What Community Means to Me

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.

via @hexdek16 — but... community isn't technology.

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.

hem: 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?

Them: Meh. What...?

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!

You can take your friends anywhere and everywhere now, as it should be.

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 and agnostic of platform and/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. Community first, everything else is a very distant second.

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?

Not everyone should be invited and not everyone should invite you.

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.

My kids love elephants (and now I do too). They also get community.

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.

Sometimes the choice is made for you, as it were, and sometimes you have to literally make the hard decisions of who stays and who goes—not all relationships are healthy and some are anything but.

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 intentional and wise with who we connect with, who we allow into our relationship circles, and with whom we build community(ies) — in our postcovid-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.

And, there’s enough evidence to support the creation of amazingly-effective, almost “perfect” teams. Yes, you must intentionally keep the bar super-high!

Life is ultimately about tradeoffs. We must choose the relationships and community that we keep… or it’ll be done for us.

A few more thoughts in a recent vlog:


  1. 3

    Interesting read. vague :) but enough detailed to get to the end.

    1. 3

      that vlog was pretty good also. I do wonder what was YEN before. You must have a post with a summary of all your pivots so far? :)

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