People are still finding debris from the World Trade Center attacks. Tucked into crevices, between building where you don’t expect it. This is what I feel like is happening in my body as well when someone brings up a topic that makes me think of my day at the World Trade Center all over again.
Recently, it was the discussion of how it’s a messed up life to work on your phone all day. Why are so many people saying they need to be an unplugged as parent? I think those people are desperate and misguided; being tethered to my phone gives me freedom to make decisions completely consistent with my values.
A way I test this hypothesis is go back to the moment on 9/11 when I was at the World Trade Center when it fell. I remember every minute of what happened from when the World Trade Center started to fall to when somebody found me. So I say to myself, During that time when I thought I was going to die, would I have been grateful for the times I was tethered to my phone? The answer is yes. Here’s why:
There was a time—between when the building fell and when I pulled myself through a broken window—where I accepted the fact that I was going to die. You don’t have to worry about the process of dying. You get really peaceful. You don’t panic. I was just sad that I wouldn’t see my family. I wanted everyone’s life to turn out really nice, and I wanted to see it.
Soon after the World Trade Center I had kids, and part of the reason I know it’s right to homeschool them is I know what you think about when you’re going to die, and I don’t want to miss eight hours of every day with my kids, because I know there’s nothing else that’s going to matter in the end.
I don’t know how I would be able to live with the memories of the World Trade Center and not be with my kids, but I don’t know how I would be with my kids all day without my phone.
Being with kids all day seems really lonely. That’s why you’re all afraid to homeschool. But my phone allows me to talk to an adult when I want. And it allows me to check out if I want to check out. It’s the new millennium way to take a Valium while you parent.
Months after 9/11, in a support group, people talked about coworkers who refused to stop working at their desk and then died.
A recurring theme of the support group was “work is so stupid, I can’t go back.” It’s true that work is stupid when you think you’re about to die, but when you don’t think you’re about to die, you need work. Because you need purpose. You each need to feel like there’s something bigger than yourself.
So I know that I need work, and I experiment every day with where work fits in my life. For a while, I cut back on everything. I gave up running Brazen Careerist and I moved to a farm, and I baked bread and decorated and took care of my family, and I couldn’t stop thinking of companies. I couldn’t stop wanting to do something bigger. I couldn’t stop wanting to write about something besides not knowing what I was writing about.
Being tethered to my phone allowed me to launch a career coaching business from the farm. Then I launched more. My phone allows me to be with my kids all day and still work. I can answer phone calls all day and still be with my kids.
The World Trade Center recovery group discussions taught me that life is a balancing act between the only thing that has meaning in your life, which is your friends and family, and what you do with your time that makes life feel fulfilling and not just meaningful. Your family is what gives your life meaning. Your phone is what makes it fulfilling
Each year, the 9/11 survivors fill out a written report on how we’re doing. Each time I feel like I’m part of this century’s version of the Framingham Heart Study and that somehow we’re going to learn something important. A couple years ago we learned that if you were anxious before the World Trade Center, you’re anxious during the recovery and increasingly anxious afterwards. If you were not an anxious person before it, you recover faster and are not anxious after.
So, really, anxiety is about resilience. It’s clear to me that I fall on the very anxious side of everything; very anxious before, extremely anxious in recovery, and over‑the‑top anxious afterward. It took World Trade Center counselors to show me why I’m anxious. It took a World Trade Center counselor to show me that I can treat the anxiety by watching how the people around me treat theirs.
So today I’m on medicine for anxiety, but there’s no medicine like my phone. When I was a kid I carried a book wherever I went. People thought, “Oh, she’s so smart,” but it was really a neurotic dependence on words to calm myself down.
I don’t know how people deal with intellectual boredom. I don’t know how people deal with an inability to escape any situation they’re in. It feels claustrophobic to me to not be able to read. Now I don’t need a book because because I have my phone. I wonder about people who advocate an unplugged life. Do none of those people have a need to calm themselves down with words?
After 9/11, my eyes were patched so I couldn’t see. I spent a week in the dark as a sort-of philosopher. I realize 9/11 changed my life, but no one lives a normal life. No one does everything in an expected way. All we have is our instinct for what we need right then.
It’s easy for me to tell you I’m tethered to my phone and not leading an unplugged life. I interrupt my kids when my phone rings and I shush them during coaching and conference calls.
I know this is right for me because I had a near‑death moment that didn’t just give me the ability to die peacefully. It gave me the ability to live with self‑confidence, knowing what is right for me. And there is nothing wrong with using my phone as a crutch all day long.