At 7:08 AM this morning my 6-year-old daughter see-sawed on the edge of a temper tantrum. She didn’t want to be standing on a cold wooden floor in her nightgown. She was ready to fight every to-do on the unhappy Monday morning list scrolling out in front of her.
As she started to howl I took a deep breath and said, “I’m actually kind of nervous.” She stopped and looked at me with a mixture of surprise and skepticism. “Why are you nervous?” she asked.
“I’m going to have to start looking for a job soon,” I said. “I don’t want people to reject me and say no.”
“Well if they do…you just keep asking until someone says yes.” She walked to the dresser and grinned. Then suddenly she was putting on her pants.
Wait, what happened there? Why was she able to interrupt her tantrum to help me? And why did that, in turn, seem to make her feel better?
For a little over a week, I’ve been logging (many) hours on a new app called Anchor. It calls itself “radio by the people.” In truth, it’s more like those telephone party lines from the 60s moved to a beautiful shiny new modern home. The fun and simplicity of the app belies something deep that’s taking place there every day.
But first, a look at Anchor and how it works.
It starts with speaking out loud to your phone. You record a 2-min-or-under message and then you caption it. Here’s an example of one of mine. (This is what it looks like if you hit one of the discussions from social media, i.e. you’re not a user and you’ve just had a wave shared with you):
If you’re a member of the community and using the app itself, this is what that same discussion looks like:
You play through each response in order, scrolling down and responding as you go if you choose. As you can see, it’s an asynchronous spoken conversation with people who start as strangers. (That just sounded like the beginning of an 80s sitcom. Cue Balki Bartokomous.)
Anchor is being used in all sorts of ways. And here’s where it gets interesting for someone examining the role of anxiety in our culture. Anchor is particularly revealing about the transformative power of vulnerability.
I surely don’t have to convince you that stress and anxiety are issues facing America today. We live in an era where people are always looking for new ways to escape. The entire Trump campaign is a barnacle that is capitalizing off of the human desire for relief and escape from stress.
This is how Anchor fits in: In the two weeks I’ve used it, I’ve received more clearer and more direct objective perspectives on my thoughts and feelings than on any of the other platforms combined. The people I’ve met are funny, smart, and thoughtful. We’re from a wide variety of backgrounds. We all share something in common: we want to share our experiences to help others and we want to keep the conversations real. It's the interplay of helping others and being helped through new perspectives that leads to a true calming of stress symptoms.
Growing up in the Midwest as a Gen X’er, stoicism and individualism were highly prized and coveted traits. If you felt undue stress or needed help, you’d do it privately, seeking out an “expert.” My experience on Anchor reinforces for me that things are changing. We’re now looking for help in all directions. We know that by helping others, we help ourselves, and that it feels good. Anchor creates a space for an easy give-and-take — especially for people who are willing to be vulnerable. Since the help many of us need is to trust ourselves, learning to be vulnerable is an important first step. Vulnerability is a daunting challenge for the anxious and stressed among us.
This brings us back to my daughter and this morning. What was it about me revealing my nervousness that immediately calmed her down?
I have a few speculations. By revealing myself, I may have helped her:
- Feel less alone.
- Show her how much she knows and how she can learn from herself. “Just keep asking!”
- Feel strong and insightful.
- Maybe I should ask my Anchor crew what they think about it.
It may seem counterintuitive, but when a cranky cowgirl is about to start screaming in front of you, leading with your own fear can be the bravest thing you can do.