What do I mean by community? Basically, finding like-minded people who will inspire us to continue to learn and grow as a person. And the people we would find inspiring are those who are involved in the things we aspire to do well: our interests. The things we enjoy doing. Parent, writer, programmer, photographer, game developer, chef, artist, singer, ninja. All and any of the incredible number of things that we might choose to pursue.
If you want to do something well, surround yourself with people who do it well.
Follow that interest, that joy, to find communities that connect around that topic—in person or online. And then check them out to see if they might be a good fit. If we find them frustrating or upsetting (maybe the quality of the information is low or the communication style doesn’t mesh with ours), that’s a clue to try a different community. If we feel joyful and inspired after spending time at the gathering or on the website or in the forum, that’s a clue too. A beacon that says, “take another step this way.”
There are a couple of ways to look at this idea of choosing the people in our lives.
Give yourself permission to cut negative people from your life, and surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you. ~ James Altucher
This isn’t about surrounding yourself with people who always agree with you—you want to be challenged, not stagnant. But you want to be challenged in a way that pulls you toward the person you want to be.
For example, when I began unschooling, I discovered a whole new perspective on parenting that I wanted to embody. I immersed myself at the time, and have stayed connected to my online unschooling community ever since. I stayed engaged even after I “understood” unschooling because every day it reminded me to make the better choice in each moment. And for me, that was the choice that kept me on the parenting path I wanted to take.
The suggestion to steer clear of negative people recognizes that it takes a lot more energy to “stay strong” in your convictions when you’re surrounded by people with opposing perspectives. I imagine many of you have experienced this! Unschooling is a very unconventional lifestyle and we’re often the odd ducks at family gatherings. We can find ourselves defending our choices under a barrage of questions, catching glimpses of disappointed head shakes out of the corner of our eye.
Even just every day encounters with more conventional friends can be challenging. Maybe they see us talking with our children, having a conversation about the moment and who needs what, and they label it “talking back,” even without a confrontational tone in sight. They see only the interaction, not the depth and strength of our connected relationships with our children.
It’s hard. And if we are constantly surrounded with negative feedback about our parenting—even unspoken, yet overt—we can start to question ourselves and our lifestyle choices. Fear starts to grow. “Am I a bad parent?” “Am I ruining my child?”
So surround yourself with people who continue to challenge you in a good way. Toward your personal goals. Toward growth.
Now, if we twist a few degrees, we can look at the same idea from a bit different perspective:
You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. ~ Jim Rohn
Makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s basically the reason why you want to surround yourself with people who inspire you to be your best self.
But sometimes we go about our days without really registering the people we are spending most of our time with. Especially for those who are working: those encounters with clients and customers and colleagues count! We, or our spouses/partners, may find ourselves drained at the end of the day without really understanding why. And after a while, we may begin to question our lifestyle and parenting choices. It can be a cycle. (It sounds interestingly like PUPD, periodic unschoolers panic disorder, doesn’t it?)
It can be so helpful to remember to surround ourselves with those who inspire and energize us—not just when we’re down and need it immediately (the stress of cycling), but regularly. Maybe think of it as “preventative maintenance” (that’s the engineer in me coming out). Sure, it’s not likely we can (or want to) cut out work, or family, or friends we connect with over different things, but we can account for their influence by ensuring we re-energize ourselves regularly.
So play around with it and discover your equilibrium (remembering that it can change over time). Maybe for every five hours of conventional interactions you find you need to immerse yourself in thirty minutes of unconventional parenting and unschooling stories to stay focused, connected, and inspired. I know for me, diving into those stories make me smile and bring me joy. They remind me to be the person and parent I want to be.
And that is the importance of using joy as a beacon for finding community. 🙂