For several weeks in the morning, I picked up my iPhone and clicked on Facebook, then Instagram, then LinkedIn, then Twitter. And the next morning, and many mornings more, I followed this mindless pattern of clicking one-by-one through these apps.

If every moment of our lives is hyper-connected, where is there margin to even think about our passions and personal desires? If everything is right at our fingertips and is a Google search or a purchase click-away, when do we actually pursue or try to create something to fill a need or a problem, or lend beauty to this world?

Solitude disconnects you from the world and reconnects you to yourself and your passions.

A few weeks ago I went on a silent two-and-a-half day retreat. I was eager to turn my cell phone into Airplane mode and purposefully remove myself from everyday distractions.

I had cultivated a twice a year ritual of going on a silent retreat, so I knew the value of this time to reconnect spiritually and with my own self. When I share my retreat experiences with friends and family, they are alarmed at the thought of having to part with their phone or the TV or their laptop — and all to hear the sound of nothing! What is there to be afraid of?

My favorite retreat companion, priest, and author, Henri Nouwen perfectly encapsulated the fear that comes with silence and solitude — and why we need it to discover our passion(s). He writes: 

“All human beings are alone. No other person will completely feel like we do, think like we do, act like we do. Each of us is unique, and our aloneness is the other side of our uniqueness. The question is whether we let our aloneness become loneliness or whether we allow it to lead us into solitude. Loneliness is painful; solitude is peaceful. Loneliness makes us cling to others in desperation; solitude allows us to respect others in their uniqueness and create community.”

This past retreat wasn’t fun and games — my thoughts kept going back to two significant losses in my life. However, by cultivating these times of solitude, pain and my aloneness also points me to what I am passionate about and reminds me of my uniqueness. These times are a much-needed space to grow, mature, and hear my life speak to me again.

Journaling is a way to reflect and look back on the people and things that leave an impression on you. On retreat, I spend a lot of time on two things — walking in nature and journaling. It’s incredible how much I observe and journal when I’m not typing a quick social media post. This single task has helped me see and understand myself and what motivates me more than any other. Because when I am journaling, I am focused on this one task and my mind is more still; my inner posture more attentive. Journaling captures my journey in a moment in time, including what is motivating or driving me.

What, or who, naturally draws your interest without trying so hard? Have you been too distracted to notice? Maybe your passion is more apparent than you think — “Your obvious is your art”

I listened to a podcast a while ago where one of the speakers said this quote, and it has stuck with me ever since (unfortunately though, not their name to give the proper credit). Your calling or passion is right there in the things you can’t stop thinking about or in things or experiences tugging on your emotions — even if you are not sure why. I am a socially conscious person, and my heart is continuously pulled towards the poor or lonely in our society. This is why I serve and play music once a month at a local HUD senior apartment complex. I take pleasure in teaching and writing which is why I sign up for public speaking engagements at conferences when public speaking terrifies a lot of people.

Going on retreat when we need space to rediscover ourselves, and our passions may not always be possible. One ritual I have tried to cultivate is taking a “digital sabbath” — a day where I spend an extended period of time away from my phone and electronic devices. Sabbath is a day of rest, and in a culture that worships being busy, there is no better antidote.

Recently I thought back to when I was younger and tended to write more, sketch, or listen to music without interruption. I realized I was more creative when I intentionally removed myself from what stressed me out, and there were no social media or cell phones to distract me back then. I found creative ways to learn and find purpose because I didn’t have everything readily at my fingertips to pull me away from being present.

By unplugging, I am better and more passionate about what lies in front of me in my plugged-in times.

Instead of feeling robotic, I am myself and what drives me versus being driven by distraction. Will you create solitude and space to unplug and hear what your life and passions are speaking to you?



Tammy Lawlor is a Product Consultant by day who is passionate about creating digital products and experiences that people love. She also speaks at conferences on topics related to product development and Design Thinking. Outside of work, she loves to write, plan the next travel adventure, or run around town training for a half marathon. You can connect with her on Twitter.

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