There is no Substitute for a Friend

Someone I don’t personally know committed suicide yesterday. We had never met but I respected him. I followed his words, his tweets and heard him in interviews and speeches.

I envied him. I envied his connections, his ability to express his thoughts in words and presentations better than I ever could. I envied that he got to travel around the world talking to people about what he knew. In this crazy ‘new marketing’ world, Trey Pennington was a legend and now he is gone.

I am sad

How can I feel so sad for a man I never met? As we connect with people on Twitter or Facebook or read their blogs we start to feel like we know them. In the light of these tragic events, I realize that I did not know this man at all. This man had a whole off-line life, family and demons that few people knew about.

I am also sad because so many other people/friends/colleagues that knew Trey better than I did are sad. When anything like this happens, everyone has those thoughts that they wished they could have done something or they wish that they had known. Those are hard feelings to deal with sometimes and I am sad people I know are trying to deal with that right now.

Remember what it means to be a friend

In his book the Thank You Economy, Gary Vaynerchuk asks if online you are building contacts or connections. He is speaking specifically about social media for businesses but what about in your life? With new tools it is easier than ever to stay in touch with people we know, meet people who share our interests and maintain conversations regularly.

Are these tools giving us more opportunity to connect with people, or in fact, are they giving us less?

Are they fragmenting our relationships between what we want people to see and what we don’t?

Are they making us feel more surrounded by people but at the same time more alone?

Trey Pennington had over 100,000 Twitter followers. He suffered from depression, which is an ugly thing but it makes me wonder – of those 100,000, how many could he pick up the phone and call just to say he was having a really shitty day?

Remember what it was like when we were younger to have friends… you spent time with them, did activities with them, ate with them, shared clothes, books, stories, secrets and more. As we grow up our relationships change but hopefully you maintain that type of a relationship with a few close friends (real friends, not Facebook friends). I make an effort to get together with my close friends regularly, even when we are busy.

In those conversations with close friends you tell stories, secrets, laugh and sometimes cry. Many times the problems I showed up with have seemed to go away by the time the evening is over. In our real friendships we can take off our armor and be ourselves and we can have problems. The more you talk about them with people you trust, the more you realize you aren’t alone.

As ‘adults’, we have bigger problems so why do we internalize them more? I think now more then ever we need a support system that we can reach out to. So maybe we should all take just a few moments to think about our current relationships and what they mean to us. Which ones are important and which ones are not as important?

You may have hundreds of numbers in your phone and even more Facebook friends. You may have thousands of Twitter followers and a bushel of blog subscribers but how many people do you have that you can call and say ‘I am having a really shitty day’ because those relationships are the ones that matter most.

2 Replies to “There is no Substitute for a Friend”

  1. I’ve been Reading Trey’s twitter feed and, being connected to the Carolina Social Media scene I’ve seen the shocked disbelief of colleagues . I’ve seen a lot of reactions to this as of the being alone in a sea of online friends. I don’t know if I agree. I’ve had a number of friends who have struggled with these issues of depression, some with a large “real world” network of friends, and a couple of them suffering the same fate. I had a close friend who listened to the voice mails of his wife and friend telling him how much they loved him minutes before killing himself. In the aftermath of these tragedies we want to hope there was something more we could have done (I’ve often wished I had been one of those voice mails myself in hopes I could have altered events), but serious depression is an illness that steals some of the bravest faces we know.

    1. Thanks Bill for your comment. As I said multiple times in the post, I know Trey suffered from depression and that in itself is a disease that is hard to battle through. I am more saying that we connect with people online and we think that we know them but we don’t. Few knew of Trey’s depression or his previous suicide attempt.

      I believe many are taking the ‘alone in a sea of friends’ angle as thousands of people wish they could have helped him but they probably couldn’t. It does warrant some reflection on who we know and who we do not. Who we have as our support system versus those we share only a version of ourselves to online.

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