Creative work demands a curious balance between solitude and socialization. The nature of my work as a pianist requires that I spend significant amounts of time in a room alone with my instrument removed from human contact. During these working hours I interact with the composers whose music I am studying. They speak to me through the notes they have written and the encoded messages that they have left on the printed pages of musical scores. But this is not what most people would think of as social interaction. Rehearsing for performances has many intrinsic rewards but it can be a lonesome process at times. Then there are other days when I crave solitude, especially when my schedule has been overfilled with teaching or speaking commitments, or if I have been travelling more than I like, or if I have been pressed to attend one too many committee meetings. While I am careful to feed and acknowledge my inner hermit, I know that this cannot be my normal condition. For my work to have any significance or value it needs to be shared with others, and that requires that I connect with a larger community.
Marketing literature is filled with clichés about how each of us has a circle of personal contacts that, on average, total about 250 different people. Typically these relationships vary in their degree of intimacy, but most people can generate a surprisingly long list of acquaintances that they know in some substantive way, and who are not just names on list. Too often we fail to see the size and quality of our personal networks until we need to leverage the list in order to sell a product, to solicit help in finding a new job, or to sell their candy for our kid’s little league fundraiser. When we fail to connect with other people, we impoverish ourselves. If you are like me at all, too often we tell ourselves the lie that we are alone in the world and no one understands what we are trying to do in life. The best remedy for this tendency toward self-pitying victimhood is to get busy connecting to other people, and not just in a “hey, how are you?” kind of way. Instead, the magic formula seems to be to ask, “How can I make this person’s situation substantially better?” Or maybe not just better, but what would make things far better than they ever expected or imagined.