For humans, contact matters. Connecting to others is a basic human physiological and psychological need. Babies, if left un-nurtured by the comfort of human interaction, will not reach their full developmental potential. That basic need drives us the rest of our lives. If you look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Physiological, Safety, Love/Belonging, Esteem, Self-Actualization and more recently Self-Transcendence) they all require those around us to fully manifest until Self-actualization and Self-transcendence. Man has formed communities based up our tribal-structured roots that began around a fire, in a cave, or sharing some basic abode. Jean Paul-Sartre posited that our existence is only revealed in ‘the look of the other’, whereby we gain proof of our actuality. So we build linkages to others; friends, marriages, professional relationships and other associations become an ever spinning fabric woven to clothe us in security, happiness, and being. Connections are a lifeline. Bridges matter. We build them to improve our relationships, but also to advance upon our current position or status in life. “Build bridges, not walls/fences” is a common idiom based upon egalitarian openness and hope. And you dare not burn any of those bridges once they’re built, because you damn sure might need to reuse them one day…
That’s not always true! Burn bridges. Yes, I said it. You better, or you are going to run out of ‘material’ to continue to build new ones. Heck, it may prevent you from backtracking or going to a place you shouldn’t have been in the first place. Look, your time, if it’s truly an investment in others, requires a distinct amount of emotional energy to fortify and maintain relationships. Emotional energy is finite; just read Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz’s book “The Power of Full Engagement”. Time is infinite, but it’s broken down into daily increments of 24 hours. You can only do so much! Don’t hang on just to hang on. Don’t create connections just to have them. Another more efficient bridge can be built further down the canyon that’s better, has more lanes, has no tolls, and can withstand the weather in superior fashion. Hell, maybe that bridge was even built by someone else but you get to use it! In the physical world, we got rid of wooden and stone bridges to replace them with steel and iron ones that spanned the same passes, didn’t we? Did we keep those old ones? No! What about the bridges that helped us traverse the wilderness during westward expansion? Did we care about those or the ones that would help us in perpetuity as our family took up roots on the West Coast? Everyone started using the new ones for their local community.
These analogies translate to your life too. Get rid of that old crusty connection that isn’t needed anymore to make space for new connections. You have to be caring about your time and emotional capital. Some mentors, teachers and coaches may not be able to help you grown anymore. Your resources are limited. Socially and cognitively you actually have a defined limit for the number of connections you can maintain. It’s called Dunbar’s number, which has been highlighted in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Tipping Point”, Duncan Watt’s “Six Degrees: The Science of the Connected Age” and Mark Buchanan’s “Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Science of Networks”. The average number of social connections one can maintain meaningfully is about 150 people. Past that point leads to inactivity, wasted energy and even friction, so it behooves you to prune your relationships. But don’t just pull out sticks of dynamite and plug your ears; there is an art to bridge burning.
First, you must assess your current and potential connections. I’ve heard others say that your network equated in many ways to your net worth. Do you have the requisite links to buffer you if you lose a few? Have you made enough headway in a particular path, industry, organization, or future that you no longer need that fallback? LinkedIn and Facebook connections can be helpful, but they shouldn’t be your end-all-be-all. Be meticulous to truly realize which person-to-person and social media connections you have in your life that are no longer needed!
Second, be strong enough to pick up the can of kerosene and be particular enough about your time and energy that you have the willpower to strike a match. If you are branching out in another direction, then cut off the dead weight. Do you keep friends from high school around just because they were your friends back then? Are they helping your progress or reminding you of who you used to be? A key litmus test: if they are constantly looking backward and ‘just want to go back to the good old days’ of high school, but you’re successful enough that you look forward to your future, it’s time for them to go. Did you move or change career paths? Here’s a place where LinkedIn or Facebook can help you maintain those loose relationships from afar where you don’t need to actually invest much effort. Be reminded of where you are in your life, and what bridges or connections matter most for that place. Ask yourself daily: If you live in San Fran but will never live in New York again, do you care most about the George Washington or the Golden Gate?
Thirdly, be organized with a plan but also be smart and caring. If you put in the time and effort to maintain the relationship, put the same emotion and courtesy in closing that connection down. Kerosene stinks – make sure they know it’s coming and use your communicative ability and emotional intelligence to assuage the aroma. A match is pretty coarse – temper the scratch as much as you can. Be man/woman enough to let them know that their time or help was appreciated and was great while it lasted but you feel the need to move on. Don’t be snide or petty. Cut out any negative emotions. Never do this as revenge. Be respectively cognizant of the process. Never let it be done by someone else, but if it is, make sure you tie up the loose ends.
Finally, be prepared for blowback or flash fire. Wear the protective equipment of preparedness, care, sensitivity, and calmness to buffer what may come. Stand fast just like a firefighter would. If you’ve done your homework you know the connection has got to go. They may or may not have seen it coming. Do the due diligence to the relationship by preparing for the discussion and its outcomes. This is an art. You have to do it just right. Never think that you can’t burn bridges; it won’t be easy, but this needs to be done for your personal and professional growth. And remember if you handle it right you can ‘swim back across’ or build the bridge back if need be.
MilitaryMentors.org can and will help you strengthen and build connections. In order to be fully invested in those new connections you simply may need to remove some current ones that aren’t helping you get to the next level. Don’t be afraid in 2016 to be meticulous about shedding what’s unneeded in order to make space for what will set you up for success. Let us help you forge new bridges. May the bridges you burn light your future path…