Those that know me know how natural it is for me to "make friends" with people. I spark up conversations in grocery store lines or at weddings or on park benches or with strangers in the stands of a baseball game where the only thing you have in common is a love for the home team (Go Braves!).
But the truth is, just because it is natural, doesn't mean it is easy. Making friends and building community requires risk and intention - both of which can be daunting for some people. Just knowing there is a risk of being judged or denied or ignored can be debilitating for some people. This is often why some folks find that igniting relationships or building community with others is far too exhausting to attempt even when they need it the most.
Because of my background, I've had many folks approach me and ask what it is they need to do in order to be a part of a community of people or make friends more easily or simply do a better job of being connected. And while I certainly don't believe the answer is the same for every person in every situation, I do believe there are common habits to develop and risks to take that will make the potential for community a more realistic outcome for most people.
Here are a few of the traits (let's call them adventures since they require something from you) to adopt that could help you build community when you need it the most...
I think Hollywood has convinced us that spontaneity is sometimes more irresponsible than it has to be. That's unfortunate because I obviously don't believe you should be non-committal in your relationships or bail on people or responsibilities in the name of being spontaneous. What I do believe, though, is that you should be occasionally spontaneous in moments of rest or solitude. Instead of sitting at home alone on a Friday night, call or text someone you haven't spoken to in awhile and grab a bite to eat or a drink at that bar you've been hearing so much about. Or even (heaven forbid) crank the tunes loud while you get ready, dress up in a really fancy outfit, and hit the town alone. Maybe you won't make a best friend, but you'll likely have a fun story to tell from all the people-watching you'll be able to get out of your system. Either way, giving yourself the freedom to be spontaneous will give you the courage you need to break out of your shell in other situations.
I'll be honest - this one is pretty easy for me. HOWEVER, I recognize that many many people struggle with opening up and allowing others to see them for who they truly are and know some of the hard truths about what they face in their head day in and day out. I get it. If this is you, you are not selfish...you are human.
BUT - while authentic community is often times established through simple moments of fun, laughter, and connectedness, it is strengthened through moments of courage, authenticity, bravery, and hope. That means community will, in fact, require something from you. Challenge yourself to truly open up to that friend you're getting coffee with. Then, pair that vulnerability with the spontaneity you're practicing and invite that friend into your home. Get to know them, share real stories about who you are, and allow them to have the same opportunity to open up to you. When you do this, you share in the opportunity of truth and freedom found in authentic community. This could not only be what you need most, but also what they need as well.
While exclusivity works with things like tv shows or popular clubs in exotic cities, it doesn't work when you want to create meaningful friendships and authentic community. Some of the best friends I have stepped into my life because a mutual friend recognized where I was and offered me the opportunity to learn from and share with someone who could relate to what I was walking through. That connection, paired with a trust in and love for the mutual friend, can build bigger and stronger communities looking to close the gaps of loneliness and depression. There should always be more room in your community for a person who has a need. Why not be to others what you needed when you were where they are now?
I am not naive to miss the fact that "community" has become a bit of a buzzword. BUT - when community is lived out with spontaneity, vulnerability, and inclusivity, it can be transformational. And the key to experiencing the power of transformational community begins with the belief that the rest of the world needs something you have to offer...it's also important to remember that the rest of the world is not out to get you.
Authentic community requires something from you, but it simultaneously restores something within you. Go. Take that risk. Include that person.
**This was originally posted on my friend Jack's blog at Onward Creatives.