How to make connections through shared experiences

How to make connections through shared experiences | Madefor

I was a boxer in college—not a very good one, but I had a hard head and heavy hands, which meant I could fake my way through most fights. Unfortunately, it also meant that every fight entailed quite a bit of “connection,” namely my head against my opponent’s fists. In fact, I used to joke with Coach Jim that my strategy was to break my opponent’s will by breaking their hands on my head.


One fight in particular stands out, an invitational at the New York Athletic Club, where I fought “Hawk,” a former Navy SEAL turned college football player, who had me by about ten years and 40 lbs. His long hair, wild eyes, and thick scars covering his neck and arms didn’t build my confidence—he looked like he had just stepped off the set of Rambo and hit even harder.


It’s been almost two decades since I last stepped into a boxing ring, but I still think of this fight often. Why? Some of the greatest connections I’ve made in life have come from being in the “ring” alongside others, navigating a shared experience. And, while it’s true that the hardest situations led to some of the deepest connections, I’ve also come to appreciate the power of smaller, seemingly insignificant, shared experiences as well. 


As you head into February—a time of Valentines, Galentines, and the like—I challenge you to remember that you don’t need an occasion to connect. In fact, because you’ve been fighting something much larger this past year alongside millions of others, you’re already connected. Whether you invest in and benefit from your connections is entirely up to you. Choosing to meet strangers on the street with eye contact and a smile, finding small ways to serve your friendships, or setting time aside to deepen the connections with those you love most, every swing you take matters. Today, especially today, it matters even more. 


I lost that fight in a split decision. Several hours later, I was licking my wounds and eating pizza when Hawk approached to say thanks for the battle. Then he asked, “Would you mind if we switched trophies, because it seems they accidentally gave me the runner up.” I laughed, said I’d fight him for it, and then we spent the next hour sharing our stories. Who knew, in just a few short years we wouldn’t just be friends, but brothers in arms and teammates in the SEALs, growing even closer through fights big and small. 


As much as that night hurt, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. In fact, now I’m always looking for ways to find the “ring”—to find those moments of shared experience and use them as opportunities for a deeper connection and a richer life. I hope you can too.


What swing will you take today?