I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about community.
Somewhere between preparing for TBEX in Colorado, updating my LinkedIn profile, and chatting with people about what social media is really all about (hint: it’s not Klout), I was reminded that I’ve been passionate about and involved in community building since way before Twitter and Facebook were even things.
Yeah, I know. I’m old.
In 1998, I started working at the American Cancer Society in Portland as the Grassroots Coordinator, mobilizing volunteers to write letters to politicians and testify in front of the state legislature. At the time, my family hadn’t yet been touched by cancer – but it was still impossible to keep from being swept up in the wave of cancer survivors and families who had lost a loved one to the disease. Looking back, that job gave me a unique look at the power of community, even when that community wasn’t “mine,” per se.
This recent piece about a once-homeless girl who is on her way to Harvard this fall was absolutely an inspiring story about her dedication and work ethic, but I saw it as more of a story about community than anything else. Without the support network of that North Carolina town stepping into the void in her life, where would she be now? I’d wager it’s not en route to Harvard.
Fast-forward to three days after losing my job in late May, when I sent messages to some of the people – my people – who I was, thankfully, connected to on Facebook. I told them what had happened, what I was looking for, and asked for whatever help in spreading the word and/or rebuilding my social network they were willing to offer. I was blown away by the responses I got, both online and off, from people who were instrumental in those first few days in making me feel much less panicky about whether I’d ever find a job in this field again. Every kind message I got produced a lump in my throat.
This time, it was the wave of my community that was catching me in its supportive arms, bolstering me as I took my first wobbly steps on new legs.
I rode that wave all the way to Colorado, received hugs and kind words from even more people, and was extremely glad I’d made the trip. And I haven’t even talked about how many of these people, my people, have come to me with ideas of projects I could work on with them, have passed on job leads they’ve heard about, have passed my name on to people they think may be helpful.
In recent years, I’ve had the honor of participating on panels on the topic of social media and community in the travel blogging world. I was already a big believer in the power of community, but even then I acknowledged that when it comes to travel writing there was bound to be a certain level of competition. There are, after all, only so many National Geographic Traveler bylines to go around.
It wasn’t until my recent job loss and experience with this group of exceptional people rallying around me, however, that I realized competition doesn’t need to diminish community at all. Yes, if there’s one job and we’re all applying, we need to (and do) sell ourselves as best we can. And if that job isn’t right for me? I probably know someone in the community who’d be perfect. Somewhere in the heart of this community is the belief and understanding that whenever one of us succeeds, it’s good for all of us.
I can’t speak to other industries, but at least in this little travel blogging world of which I feel so fortunate to be a part? Community trumps everything, it seems.
I doubt I’ll ever be able to thank all the people who deserve to be thanked, at least not in words that are even remotely adequate to the task. I’m just waiting for the opportunity to repay them all, by paying it forward to the next community member who needs a leg up.
Or, y’know, by feeding them gelato. Next time you’re in Portland, let me know.
photo by nateOne