I’ll admit it: I can be an awfully-slow learner.
For example, I’ve always been a super-fan of
community but it’s taken me, essentially, my entire life to figure out what that really means… to me.
Sometimes, it’s a bit hard to describe, right? A somewhat-fictitious conversation might go like this:
Them: So, what is “community” to you?
Me: Um, what do you mean?
Them: I mean, what is it? What do you think of when you hear that word?
Me: Well… community, using the simplest of definitions, is a group of folks who share something in common.
Them: Okay, but, what does it mean to you? Personally?
Me: Fuck. Okay, good question. Well, for me it’s less about shared interests or even size; instead, it’s a feeling of alignment, a sense of real and authentic belonging. Putting it plainly, community describes an intentional system where value and friendship is freely created amongst members and disagreement (a good thing!) can be safely shared. How does that work?
Me: Essentially it’s a safe place where my friends and I can be ourselves without fear of reprisal or rejection. Rare, these places are!
Them: Fine. Acceptable. 😬
… if I keep this up I might go loopy, so, I’ll stop the internal dialogue now!
Real Community is Portable
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the many years of community building is that a real community is
portable — meaning, they are irrespective of platform or technology.
In other words, your community is not a tool or social network and it’s certainly not your subscriber and/or follower count.
In fact, it’s something much, much more real than those numbers that daily bounce up and down—rather, it’s the knowledge that the relationships you keep (and truly cherish) are real and that they will persist regardless of the current technical obsession.
A neat example of this is in my own life where I, after years and years of getting to know folks through this blog, my vlog(s), my newsletter(s), and the many, many projects that have come and gone and lived and died, have discovered that my network of friends (my community) have, simply, continued to track with me and they stay connected.
Because community isn’t a technology. It certainly isn’t a tool and it most-definitely is not today’s social network fad or
soup du jour — it’s… just, more than that, you know?
We Must Choose Wisely
Whenever I intentionally decide to shutdown a project, I try my best to communicate to everyone that this is not the same thing as shutting down the community that we had formed and grown together.
I’m simply “turning off” a piece of technology that no longer can sustain itself reasonably, both from a financial perspective and an emotional one.
Financially, if a technology project isn’t able to cover its own costs at some point, then, the smartest and only real solution is to “stop the bleeding” and turn it off before more money (and time) is poorly invested.
Emotionally, as a project creator, builder, and entrepreneur, it also may be time for you to take a break from the madness of running and building a startup and give yourself a much-needed rest (before you go set to head off on the next adventure)!
Along the way, you and I built relationships and connected with early-community members and customers — these folks became an important part of the initial groundswell that helped breath excitement and life into the nascent and vulnerable project.
I can’t understate the importance of these initial, front-line community members! Their early-participation was an uncompromisable part of discovery process of building something that people want — it’s how you build something real.
And some of these connections grew and matured into authentic and meaningful relationships — some even become good friends.
Consequently, when the project eventually (inevitably?) comes to a close, the real relationships stay while the rest slowly disappear. This isn’t a
bug but rather an important
feature of building things as it’s important to “release” folks from obligations that are no longer providing a meaningful return on investment.
If you’re not actively pruning and curating and even upgrading your relationships, then, you’re not giving yourself an important kindness. In this way, we are, effectively, just like software. And if you don’t intentionally decide to work on your relationship connections and community, then, life has a way of doing that for you.
The point is this: We must be
wise with who we connect with, who we allow into our relationship circles, and with whom we build community(ies) — in our post–covid-19 world, this is becoming even more viscerally and tangibly critical, although it’s always been fundamentally important and true.
You know, we can discover, sometimes abruptly and violently, that we are truly the average of the folks that we keep around us and that may, at some moments in our lives, realize that that’s not a good thing and that we are no longer welcome anymore—that’s okay, it was time to level-up.
Life is about tradeoffs. We must choose the relationships and community that we keep… or it’ll be done for us.