I grew most of my writing career quietly, in the suburbs of New Jersey, comfortably behind a screen.
It never occurred to me that I wasn’t part of a community or that I needed one; community meant my best friends from childhood and people I played sports with. My readership on my blog, social media, and email conversations with other creatives made me feel like I was part of the new economy. It gave me a feeling that I had a “community” even though I had never met any of these people IRL. If the internet is good at one thing, it’s a master at helping you believe what you want to believe.
What does belonging to a community actually mean? Why is it important? How does it enrich your life and career? Here’s how community became an integral part of my life, and what I learned about being a part of something.
“The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.” — Epictetus
My first experience was with the altMBA — an online, four-week intensive program designed by Seth Godin. I joined as an inaugural coach to pilot the program. I worked with 20 students spread out all over Europe, all with diverse backgrounds and expertise. Using Slack, Zoom, and WordPress, I provided feedback on their projects and helped them level up and learn new frameworks.
I was baffled by the camaraderie, quality of work, collaborations over video conferencing, and the feelings that this experience provided. It was hard to believe that over a hundred students could work well together by being vulnerable, open, and professional with people they’d never met. At the end of the program, I felt like had I known my students for five years — their hopes, dreams, insecurities, and superpowers. The exchange of emails and numbers ensued, and the realization of how much I grew as a person in just four weeks made me think about community even more. I coached three more sessions and then served as a Community Manager for the program.
In 2017, we had our first official meetup where over 150 alumni traveled to New York for a weekend of face-to-face connection, learning, and at last, much-needed hugs.
While working part time for the altMBA, I joined CreativeMornings full time as the director of content—a breakfast lecture series in 180+ cities that connects and celebrates the global creative community. Previous to joining I had watched a few videos online and was moved by the insight, storytelling, and the strong undertones of humility—”TED for the rest of us” some described it. Boom.
The first event I attended was with guest speaker Michaela Angela Davis; it also happened to be the day where we hosted a workshop on how a small team built CreativeMornings and now has a team of over 1,500 volunteers worldwide. I got a double dose of inspiration — what an event felt like and how the organization was built. Shocking to say, this was the first time I had ever attended an event like this. I had never been to a conference, meetup — nothing. Seeing a room with hundreds of people, talking about their projects and work, making new connections — “This is what I’ve been hiding from,” I told myself. But the introvert in me whispered back: “Who cares? Why do you need this?”
In November 2016, we had our second CreativeMornings Summit: 225 organizers from 83 chapters and 23 countries met face-to-face in Austin, Texas for four days to connect, learn, and talk about the future. I met hosts who have been with CreativeMornings for almost eight years and volunteers who gave 40 hours a month on top of their full-time jobs and families to put on free monthly events for their community and city.
I hugged more people in those four days than I did in my entire life. I learned that I give pretty damn good hugs.
I met people who cared so much for their city and seemed to appreciate, better than me, the enriching power of belonging to a community. Even more, they understood that community was the catalyst for change, not just in their own city, but the world.
Upon returning from Texas and feeling high on human connection, it hit me: I had been hiding.
My creativity had plateaued because I hadn’t changed, or at least widened, my circle. I was stuck in the ‘burbs, feeling like a hamster running on a wheel, watching the same shows and gossiping about the same topics over and over. Of course there was no room for advancement, creatively or personally — there were no new stimuli, opportunities, ideas, or collisions. I was in a stale routine that created the illusion of progress. That’s what comfort provides.
Belonging to these two communities popped my bubble. It introduced me to people light years smarter than me. It helped me absorb different kinds of stories that helped me change my own personal narrative. I was shown a tribe of some of the most generous and hard-working people I’ve ever met that gave me hope for what the world could become if we harnessed the power of community, inclusion, diversity, and kindness.
This realization is one that I think creatives like me need to have, the ones who are playing it safe by risking disconnection for the fear of connection
I was also the type of person to believe that my current group of friends were the only friends I’d have for the rest of my life. But as soon as I took my armor off, I met some of the most wonderful souls that I could ever ask for—souls that became close friends that became my personal Knights of the Round Table for feedback, career/life advice, or simply to feel alive. The best decisions I’ve made this year that had real impact on change were rooted in the insights and feedback from the communities that I’m a part of.
The real talk is that we’re scared of change—changing our environments and ourselves. When we connect, contribute, and belong to a community, we’re in the front row seats of being influenced by new ideas and people. Their worldviews begins to mesh with ours, and through this process we become more reflective of who we are and strive to become. It’s a relentless source of inspiration—hearing the projects being worked on, meeting friends of friends, pushed me to push my creativity further. I think I was afraid of expanding my circle simply because it was safer to avoid — but ultimately that came at a cost of lifelong memories, deep conversations, and the indescribable feeling that you have family everywhere.