Find a place to belong. Find people like you.
A young woman at Chris Guillebeau’s 1000-maniac gathering in Portland, Oregon, the World Domination Summit, discovered that after enduring geographic and social isolation, she traveled 5000 miles away, and there was the answer to her isolation – she found “People Like Her.” In a place that says “You Belong Here.”
It occurred to me that this is also, for me, at the very heart of every frustrated moment in my current life. I’m not where I belong, with People Like Me. When this is in place, everything becomes easier, faster, more streamlined. When you’re not where you belong or with People Like You, even the basics become an unnecessary struggle.
So. HOW do you find People Like You? I’ll jump right to the eight metaphorical hurdles:
- I can’t find people like me.
- They already have each other and there’s no room for me.
- I can’t figure out how to reciprocate.
- I can’t afford to be with those people.
- I’m not sure these people are people like me.
- I’m not worthy.
- Fill your calendar with interesting possibilities.
- Exercise leadership and assemble your own group.
1. I can’t find People Like Me.
This part is simple and success builds quickly when you put in the time. Just start following your interests, without judgement. Worth a look: Rick Steves’ Evergreen College Commencement address, “Get Out!” Here’s a guy who knows the value of Getting Out since he’s pretty much made a life of teaching people how to do just that. He’s happy, productive, generous and most of all helpful. He’s on to something good.
Get into something fun you can’t quite cope with. I discovered that with the sailboat I bought years ago, I got boatyard friends, marina friends, sailing friends, and none of them were among the friends I already had. In fact, my then-current friends had very little interest in the boat. I learned a lot and belonged, while I could afford it, to quite a wonderful community. (By the way, don’t get a boat unless you have a lot of money to spare. All the jokes are completely true.)
Take an Offbeat approach to an everyday thing. I needed a car so recently bought a very used Mini Cooper. It cost the same as the Honda Fit and the Scion xA I’d been looking at, but with a lot more style. I discovered that the Cooper comes with a self-identified cult. Other Cooper drivers on the road wave at you, almost without fail. It’s silly and delightful. These solutions, of course, cost money. But if you have to drive a car anyway, may as well be one that comes with new community.
Take a class in something that genuinely interests you, and ignore practical value. Look at Community Colleges, weekend courses, free seminars and demos, workshops, groups who do field trips, organizations that practice together. There are geek weekends and high tech camps that are usually very inexpensive. Don’t do something because you think you should. That will just attract more of the same.
2. They already have each other and there’s no room for me.
If the people you think are People Like You are established, busy, exclusive, high-maintenance, or a little off the mark, you’re getting close. Keep looking around their fringes where you might find People Like You.
And the flip side of this is that if you form a group of your own, you may want to take a page from their playbook and keep it exclusive until you get your feet under you. You may want to create an environment where others may gather on your fringe to make their own groups.
3. I can’t figure out how to reciprocate.
Reciprocation is part of carrying your part of the social load. Sometimes you might find yourself in a setting where you think you can never contribute or give back. In those situations, bring cookies. (If the group is extremely health-conscious, bring Cheetos because they never get those ordinarily.)
I joined a very geeky group of wifi hackers once, with a bunch of noob questions about wireless security. I brought cookies, apologetic that they were only grocery store cookies. The guys were unfailingly helpful and answered all my questions. Some four years later, I was sitting at the station in a car of the northbound Sounder train, trying to pick up any wifi signal at all, desperate for an open signal so I could grab my email. Up popped my iChat window – someone recognized my IP address from that meeting, and asked me if I was the one who brought cookies to that meeting that time… he gave me some wifi time as he sat in a southbound Sounder train until he disappeared, waving from the window, as the train took off.
Even if you can’t reciprocate in kind, you can often be the one who thinks to bring tools, cookies, post-its, water, extra sketch paper, or maps.
This one is tough, especially socializing with a crowd you’d like to see more often when you’re deeply broke. Gathering at a coffee house can be inexpensive if you buy tea or drip coffee. I have friends who are good about splitting appetizers at happy hour with a few drinks, and getting out of there for $10 each plus tip after a lovely couple hours. But what do you do when another friend shows up, adds three more full-price things, then dessert, then wants to split the bill, which reminds you of your perilous finances, compelling you to be one of those tiresome people who nitpicks a bar tab?
Let’s say your aspirations haven’t yet put you in a place where you can join their weekly happy hour at Ray’s Boathouse. You can handle this a few ways – find a way to afford it occasionally, get there early, and join them with your own drink firmly in hand, already paid for. Tell the server separate checks as you place your order. Or meet someplace where your picnic offerings can be appreciated. Key is, plan well enough and avoid logistical game-changers.
Barbara Sher, whose work I value greatly, started a success teams program where people got together in various cities to mastermind their aspirations. These groups seem nearly perfect for finding like-minded people who are action oriented. My problem at the time I wanted to join one group, was that the facilitator charged a fee. I don’t begrudge anyone a little profit, especially if they offer something of value, but I didn’t have the money at the time. I did, however, discover the community-minded people of Meetups.com who don’t charge for their company. More on them in a minute.
5. I’m not sure these people ARE People Like Me.
You’ll want to aim a little bit high to find People Like You who are also people who
- game to do stuff,
- are slightly smarter or ahead of you, and
- seem to enjoy your company.
They also need to have a little time for others. They might be over-committed which means they can’t commit to more. They might be people unable to Get Out, so look for people who can. (At some point, if you want to help those people get out, you can, after you’ve figured it out for yourself. Just not now.) Keep looking. Like the established group with no room, look around their fringes.
6. I’m not worthy.
Oh, shades of Wayne and Garth. You’re worthy.
I just got back from the Highland Games weekend in Mount Vernon, Washington. Everybody’s worthy there.
- People dress up the way they want, check out what they want, everyone is well-behaved.
- The dogs are happy.
- Deep fried onion loaves are the hit of the day.
- Real fur pelts are for sale,
- large women wearing wool in the summer heat sing sad songs about death,
- little girls dance around a cardboard chimney with a broom, and
- collies snorfle at babies on their lawn blankets.
I think it might be the Bagpipe Effect, but everyone is worthy there because they’re simply there. Take that for what it’s worth.
Also, you may be looking for an explanation for all the bagpiper sketches throughout this article. Sketching is what I do these days, having set aside my arduous quest to make decent watercolor for now. I discovered that while I was sketching, three teenagers were sitting behind me, watching and sketching as well. So even a non-Scottish sketcher found People Like Her.
7. Fill your calendar with interesting possibilities.
I use iCal on my Mac and my iPhone. I have a special calendar called Events Optional. This is where I put anything interesting I haven’t committed to. There’s blackberry season, farmers’ markets, art demos at Daniel Smith, tech conference weekends, highland games, Sailing classes, Rick Steves free travel classes, writers groups in other cities, dances, rodeos and combine demolition derbies, fireworks festivals, you get the picture. I look at these listings and from time to time, and know I can go last minute. It’s a great resource to build for yourself, to get yourself out there.
8. Exercise leadership and assemble your own group.
This is best and most useful. Start with a free account on Meetups.com and invent a group you’d like to join. It exists for the sole purpose of getting people to leave the internet behind for a bit. The groups are almost always free. I’ve been in several groups and they’re always wonderful. Full of People Like Me.
Showing up is 85% of life.