I was going through some old Facebook photos the other day, and came across one of the two of us back in New York sitting at brunch. I think it was Steve’s birthday, we got super drunk that day.
So I sent an email to tell you I was thinking of you, old friend. I hoped that it might brighten up your day, make you smile, and maybe send something back.
But your response a week later made me feel like that email did not have the desired effect. It made me feel that my message may have caused you stress.
First off, you started the email with the following: “Hey, sorry for the delay.” Then you started to talk about the stress of your job: “Work has been crazy.”
But I wonder why something that was meant to be positive ended up triggering thoughts about your job and your stress levels?
I guess it could have just been on your mind at the time, but I get a feeling there’s more to it than that.
Stop starting messages with: Sorry.
The things is, it wasn’t just you, just this once. I get this type of response all the time.
It’s almost as if, “Sorry, I was so busy…” has replaced: “Dear, X” as a basic introduction. Soon kids in school will have to start learning that before you get in touch with someone after a while, you have to first apologize. Even if it only took a day to respond, you should start with the word: Sorry.
We need to stop this.
Listen, we all have work, we all have responsibilities, we all have “totally crazy” weeks.
But what does that have to do with me? What does responding to me, your non-work friend, have anything to do with your job?
I don’t want to be associated with your employer, I don’t want to be part of your to-do list, just another responsibility.
There is no deadline here and there never was. You do not owe me a timely response. Not today, not tomorrow, not next week, or next month.
When you start off a message saying you have been so busy with work, it puts me in the same pool as your conference calls and your client reports. No, not in the same pool, but decidedly less important.
You’re basically saying:
I had all this other important stuff to do and that’s why I didn’t get back to you. Which is fine. I accept that I’m less important than your job. But you don’t have to rub it in my face.
I don’t want to hear about your stressful life and your excuses. Especially because:
You don’t owe me an excuse.
In reality, you have nothing to be sorry for.
In today’s world, we need to stop putting pressure on each other, but mostly on ourselves, to respond digitally in a timely fashion or at all.
If I started talking to you in real life, and you were dead silent for days that would be one thing. But let’s not pretend that digital engagement is anywhere close to as important to each of us as is speaking in person or on the phone.
I want you to respond to me when the mood strikes.
Email, social media, all of these “tools” were created (at first) to allow us to reach out to each other more easily when we want to. Not give us more stress, responsibility, and duty.
I, personally, regularly wait weeks to get back to people. And it’s okay.
And you know what? I actually like when people take a long time to respond to me because it gives me permission to do the same.
I want you to respond to me when the mood strikes, when you feel good about it. Not because you feel obliged.
I have a friend who said he hasn’t responded to some of his good friends for months, and he feels bad about it all the time.
But there’s this snowball effect. The longer he waits, the worse he feels, and the worse he feels, the more the pressure builds to say something thoughtful to make up for it, and thus the more stressful it is, so he puts it off even longer.
Nobody needs to feel that.
Just because we have so many ways to get in touch (it’s literally insane how many different ways I can be contacted) doesn’t mean we need to always answer people right away.
When my old work got Slack for example, I refused to use it.
Because I knew that meant people would expect me to always be there. But I like to do my work uninterrupted. And yes, I like to duck out for some amount of time, and when I do, I don’t want people to know I’ve ducked out because there’s no green dot next to my name.
I don’t want people to know exactly when I’m at my computer or taking a long poop. That’s just creepy.
So people just got used to the fact that I was never logged in and emailed instead.
You don’t need to be on call 24/7, 7 days a week. Nor should anyone expect you to.
Take back your (real) life.
Take back your life with me. You have the power. Not the forces of the ping noise or the blinking light. Not some imaginary social pressure which is mostly coming from you and not from any other individual person out there.
We are allowed to shut off our devices and focus on the world around us. Every day we’re allowed to make that choice.
So cherished friend, if you want to come to Berlin and have an in-person conversation, I’m all ears.
And when you’re here, you can bet I will be with you, paying my full attention. Yes, even when some other old cherished friend decides to slide into my DMs.