What makes a community?

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communityI’ve been thinking about the concept of community a lot lately, because of different things that I am going through or have heard about in my life. So I’m going to base today’s post about community: how one is created, why it changes, what happens when you want it but it’s inaccessible.

So one of the catalysts to this self-reflective analysis is my worklife. While work has been busy and I have been really proud of the things I have been able to accomplish and provide to my team, I haven’t really been feeling the vibe of my current employer. When I first started, I knew that it would take time to get to know people and feel comfortable. But it’s now approaching 6 months and I don’t think it’s happening. I feel like a shell of myself at work and I don’t feel like the “real” me is coming out. For a long time, I’ve been trying to get to know people and be more social. I’m an introvert so it’s hard for me. But it’s been challenging.

I’m far enough along in my career to know that you don’t leave a job just because you don’t feel like a part of the crew. Being a Billy No-Mates is not reason to seek a new job. But I also know that I derive a lot of my energy from being around the excitement of others. So I know that this is an environment that I find enervating, not energizing, and I feel like it is decreasing my impact and my satisfaction.

My come-to-Jesus moment, I think, happened last week. For three days in a row, I spent time with ex-coworkers. And while I know that it took time for those relationships to grow and development, I can remember fond memories in the road to growing those friendships. And I know that these things (these “friendship buds”) do not exist at my current workplace. After this, I have been feeling calmer (?) but I think it’s because in a way, I know inside I am giving up. I am no longer trying to figure out what I could/should be doing differently or why it’s not happening. I think I am coming to the realization it’s just not and now I need to communicate my struggles and possibly think about what other choices I should consider.

I also think about community because I have been hearing from multiple people that the social dynamic at my former employer have changed and perhaps for the worse. That’s a judgment call and one honestly I don’t have a right to make. But I saw a bunch of my excolleagues from that company for happy hour (we’ve all since left the company except for one). And we all really like one another. We talk about happy things and care about each other. It’s a really happy community that I’m glad to be a part of. It’s disappointing to hear that some negative habits have creeped into the existing company, namely some gossiping and trash talking and can never help build a true community. It’s made me sad to hear people remark about these negative developments.

So in light of these things, I have been wondering what build community– be it in your living space, in the academic environment or at work. What brings people together? Why does it sometimes happen so well and sometimes not so much? And what are things I can do in my life to build community or try to be a part of it?

When I think about my excoworkers, one thing that emerges is an alpha-person who drives community. It’s the friendly person, the one who is nice and wholesome and good. That person has always been inviting and connecting and tried to get people to get to know and like one another. They take the risk of getting to know you and as the new person you feel so appreciative of the effort. When I think about the gossiping that is happening at my ex-workplace, the same is true. But in this case the alpha-person is not hoping to create and connect. They are looking to tear down and selfishly extract value for personal benefit at the expense of others. I think this is one thing that either creates or destroys community.

A sidenote on this is finding realms of similarity versus focusing on differentiators. In community, you find ways that you are similar to one another. Inherently, you’re going to be different. But if you can buoy conversation and relationships to things that you can share, community forms. When you divide and focus on specific things, it’s tough for community to form. Because people know that they don’t belong and it’s really hard to jump into something without the semblance of a soft landing.

So I guess that’s it for this post. I think I rambled a lot but this is a front of mind thing for me these days. I have been struggling to find a constructive way to discuss this with my manager– what I am lacking in my current situation that makes it difficult for me to feel satisfied in my role. I like the work but this other half is pulling me down and I feel like I’m expending a lot of energy to break the surface (which often I do not). I confided in a colleague today about my feelings and I created this metaphor for him: I feel at work like how parents who stay in a loveless marriage feel: operating out of obligation and guilt but nevertheless not having a very happy time. I need to find a way to make this better.

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