When I was young I had several imaginary friends. I’m not sure how I felt the need for that, since I grew up with 4 siblings. Well – maybe that is exactly why: I dreamed up a few fanciful characters who could be whatever I wanted them to be, and who didn’t tease me or lock me in my room or steal my toys. I had good adventures with my imaginary friends. They were there for me when I needed to withdraw from my ‘real’ life and immerse myself in one of my choosing.
I’ve been thinking about these imaginary friends a lot as these days of social distancing and self-isolation drag on. Humans are wired to be social. Relying on connections through a screen, speaking through masks, maintaining a two arms’ length buffer around us at all times ..all this feels entirely unnatural. We’re getting accustomed to it, and adapting in resourceful and stoic ways.
Perhaps it’s time to add another creative practice to your repertoire: the creation and cultivation of an imaginary friend group. Think about it: what kind of people could you most use in your life right now, that you could conjure up and have immediate access to, at least in your imagination? Maybe a wise aunt who has been through tough times and has tales to tell about surviving and thriving, a kindly older brother who converts quickly into protector mode, a comic sidekick who can turn pretty much anything into a joke, a creative geek buddy who loves nothing better to come up with solutions, a romantic poetic type who has the perfect poem or quote for any situation, a ‘soul-sister’ who will stick with it and with you for the duration. Give them names. And physical characteristics. A bit like creating an avatar, but one with real spirit and quirks.
It’s OK to talk with these friends out loud. Only your walls and other current inhabitants of your house (including pets) will hear you. And everyone is crazy these days, so what do you have to lose?
When we emerge from our quarantined existences, imaginary friends can continue to play a role in our lives, including in our professional realms. By then you’ll really know one another well, cooped up as you’ll have been together. These friends can join your broader network of colleagues, supporters, and other champions as you take your leadership to the next level.
I hope you’ll consider me among your ‘real’ friends, even now, when you’re cooped up and have perhaps more time on your hands to contemplate next steps in your career, or ways to feel more purposefully engaged in your current situation. I’m here in my sidecar, just a Zoom call away. I’ll even wave at your imaginary friends in the background.
Yours in riding out the pandemic in good company,