each other. We don’t rejoice with someone else succeeds. We spend more time tracking the success of others than creating awesome work ourselves.

If you want a quick test for this, how do you feel when a friend’s post goes viral? Do you say to yourself, “Why did that go viral? It’s not really that good.”

The ones who gain an audience most quickly are those who are generous and create within community. This is not the Hunger Games. More than one can survive. We can all win if we work together.

We view people as a means and not an end

There is a perverted version of “working together.” It is when we surround ourselves with people but only so they can lift us up. If you want a visual for this, imagine a crowd of people with one man walking on everyone’s’ heads.

This is a huge trap for those of you with a driven personality like me.

You can view people by what they contribute instead of who they are.
You can rank people based on their importance to the goal.
You can use people when you need them but abandon them when they need you.

In this case, you don’t look isolated, but you actually are. You often wonder whether everyone else thinks about you the way you think about them. Since you don’t extend grace to those around you, you fear failure. You believe that if you stop succeeding, people will abandon you.

The most painful truth is that you build the trap yourself.

We cannot forget that people are inherently valuable. They are not a means to something else, they are an end. Long after our buildings crumble and our blogs disappear and our awards rust, the souls of men and women will remain.

It’s Time to Leave the Island

Other people are not the problem. They are not distractions. They are not tools to be used. They are not your competition. Other people are a source of hope.

If you really want to do something significant in this world, you need a community.

You need a place where you are accepted.
You need people who love you whether you win or lose.
You need grace and mercy and good ideas.
You need the different perspectives of diversity.

You can’t get this alone. God wouldn’t have put 7 billion other people on earth if he wanted you to live in isolation. It’s time to leave the island.

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