lovely hearts

Community building vs crowd control

Community has been on my mind a lot in the past few weeks.

When I was getting ready for one of my recent conference keynotes I was struck by how my job isn’t so much to impart wisdom, but to raise the collective wisdom in the room. Yes I share insights, expertise and practical tips, but often what I share isn’t completely brand new or rocket science, but a fresh revelation of what’s hidden in plain sight. Common sense that isn’t common practice.

It’s my favourite thing to do – to be a light rather than a star. To help people see themselves in a better light and unlock the wisdom and brilliance that’s already in the room.

And I’m seeing it in the wider world too.

A few weeks ago, when I was in desperate need for a complete day off, I joined in with my friend Emma’s spontaneous sauerkraut making session! She had a surplus of cabbages left over from one of her Wild Pickle fermenting workshops, so we all turned up to an afternoon of chopping, chatting, and eating – each bringing and contributing what we had. Emma brought all her jars, bowls, utensils, ingredients and fermenting knowledge. The rest of us brought willing hands, greedy stomachs and bags of enthusiasm. The topics of conversation ranged from business building, home making and parenting to accepting there is joy in having a larger pile of books than you can ever get round to reading! What was especially lovely was that we each came away feeling full and blessed.

There’s something about community that multiplies, that’s not about one person giving and everyone else receiving, but rather a collective contribution that leads to everyone coming away fuller.

I’ve noticed that when my kids and I went to a workshop to make a piece of art together for our new kitchen.

I noticed that in the couple who hosted me in Aberdeen, friends of friends I’d never met before, who were so generous with their home and themselves, and the wonderful conversations that ensued.

I’ve noticed that in the various builders, contractors and carpet cleaners who we’ve hired to help us with Project Homemaking, along with friends who have contributed much appreciated advice in areas I have no clue about, like how to tie curtains!

And others who have gladly taken furniture that we no longer need. Who knew that a little trolley we had in our loft would be the perfect completion to someone’s toddler’s Christmas surprise?

We all came away with more.

How does that play out in your world of work and life in general?

Are you building a community? Or are you trying to do it all yourself?

The other day I was chatting to another training supplier who confessed to having taken on a piece of work she shouldn’t have. It wasn’t that she couldn’t do it, but it wasn’t right for her, and as a result was much more draining & costly piece of work to deliver. Why did she take it on? Because she’d had a quiet summer and was worried about not having enough work.

We’ve all been there. The fear of missing out. Fear of not enough.

And yet, just recently when I found myself referring a coaching enquiry to another coach who I felt would be a better fit – and same again with a collaboration request that I passed onto my colleagues in North America – what I experienced was freedom.

There’s freedom in letting go of something that’s not quite right for you, because it signals that you’re making space for what is right. There’s freedom in blessing others – whether it’s giving a team member the opportunity to shine, or passing on furniture to an old babysitter who’s kitting out her first house.

There’s freedom in knowing we don’t have to do everything ourselves. We don’t have to be jack (or master) of all trades. We can bring our strengths and our gaps.

There is a generosity in living and working this way. And generosity has a way of multiplying.

But of course it’s not always easy.

Communities can be noisy places and people can be unpredictable. Sometimes the pain of working together can make it feel like it’s easier to just do it ourselves.

One reader described to me recently:

“Today I feel like I’m a packed commuter train, standing with no room to move. I’m trying to edge forward but I’m getting pushed back. The only thing keeping me upright are the crowds, but it also them who are holding me back.

If the train driver applies the brakes suddenly we are all going to end up in a heap, and with my luck I will be at the bottom!!”

Such a vivid image! And one I think a lot of us can identify with, in this day and age where work is relentless and life keeps getting busier, and especially in this merry season when things suddenly get bigger, brighter, louder and faster.

The very people we live and work with can be both the people who hold us back and the people who hold us up.

We’re not short on people. But when we are a crowd, we end up getting in each other’s way. When we are community, we can accomplish things and reach places that no individual can.

Which do you have around you – a crowd where everyone serves themselves, or a community that serves each other? 

And what are you investing in right now? Crowd control or community building?

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