A couple of e-mail exchanges this week reminded me how important it is to keep contact with friends. Years ago, this was really a hard thing to do. It could take weeks for correspondence to circulate to friends overseas and for a response to come back. Now, thanks to our connected world, the cycle takes a day.
It means that geographic distance just isn’t excuse for cutting yourself off from people any more. I try to make time each week to reach out to a few friends via e-mail or Skype, updating them on what I’m doing, soliciting stories about their work and family, trading photo sites or news about mutual friends and colleagues. The extended and continuous contact keeps me in touch with my context and makes sure that I stay grounded in a larger reality, no matter how transient the expatriate experience seems to become.
Earlier this week, I got a note from a former colleague, saying that they were “rotten this week, big time". They had left design work to train for a new career in financial counseling, and had now gotten caught up in the unfolding banking crisis. As a result, their dream job was becoming “more like emotional therapy than financial planning”, and they had quit. As a result, they were cast into a rotten job market, left sitting at home and feeling very alone, “erased by all of my friends – zap and gone”.
This morning I was also feeling discouraged, sorting through dreary apartment pictures and reflecting how time is passing ever closer to my April deadline for finding a new position. And then I got a note from someone I had written to last weekend, someone I hadn’t talked to in over a year.
“It sounds like there is some positive hope for you to continue on in Europe. The position you describe would be ideal. It’s really cool how you were able to drive a career change and end up with some wonderful life experiences in Europe. I, on the other hand, moved from the north building to the south building. Very exciting, I know, but I went to burning man again to get recalibrated and did some more camping in Moab, Utah…”
And, you know, it was just the perspective I needed and the news I enjoy getting from them. I looked at their pictures and remembered the times we shared and the day became okay again.
So I sent a long reply to my discouraged friend. I know how it feels to have a good job crumble, and how it feels like I become cut off from both past and future, people and prospects. And I knew, as well, how it helped to get a warm reply from someone I knew well.
Having been gone from the US for three years, I rarely hear from folks spontaneously any more. But I do keep in touch, reaching out as a friend or sharing a thought or a link. I almost always get good notes back with news and stories. Some folks don’t have much to say beyond an acknowledgement; others are also going through life changes and have stories and perspectives to share; still others are busy and enthusiastic and send long letters that give me an enduring lift.
Take time to stay social, stay connected, stay engaged.