The Thing About Community
If you would like to listen to the podcast episode (Episode 8) on Community, click here.
I distinctly remember several times in my life that I sat around thinking about community.
Most of those times--as an extreme introvert in my earlier years--were spent thinking about how much I didn’t have community. At least not in the way that community was portrayed in the movies. That way that having “your people” meant that you have a posse you always hang out with, who are at your house every night gossiping, drinking wine while the kids play in the other room. That TV community that cooks you meals when you’re sick, or takes over when you can’t, or even is just present. Whether their presence is superficial or heartfelt didn't matter. I wanted that community that you can stand around and gossip with at school drop offs, or at work.
Your water-cooler community.
Yet, as that aforementioned extreme introvert, I always had one or two really good friends. But for some reason I always wanted more. Which in retrospect is greedy and ridiculous, and more of an indication of the peer pressure of what a big gaggle of “community” should be as opposed to any indication of how amazing that small handful of friends really were.
I think a lot of my daydreaming came out of how often we moved (quite a bit) when I was little. Back then, the best way to keep in touch was by snail-mail, and despite a few die-hard pen pals, I found it wasn’t so easy as it is now to connect over social media or email, or even the phone.
And so I’d build a little group, and we’d move.
Or, puberty hit and people changed.
Or we went to different colleges and grew apart.
Or… or.. or…
And none of that really changes, does it? Our lives shift, we get new jobs, we start families, or we move. Our ideals and visions of our lives and how we want to live them changes over time, and we can drift apart either from our lives taking different directions, or sheer laziness.
And yet, despite all these differences and directions our lives can take, we can choose to still connect.
In my twenties, I became staunchly independent and confident in my own abilities, and in a lot of ways that was wonderful. And in a lot of ways that tells the world and all its inhabitants that you don’t need them. In fact, the words, “I can do this myself I don’t need you,” have left my mouth more times than I care to admit. That independence has ended romantic relationships, if I'm being honest, more than once.
Because the thing about community is, that even if in a moment you are perfectly capable of doing something, it's not actually about you. Allowing the community to work together to accomplish something is so much more beautiful, and so much less about you and your skills and how amazingly independent and strong you are.
And so, I changed my opinion on what the definition of community is.
Now, if any one who knows and loves me well is reading this, they probably just choked on their coffee because my running joke, to this day, is that I am a strong and independent woman and I can do it myself. T hank goodness that’s become a joke, though. Because for a long time I not only said that, (sarcastically? Sure), but I also actually really believed it was true.
And not just that it was true, but that it was imperative that I follow through.
Yes, I am still incredibly independent and stubborn and of course I can do it myself. But I don’t want to anymore. Independence is a lonely path, in a world that craves connection and community.
Now let’s get back to how I changed my definition of community, because that is the part that is really going to be useful to you here. Not just me spouting on about myself.
Do you have one?
I used to think that community meant having a tangible source of support and friendships within arm’s reach. The people who watch your kid in an emergency, or drop off soup when you’re sick. And while I still believe that these can be integral parts of a community I no longer believe that true community is only made of tangible parts, especially not those in arm’s reach.
Community, these days, is any source of true and authentic support, enthusiasm, joy, love, laughter, friendship, or whatever else you want to term it, that comes from someone you connect with .
Community is a constantly shifting, growing, living, breathing thing.
So much of my creative community has been curated online.
Several years ago, a big chunk of my new-mom community and support grew online. In fact, I wrote an article on it a few years back.
I know the internet can be a scary place. There are some serious weirdos out there.
But, you know… There are some serious weirdos out there in real life, in person, too. Be smart about it, but also be willing to be open and you can meet some pretty great people.
And, I want to add a bit of a disclaimer here, for those of you who feel community-less, because I see you, and because I was you. I know how impossible it can feel. I know how lonely it can feel. Heck, it still feels lonely sometimes, and I think that can just be part of the whole process. Let’s be real, whether you’re alone or in a group, you can still feel lonely. It has less to do with the number of people around you than it does with the connection you are feeling with them. That said, I encourage you to find your one person, at least. Know that you are part of a bigger world, and a bigger community. That your differences do not define you as different, but as you, and that is the contribution we want in the world.
Community can mean quietly participating, too. It can mean listening to a podcast, or following and enjoying someone’s work on Instagram, or how ever else you engage quietly with others, and knowing, feeling, that you are part of their community because even unseen, you feel seen by that community. You don’t need to speak up or shout from the bleachers to know that you are part of this community, whichever one it is.
And, since we can pretty much create our own definition of what “community” means… that allows us to also say that one person is your community.
It’s less about how many people you have around you, and more about the quality of the support that comes with it. Depending on one person gets tricky, of course, but one at a time? If that works for you, jump in, and embrace those one-on-one moments. Two people in deep support of each other, that’s community as much as the rest.
So, so far, community can look like a lot of things:
It can mean a large group
It can mean a small group
It can mean your neighbor, or friend down the street, a coworker… Someone tangible and close, location-wise
It can mean people far away, in a virtual land, who you may have never, and may never in the future, meet in real life
It can mean a handful of people, or just one.
And I’m going to take this one step further.
Anyway, she talks about how people can cultivate and become their own mentor, something she terms an "inner mentor." Because when all else fails, do we not want that? Our own inner mentor to pull us through and lift us up? And is this not yet another form of community?
If a community is a feeling of fellowship with others, can we not cultivate that with our own selves?
I know, it’s maybe a bit of a stretch, because surely community has to include more than one person.
But, I also know that we can learn to be in comfort and ease with our selves, in the same way that we can learn this from those in our broader community.
And building up the layers of your community? That’s where the good stuff comes. That’s where you not only have fellowship and support from yourself, in those quiet alone moments… But also with your friend over coffee, or in communicating with creative friends online, or in the bigger moments with your in-person people.
Or any variation of that.
I’m going to end this with one more thought today – if you're reading this and feeling like whoa. I don’t have a community. I call b.s.
Because if you're reading this, you are part of my community. Truly, and genuinely. And I’m so happy you’re here.
If you would like to listen to the audio version of this post, you can check out episode 8 of Gather Home Creatives here. Be sure to check out our other episodes of Gather Home Creatives, and subscribe to the podcast on your podcast listening app of choice, so you can be sure to not miss a single episode. And if your’e feeling inspired? Share the episode with a fellow creative. And if you share anything on Instagram, be sure to tag us @gatherhomecreatives, and use the hashtag #gatherhomecreatives so we, your community, can see what you’re up to.