Becoming Okay With Being Out of the Loop.

There’s a recurring conversation in my life that goes something like this:

Me: “Hey, friend/colleague/spouse/family member. I’m reading this fascinating news article/blog/book! Let me tell you all about it!”

Them: “Ooh! I read that this morning/last year/in college. Interesting, right?”

The next line of the conversation really ought to contain something to the effect of, “That’s wonderful! Let’s chat about this thing we have in common.” But it doesn’t. I usually utter a crestfallen, “Oh,” and then sulk for a minute because I hate when people already know things that I do not. Matter of fact, I get really insecure about it because a lot of my self-worth is wrapped up in knowing things that other people don’t (which could be a post in itself some other time). And then I get really competitive. Because obviously that’s the best way to alleviate insecurity – by trying to be better, smarter, and more clever than anyone else.

This means I spend time running circles around the blogosphere and news sites in an effort to stay abreast of the trendiest conversations about faith and feminism and food. I hit refresh on Feedly; browse through NPR and NYT once more. I scroll through Facebook over and over, fearing I’ll miss some photo of a baby or a wedding, some post about where people are traveling over the weekend, or some conversation about ideas or books or memes. And just when I think I’ve come out ahead, there’s that crucial piece I seem to have missed – the one everyone else knows about and I only become aware of a week later.

There’s just no winning.

What’s worse is the way that a ten minute break turns into two hours of chasing news blurbs, commentary, and (let’s face it) eventually cat videos across the web. I have the leisure time for that at the moment, but in other seasons this can mean neglecting projects or people – the work and the relationships that are life-giving, that the best parts of me want to be pursing.

So I think perhaps it’s time to move towards becoming okay with being out of the loop. Yes, I know that’s a tentative sentence. Chalk it up to the strength of insecurity and the persistence of bad habits. I suspect this is going to be a long road. I have some ideas about some first steps to take (and would welcome others from anyone with whom this post resonates):

  • Leaving the media to the end of the day, when my work is done, seems like a solid choice (and it’s worked in the past). Or leaving it altogether, at least for a time.
  • Balancing long-form writing with the the rapid-fire articles I usually consume might, I think, help me slow down the chase, strengthen my patience, and encourage me to be okay with knowing a bit less.
  • Choosing to spend time on bodily pursuits like running or yoga or cooking with other people instead of mind-based activities when possible will, I hope, give me room to connect with other parts of my self.

There are more abstract pieces too, though, that will require more time and will probably involve a fair bit of back-sliding. Such as choosing to admit when I don’t know something. Or actively viewing the conversation above as the opportunity to discuss ideas and events on common ground.

I think much of this process will entail depending on the inherent kindness of my peers, students, mentors, friends, and family; this work requires trusting that I will be met with encouragement and education, not ridicule, when I am ignorant. (Which has been the case on more occasions than I can count.)

So. Help me if you dare – and I’ll do the same for you if you’re also a chaser after that latest meme or that new bit of knowledge you too want to smugly disseminate from on high. Let’s call each other out when we sulk because someone else got to that spiffy link first; let’s learn together to welcome shared knowledge. And let’s remind each other that our worth does not depend on the number of factoids and headlines floating around in our minds.