Always Eat Alone

Anti-social? Fine.
Introverted? Absolutely.
Disinterested? Heck no!
Not a team player? Shut the front door!
Ashamed to admit it? Never.

I’m Tom Tate, and I eat alone.

I just finished reading Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. (I also found it personally amusing that I read the bulk of this book sitting completely alone in booth in my office’s cafeteria.) I couldn’t stand this book. It was painful to finish. Cover to cover, I found Never Eat Alone to be filled with elitist rhetoric, detailing how to rub elbows with the privileged few that will pull you up the social ladder. If you want to know how to work the back nine at an exclusive golf club, or nail the do’s and don’ts when planning the perfect dinner party, this is your bible. Read it.

I don’t want to rag on the book, as there are a lot of positive reviews on the web, and many vocal uninitiated networkers of the world received value out of its contents. Never Eat Alone is a smart book, it just wasn’t for me. I don’t want to climb the ladder, or ride the elevator, I want to scale a mountain. I’m an introverted networker. I network in my own way, but that’s not the point of this post. This post is in defense of eating alone.

Your time is your time

I don’t make a ton of money. I have two kids under three years old. House to take of. Bills to pay. Fast-moving job. There’s just a lot to manage. You know how it is.

I’m incredibly self-aware of my goals, strengths, weaknesses, and limitations. I’m also hyper-aware of the things I value, and how I would rank those things. More than anything, I value my family. I want to spend every waking hour with them. If I could work four hours a day, and dedicate the rest of my time to my wife and kids, I would. (Not feasible… yet.)

The next thing I value is my health. To maintain this, I need ample sleep, frequent activity, and time to prep real food. Beyond health would be my profession, my closest friendships, my side projects/interests, and then my extended network.

So, after taking a regular inventory of my personal and professional goals, it’s clear how much time and effort I need to allocate to level up my strengths, and learn new skills.

Free time is a rare commodity, so I approach every hour with intent. Every hour is an hour to learn, grow, create, experiment, or relax. Because I prefer to be creative in the early morning, and I prefer to relax with my family after work hours, that leaves little time to learn and grow. Well, as it turns out, I have a little extra time each day… lunch time.

Get smart

This article title was tongue-in-cheek. You shouldn’t always eat alone. Magic can happen when you eat with your peers. But to say that you should never eat alone is a bold statement. (In truth, I try to lunch it with my colleagues two out of five days.)

Listen, lunch is my time to get smart about getting smart.

I’m probably botching this quote, but you’ve all heard: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

I choose to spend my lunch with the smartest people I can find on the internet. These people are writers, presenters, and educators who are cracking codes, figuring things out, pushing their industries further and sharing their experiences.

If eating lunch with my colleagues lead to hyper-learning the specific skills needed to hit my goals, I’d be eating lunch with my colleagues every day. I learn a ton from my peers, but that learning typically occurs when we’re collaborating in our work environment.

Sure, there are serendipitous moments while breaking bread with my coworkers where I’ll learn something unique and powerful, or where a casual conversation will yield an interesting new initiative, but more often than not, lunch is a time for relaxation and socializing. (And honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m the first to admit I’m the odd man out here.) I make up for my solo eating habits by actively engaging in productive conversation and conflict during the other 8 hours of the workday.

I seriously refuse to see eating alone as a sign that one is not a team player. During that lunch hour, I’m working on my number one asset: my mind. I’m sharpening the saw so that when I step up to the plate for my team, I’m equipped to knock it out of the park. I’m training to win the game, with my team.

So, Mr. Keith Ferrazzi might preach to never eat alone, and for many that’s a fine mantra to live by. Personally, I don’t want to be recognized solely for my connections and relationships, I want to be recognized for making measurable impacts in business, personal pursuits, and life by doing extraordinary things.

The next time you see someone eating solo, perched with a book, rapidly reading articles, or watching tutorial videos, they’re probably not doing so because they don’t enjoy your company, or have some severe aversion to social interactions. It’s quite possible that someone is scheming something big, and training diligently for extraordinary.

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