Isolation and Connection on Matt Mullenweg’s Distributed Podcast

Matt Mullenweg, founder of Automattic and co-founder of the WordPress Open Source software has a great newer podcast.  Most that know me know that I’m a pretty big fan of Matt’s philosophies in general, so I try to pay attention to the different topics and speakers he has on his podcasts as I generally can count on something high quality and most of the topics tend to be what I consider to be “like minded.”  I’ve followed his blog in the past and actually look forward to the postings, they often express commonality and are upbeat, even on difficult topics.

If you haven’t yet checked out these podcasts, highly suggested.  The podcast is called the “Distributed Podcast.” <<—check it out it there

So on to why I chose this one to talk about:  Cornering Isolation (Stay Connected in a Distributed World)


Leo Widrich co-founded Buffer, the social media management software company, in 2010. But like many founders, the frantic pace and daily stresses of startup life caught up to him. After spending a couple of years in a Buddhist monastery studying mindfulness and learning to build emotional resilience, Leo now coaches other business leaders. In this episode, Leo shares tips for distributed workers on how to build healthy habits and avoid the “loneliness spiral.”


Basically, this hits home pretty well having worked remotely for over a decade, albeit, a couple years of this period has been in a traditional setting, so I’m speaking from both sides of the coin having participated in both.

It’s actually been since the airing that I’ve listened to this, but the topic really resonated and I’ve retained quite a bit of the piece of the subject that applies to me.  I found some peace in the fact that when you’re in a more isolated scenario, you can tend to start to believe that what you’re experiencing only applies to you. This podcast opens up that it’s a pretty common issue and gives some really good suggestions in terms of making some small routine changes, some of which I’ll be attempting to try myself.

In the podcast, the guest speaker Leo Widrich had become a wildly successful co-founder of a very successful media company, having had a brick and mortar setup and also a distributed setup.  He had reached a point of burnout and actually went to live at a monastery amongst Buddhist Monks, separating from running the technology business.

Now that’s obviously a bit extreme, but through all this, he’s developed a post-coaching strategy of some things that can keep a person from reaching a breaking point or a point of burnout.  This is very appealing as I’ve experienced this point several times. It’s always temporary, which is a good thing, but it can be a persistent pattern, even if there are large voids in between.

Some of my Takeaways:

(keep in mind, I am reading my own spin into many of these)

You May not be Technically “Alone:”  This is very interesting. If you work remotely, there may be other people around such as your family or even friends.  The issue is that these are not necessarily “like minded” individuals. They may understand your plight to some degree, but very likely just the basics of what you’re dealing with.  You can’t really explain many advanced concepts like coding or technicality over and above the basics to most people.

Avoid Isolation:  So most people are familiar with the concept of meditation, which has been embraced as a very healthy way to de-stress and ground.  I tend to believe that this is healthy, but the interesting part of the podcast approached things that aren’t personal to one, but involve others.

Find People Who May Not be Doing the Same Thing, but Work in the Same Manner:  This was the part that I found most interesting having experienced the isolation of not having anyone outside of social media or specific meetups to converse on topics with.  I’ve often thought it would be great either to have a spouse involved in the same things or at least a large group of friends close by to decompress with. The issue is not that these people don’t exist, but with the time requirement related to technology development and regional constraints, it becomes difficult.  This is why meetups are such “gold.” You force yourself to take time, but it’s really just not enough, at least in my case. I do enjoy talking to Clients, but even that is just a fraction of total focus time each day…in some cases, it might be several days between such a call.

So one of the suggestions was to find people working in the same manner, meaning remotely or distributed online and just simply make it a point to work around them, possibly in some organized fashion.

Many of us escape to a coffee shop for a few hours for focus time,  but at least in my case, I don’t really converse with many, aside from a friendly hello or holding the door for someone coming or going…or greeting the staff, etc.  I’m pretty sure this is common to others as well. We basically go somewhere where a bunch of other people are also there doing work, but there’s really no connection outside of that.

Now doing this with a group, even if there are people working on different types of things, you’re forming some sense of community…and with that comes energy.  This can be done in a coffee shop and also is probably the underlying reason co-working spaces like WeWork are and have been gaining popularity. It fills this void.

Interestingly, Leo Widrich felt that a human gets some positive energy in this type of setting from the others around.  You’re basically all front facing working in the same way (vs. isolating in a coffee shop, you’d just be guessing what the others are doing and there’s not much commonality with that).

This suggestion came at the right time for me as it was a very busy, high stress time, both personally and with work projects.  I had already been exploring this concept and actually found two nearby 1 time per week meetup groups like this (on, so I had already had some inkling that this might be something desirable, granted, I have not yet done it.

Co-working space also is typically close by, there are several in my local area and likely are in yours as well…and this is a step to be near like situational people who are the same people each day.  Also seems like a great direction!

End of Day Isolation:  This is my last personal takeaway I’ll talk about as this is getting long.  I learned that I’m not alone in grabbing a glass or two (or 3) of beer on my own to just unwind and sort of escape.  In my case, maybe going online for a bit on social networking or completely tuning out and listening to some of my favorite bands on YouTube Music.  I think this may be more common than I had thought as well.

Going to a bar on your own to escape doesn’t seem to decompress either as you’re not very likely to encounter like situational or industry types.  They may be there, but it’s sort of the same as going to a coffee shop, there isn’t a way to really tune into the others, even if you wanted to.

The suggestion was to at the very least, instead of isolating, bring a friend and spend the same time you would sort of arbitrarily on your own with a person in real life instead.  Now this seems like a pretty simple suggestion, but routines are hard to break, so it’s definitely something that (at least in my case) would take a bit of restructure and focus).

So I can’t cover all of the good information in this podcast, but do just a preview to help you determine if it is something worthy of your time.  To me it was priceless and tipped the scales in value…so go listen to it!