When entrepreneur Isa Watson found herself at the pinnacle of her career, she also soon found herself at her lowest point emotionally. Her father died unexpectedly, and she ended up in a place where she was taking stock of the things and the people most important to her. She was forced to put her mental health first, and in doing so, realized that she placed too much emphasis in her day-to-day life on obtaining validation outside of herself.
Many of us do just that. The invention of social media has made the pursuit of “likes” the be-all, end-all; those likes often coming from people we truly don’t have a relationship with or know of at all. This reality, for Watson, inspired a few things. One is her social app Squad, which aims to help people reestablish and nurture meaningful connections with individuals in their lives. Secondly, it inspired her book, Life Beyond Likes: Logging Off Your Screen and Into Your Life, which delves into the ways in which our use of social platforms affects our actual relationships, the way we live, as well as the way we see ourselves. Lastly, this realization motivated her to help create, along with the assistance of senior U.S. government officials, the very first annual Day of Intentionality across the U.S. on the third Wednesday of September. Taking place for the first time this year on September 20, in NYC, Mayor Eric Adams is involved, along with a number of brands, including those in wellness. Free mental health guides and tools from Headspace are being shared, in addition to a push to get people to meet up with friends in real life and more.
Intrigued by the observance, we spoke to Watson about her passion for motivating people to live life with more intention on this day and every day, and the simple ways we can practice doing so.
ESSENCE: How would you say grief put things into perspective for you in regard to validation and how you were going about obtaining it?
Isa Watson: I lost my dad very abruptly in a highway accident, and that changed my life forever. For me, it drove home the reality that tomorrow is never promised. And it also made me realize that I did not want to spend one day on this planet complacent in unhappiness, stress, or being unfulfilled.
I realized that many of the negative emotions that I experience over time–like the ones above–are due to the fact that I was relying too much on the validation of others. Whether it was worrying about likes on social media, whether an investor would like me, or even what others would think about my life decisions. In reality, none of those things matter. All that does matter is that I can wake up every day, look myself in the mirror and be happy with the person that I am. Learning to validate myself was a muscle I had to build–and something that I still continue to work on. But I validate myself every day, and I haven’t been happier or more fulfilled as a person.
How did that realization inspire Squad?
While validation of self is the most important, the second most important validation is from the people who love you, and bring you joy. The people who see it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly. While we get validation on social media, in the form of likes, from people we’ll never laugh in the same room with, it’s important to remember that they don’t truly know our story.
Squad was born out of the realization that many of our friendships were slipping away at the hands of social media. It’s important to preserve time, and space, for keeping up with the friends who bring us joy. Without it, it’s easy to slip into depressive and isolating cycles. Connection and belonging is one of the core needs of human beings. It was time for us to be intentional about keeping that integrated in our lives.
Why would you say truly meaningful connections are more important than ever? How has social media helped and hurt the ability to have them?
True connection is more important than ever because we are the loneliest we’ve ever been as a country. Isolation from the pandemic is part of the reason but an even bigger part is our relationship with technology and social media.
Social media has fooled us into thinking that we’re up to date with people–and especially our friends. We too often conflate consumption of social media with connection to our friends, and forget that we still have to nurture our real-life relationships. We also fall into the trap of comparing the “perfected, highlight reels” people post on social media to the messiness of our real life–and subsequently feel bad about ourselves, and oftentimes self-isolate. I write about this a bit in my debut book Life Beyond Likes: Logging Off Your Screen and Into Your Life.
Never forget that meaningful relationships must be tended to with intentionality. Friendships are a real untapped source of joy. But to unlock it, you must invest in it.
I don’t think people stop to think about whether or not the way they obtain validation is problematic. We just know we want likes, etc. What is a sign that one may be too invested in superficial connections and outside validation?
We have become too reliant on external validation, and not enough on our own. So much so that nearly 50% of people who post on social media will delete the post if they don’t get enough likes, quickly enough. As I’ve said, validation of ourselves is the most powerful validation we can get, and it’s the most powerful muscle you can build. I encourage people to do whatever it takes to get grounded on their two feet, look in the mirror, put their chin up high and say “I validate me.”
Can you share ways that people can participate in the Day of Intentionality?
I spearheaded the creation of the Day of Intentionality as a way to remind us that we have the power to own our joy journey. As a nation, as a people, we are the saddest, loneliest, and most depressed we’ve ever been and it’s time to change course. We define intentionality as using the potential of our minds, and power of our actions, to live a life rooted in joy.
The four pillars for this new holiday include 1) friendship and loved ones, 2) health and physical well-being, 3) mind, spirit, environment and 4) purpose and mental prosperity. We encourage people to make two goals within any of these pillars, and focus on improving those one quarter at a time.
Example of goals include the following:
- Reconnect with a friend who brings you joy, and commit to touching base at least once every two weeks.
- Go outside and get 10k steps in at least five days of the week.
- Practice positive self-talk, and celebrate the small wins.
- Build the muscle of learning to validate yourself instead of relying on others to validate you.
- Even grab a Joyful Spritz with a friend; it’s a custom drink that we created with Moët Hennessy to give us that joyful vibe.
Learn more about the Day of Intentionality at dayofintentionality.com.