Our instant society enables us to access educational, inspirational and motivational information in seconds. This is a wonderful time to be alive and be able to direct our own personal growth and development. But is this the best way to seek advice in the 21st Century?
We all have questions. We all have a need to get advice, be mentored and learn from others. And with modern technology we have the world at our fingertips, giving us immediate access to exceptional thought leaders from the far reaches of the globe.
It’s truly amazing that we have that. I personally follow a select group of influential thinkers that include people like Jeff Goins, Dr Caroline Leaf, Seth Godin, Gretchen Rubin and Graham Cooke, just to name a few. I love what they have to say. They say it well and many times their words drop into my day like jewels of refreshing clarity right when I need it most.
But I am concerned. In a day and age where access to online help is growing for people who are suffering from everyday life challenges through to serious mental illness, I feel we may be inadvertently falling away from reaching out to the people around us in our day to day lives; people who may just have the answers we are seeking.
I have sought online and offline help to manage my own mental health journey and believe that a strong combination of the two, coupled with regular professional advice is vital to stay well. Institutions like Black Dog Institute and Beyond Blue, just to name a couple help hundreds of thousands of people every year and give them the option for anonymity when they need it.
What message are we sending to ourselves and to those around us?
If we are only interacting online though, are we sending a message to our loved ones and close community that says we don’t feel comfortable sharing with people who know us (and conversely, are more comfortable sharing with strangers instead)?
Maybe the louder message is: I can’t handle the thought of you knowing that I’m not okay, or that I need help.
I realise however that not everyone has a healthy support group to turn to and that is why I strongly advocate incorporating online support groups into your life, especially if you’re struggling!
Why do we seek help online?
When I was young (oh my, doesn’t that sound bizarre!), we used to go to mum and dad for advice. Grandparents, aunts and uncles; the lovely couple next door who let us ‘babysit’ their goldfish while they’re away. We talked. We shared. There wasn’t as much fear of being judged, or if there was, perhaps we were less aware of that and so shared anyway.
It’s paradoxical though. On one hand we need to know we can go to family, friends and colleagues and on the other we need to feel free to access information on our own terms. I have certainly done my fair share of Google searches to help me work through some very personal issues at times.
But what if we’ve gone too far? Maybe we’ve become so accustomed to seeking external help from anonymous sources (aka online in particular) that we’ve forgotten the art of asking for help?
One reason I believe we are prone to seek this external affirmation and direction is because our society values authority and therefore, credentials.
That little piece of 180gsm glossy white paper with the lovely calligraphy scrawling the mentors’ name on the page, sitting proudly on the wall and detailing their hard earned credentials that prove they are bone fide.
Or that website with all those cut and paste big biz logos signifying the client list of the person we are following and learning from.
Or that book with ten pages of forward messages from big wigs in the industry we work in that ensures you this author is worth reading, even if they turn out to be a pretty horrible writer.
Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater
Here me out though. We want people with credentials. I want to see a specialist who has slogged out nearly a decade in learning and practical experience before letting them take to me with a knife.
But what if we’re filtering too much and only letting those with certain credentials and authority to speak into our lives? Additionally this leads me to wonder what justifies one person’s credentials against another person’s personal experiential advice in the first place.
The problem with emphasising credentials
There is a lot of emphasis put into credentials that people who may not have those little pieces of paper (which, by the way, anyone could just create with modern tech, just sayin…), are unlikely to be taken seriously.
And here in lies the rub. What qualifies a person to be, well, qualified to speak into your life? A piece of paper? A website with special ‘badges’ showing who that person is recognised by? A string of books with their name and mug shot on them?
Credentials ensure that someone has the authority they say they have. But it concerns me that we are always (me included) Googling for advice, reading self help books by authors we’ve never heard of and liking inspirational messages on Facebook and that we are getting our advice from people who have played no part in our personal lives.
The benefit of talking to and listening to someone in our immediate circle
What if instead, we spent a bit more time listening to people who may not be well known or have a list of people waiting to forward their next book, but who are by our sides, living this life alongside us?
The old Digger down the road who grows the most exquisite roses for his wife; his wife who offers you a cup of tea and biscuits.
Maybe what I’m talking about comes into the slow thinking/ slow life movement. I have no idea. But I know that the small group of people I trust with my heart really do speak into it, and that’s because I intentionally allow it to happen, even sometimes force it to happen. And when I am intentional like this, my life is enriched.
My own personal growth is propelled at a greater rate and a more significant depth when I open my life to these people who are walking beside me.
These people are are living a life that relates more closely to my own. But because we often don’t realise that these people have lived full, challenging and deep lives, we miss out on the treasure their hearts are waiting to share. These are the people who’s advice might not be as anticipated as Seth Godin’s, but is advice that speaks deeply to our hearts and makes the mind stop and consider the direction we should take.
The person sitting across from the table has a customised perspective to share for your unique situation.
These are the people who have ‘walked the walk’ with you – be it your mother, father, uncle, close friend or primary school teacher you’ve kept in touch with – they know you more intimately; care for you more than anyone you ‘follow’ ever could and therefore are in a position to offer advice that is customised to your situation, temperament and personal direction.
And you might just do something for that person too. Sharing your needs with someone in your life might just be what they need right now. You might just give them that affirmation and encouragement they need. We just don’t realise how powerful sharing with our family and friends can be.
Let’s make a plan
What I think I am calling for is balance.
A balance of online and external advice and education that is complimentary to the advice, support and examples sitting right next to us on the couch, or who we meet on Sunday at church or who are just a phone call away.
It’s hard, but it’s not really. The hard part isn’t in the sharing. We’re very good at that. The hard part is in risk – risking your heart with someone who knows you; risking they might tell someone else; risking they might ridicule you or judge you, or laugh at you; risking that they may not have the answers you’re seeking.
But as we take small risks; as we let others in to our personal world, we do something amazing. We build relationships. We create circles of trust and security. We send messages to the people in our world that we value them, their thoughts and their support.
Building others up in this way creates stronger communities, healthier families and forever friendships.
Like I’ve said, I believe there is a strong place for online communication, support and mentoring. I use social media every day and thanks to private messaging on Facebook, one of my friends helped me work through something I found very distressing, staving off a severe panic attack and helping me gain perspective. And it all happened via the internet.
So, let’s make a plan.
Let’s start to incorporate time to share with the people in our immediate circle of life. Let’s ask others how they are, and actually press them for a genuine response. Let’s risk a little and put our hearts back on our sleeves so our friends, family and co workers can see we might just need a little bit of help.
Be a blessing,
If you’re interested in following some of my favourite thinkers, click below.
Jeff Goins – writer, speaker on being a writer and taking control of your future. You are a Writer changed my life. Honestly. Read it. Now.
Seth Godin – author, entrepreneur and marketing guru who doesn’t hold a punch. Click on his head to read his blog. Cool, huh?
Gretchen Rubin – inspirational speaker and author on happiness and life balance. Author of The Happiness Project.
Dr Caroline Leaf – cognitive neuroscientist sharing incredible research on mind-brain connection and emotional development. Wrote Switch on Your Brain – life changing. Scientific and Faith research combined to blow your mind (pun intended).
Michael Hyatt – former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, author of multiple books on leadership, time management and founder of Platform University.
Zohab Zee Khan – spoken word poet with a lot to say about Australian community and identity. Read his poetry book I Write – worth the 30 minutes, but take at least 60 to really absorb it. We have differing opinions on some issues and I love this. Stretches me.
Steph Halligan – Author and Cartoonist who drops an inspirational message called Art to Self into my inbox daily and brightens my day with profoundly deep encouragement.
Mark Tredinnick – another Australian poet with a list of ‘credentials’ but more importantly, words that dig into my brain and sit there, stretching my thoughts and challenging my expectations. Also wrote one of my favourite books The Little Red Writing Book.
There are plenty more of course, but this collection should keep you busy for a full weekend 🙂