Why we need to unplug

Friends call to chastise each other for being slow to return text messages or e-mail — as though the ability to communicate in half a dozen new-fangled ways makes constant attention to every one of them morally imperative.” — Martha Beck

IMG_2355I didnt realize the damned thing was missing until my husband caught me off guard.

“Wheres your cell phone?” he asked. “Does it need to be recharged?”

“Gosh, I dont know,” I said, faking genuine concern. I couldnt even recall the last time Id used it — other than to take photos of the cats to post on Facebook. Trying to appear responsible, I dug through drawers and underneath the car seats. No cell phone.

Thats when my husband remembered wed just dropped off a carload of discards, including old clothing and purses, for a church rummage sale.

And that’s how we ended up back at church the night before the sale, rummaging through my discarded handbags and coats. Just as I suspected, my phone wasnt there — and it hasn’t turned up since.

Cell phones are essential if youre a traveling executive, a detective, or a pregnant woman close to labor. And theyre a godsend when your teenager is out past curfew or your car breaks down after midnight on a deserted rural highway.

But I refuse to treat any gadget as if its part of my anatomy. In my ongoing quest to achieve serenity — at least on a part-time basis — I find it helps to unplug as often as possible. And that’s why I’m often caught without a cell phone. On purpose.

Despite the fact that I’m solely responsible for the care management of a parent with advanced dementia, there are times when I need to be unavailable. And despite the fact that I’m an outgoing, social person, there are times when I simply don’t feel like gabbing. And I don’t want to carry another electronic reminder of “missed calls” and new messages in my purse or my pocket. When I return home, I know I’ll find enough of those in my email and in the voicemail on the house phone.

Lately I’ve noticed that most people seem more stressed, desperate, and frantic than ever — as if life were a series of dire emergencies to be handled right this minute. Some psychologists suggest the problem is linked to our cultural addiction to cell phones and social media. Or, as author Loretta LaRoche observes, these days we cant even run an errand to the supermarket without a cell phone, a pager, and other electronic devices.

“We now look more like a member of a SWAT team than someone shopping for groceries,” LaRoche writes in Life Is Not a Stress Rehearsal: Bringing Yesterdays Sane Wisdom into Todays Insane World. (Broadway Books). “God forbid we should be out of touch for ten minutes,” LaRoche quips. “And since we have the contraptions there with us, what the hell, we can call home and tell everyone we got bread.”

I don’t want to carry another electronic reminder of ‘missed calls’ and new messages in my purse or my pocket.

At a writers conference I attended a while back, somebodys bleeping cell phone disrupted — three times — a wonderful lecture given by a best-selling author.  Days later, the same thing happened at a funeral service. At the drug store last week, I had to listen to another customers cell conversation while waiting in line for my prescription. Oblivious to everyone within earshot, the woman chattered on her phone, punctuating every sentence with the “F” bomb.

On the road, every other car is driven by an idiot with one hand glued to a cell phone and the other barely guiding the steering wheel. Ive watched these drivers swerve in and out of lanes, fail to use turn signals, even run red lights.

“We all know that technological advances have made connection easier than ever before. They’ve also led some people to think that breaking away is a violation of the social order,” writes Martha Beck in “You Have the Right to Remain Silent,” an essay on why being disconnected, periodically, can be good for one’s mental health. “Friends call to chastise each other for being slow to return text messages or e-mail, as though the ability to communicate in half a dozen new-fangled ways makes constant attention to every one of them morally imperative.”

As it happened, I did end up replacing my missing cell phone with another one. Right now, the thing is dutifully recharging on my desk, where it’s likely to remain until I need to take a quick photo of the cat.

Fear of missing …what?

“It’s hard not to develop this 21st-century form of anxiety when one glance at your smartphone reveals a thousand awesome things your friends — and enemies — are doing.” — Martha Beck, “The Grass Ain’t Greener”

circusIts no secret that Ive carried on a love-hate relationship with social media for years.

Using LinkedIn as one example: I love how it connects us with colleagues and expands our career-networking potential. Using Facebook as another example: I hate how it tempts us to overplay our achievements or flaunt things that ought to be kept personal.

So far, Ive been Facebook-free for more than six weeks. The last time I suffered social-media overload, I deactivated my Facebook account for more than three months. In so doing, I discovered I’d suddenly acquired yards of extra free time — simply because I wasnt reading status updates on what dozens of “friends” had eaten for lunch, bagged at the grocery store, or watched on television the previous night.

At the same time, I’ll admit it feels weird (sometimes) to avoid being part of something that everyone else is doing en masse. Even my husband makes passing references – daily – to material hes read on Facebook.

It’s enough to stir up an infectious case of FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. Life coach Martha Beck explores the perils of FOMO in her current O Magazine column (June 2013). As Beck explains it, FOMO manages to convince you that everyone else has more fun, more sex, cooler friends, better meals, bigger jobs, smarter kids, and fancier vacations than you have — and is so much younger- or better-looking than you’d ever be. Of course, FOMO rides high and fast on the wheels of social media, in all forms.

“A powerful way to fight FOMO is to recognize that the fabulous life you think youre missing doesnt in fact exist,” writes Beck. “When you feel FOMO coming on, remind yourself that practically every image you see on practically any screen is likely misleading.”  To find out why, you absolutely must read the rest of Becks spot-on article. I promise, you’ll nod your head at every paragraph.

In the meantime, Im following Becks advice and living fully in the ordinary moment – without posting photos of what I ate for breakfast. Seriously, you haven’t missed much.

The art of reinvention

Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.” — H. Jackson Browne

IMG_0007Feeling like your second chance is long overdue? From time to time, everyone “burns out” or gets stuck in a familiar rut. As I learned several years ago, a midlife career crisis can be an opportunity for personal growth or a chance to explore a hidden talent.

My new column in Michigan Prime magazine also includes tips on reinventing your life from Birmingham life coach Betsy Hemming. To read “The Art of Reinvention” online, click on the Oakland County edition, then flip to page 6. Click here to get started.

If my column inspires you to dig deeper, look for these guides on burnout recovery and career reinvention at your favorite bookstore or public library:

Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live, by Martha Beck. (Three Rivers Press)

Fried: Why You Burn Out and How to Revive, by Joan Borysenko, Ph.D. (Hay House, Inc.)

Getting Unstuck: A Guide to Discovering Your Next Career Path, by Timothy Butler. (Harvard Business Press)