There’s an article circulating this week called Why Relationships Should Be ‘HELL Yeah or No.’ It’s targeted at millennials, and about love relationships, but the headline drew us in and got some of my Gen X friends and I talking about work projects and work relationships. To the point I was told to blog about it. So here goes: ideas about finding abundant life between HELL Yeah (I love this work!) and No (I don’t want do this anymore.) at work.
1. Trust HELL Yeahs and Nos about the work itself
Here at mid-life, I’ve noticed that I use a Hell Yeah and No approach for taking on new work projects and for sticking with work projects. Not out of any particular personal wisdom (which I’m hoping comes later in life): simply because when I don’t trust my own HELL Yeahs and Nos — and the HELL Yeahs and Nos of those I’m working with — we end up having way too many Oh HELL NO! moments. On work projects now, I’m all in, I take breaks when I’m not feeling all in, and then I return when I’m all in again. I allow others to do the same. Together we work on encouraging and allowing ourselves to do this and learning not to take it personally when others need to walk away. Helps us stay happy and interested and engaged and productive. Helps us know when it’s time to take a break, time to let go of responsibilities and take on new ones, bring others in to help or take over, and move on completely from work, too. The extreme ends of the spectrum can be helpful for making day-to-day choices about the work itself. This works especially well when everyone feels they have the ability to work while energized and to slow down or stop or leave or move on when they’re not.
2. The ends of the spectrum aren’t enough for long-term friendships and work relationships
Thankfully, humans are too beautifully complex and interesting to settle for just two choices. There is so much more to learn…
a. Ask “Where am I on the spectrum between Hell Yeah and No right now?” and be willing to move away from a new-to-you No
For me, work projects eventually end, while friendships and working relationships may last a lifetime. Long-term human relationships require an understanding of where I myself am on the spectrum between the HELL Yeah and No at any given time and a courageous willingness to shift, move, and let go. For example, there are many Hell Yeah-at-our-core people in my life who I have walked away from for a year, or a decade, during years that we, or our work, became Nos for each other. But that doesn’t mean they’re out of my life forever. When we listen to new Nos and let go of each other “for now” (well before feelings get hurt beyond repair and definitely before contempt settles in), then often the parting really is “just for now.” Many friends and work colleagues return, eventually. At least here in my indie, work-for-yourself corner of the work world. For those who don’t return, I still get to love the memory of them and pop online to see what they’re up to now and then, share a recipe, or share news about work they might be interested in.
b. Notice if your No is an intuition-screaming-loudly No or a self-doubt No and be willing to move toward the occasional self-doubt No
When it comes to new people, many Nos from the beginning tend to stay Nos, simply because they aren’t given the chance to come farther into my life. That’s ok. Sometimes our No instincts are screaming loudly, and when they’re that loud, they’re spot on. Trust yourself. I’ve left jobs, social groups, and spaces when a screaming loudly Oh HELL NO-for-me showed up. I’ve never regretted those choices.
Sometimes our Nos aren’t about the other person at all: they’re about us, being stretched, and our own fears about our ability to handle something. For example, I eventually became friends with a guy at work who was a No-for-me as a work partner the first time we met. I read his fast decision making and organizational political savvy as “slick and untrustworthy.” Yet we had compatible goals, complementary skill sets, and we decided to stick together. We eventually ended up loving working together because we had opposite strengths that we could suddenly both draw on. We ended up wildly successful as a result. He eventually became an Oh Hell Yeah! friend for life. I carry him in my heart now no matter where we go or what we do: the same is true for the other three friends in that self-organizing work group. For me, reimagining the No is about reimagining ourselves together. This tends to require trust and respect that starts with trust in and respect for yourself. Can I trust and respect this someone who is remarkably different from me? And can I still trust and respect myself in their presence? If so, and if they can say the same about you, then together we can reimagine ourselves, changing our initial Nos into a mutual Oh Hell Yes! I learned a valuable lesson from this friend about work partnerships and about myself. Sometimes we need a No to grow. To round out an amazing small work group. To collectively pull ourselves from good to great. To get to another level of Oh HELL YES! for all of us.
3. Watch for the hidden gifts within Oh HELL No! at work
Everyone I know has had many Oh HELL No! work experiences early in life. Many of them are about us: part of growing up and learning to play/work well with others. Many of them aren’t actually about us as individuals and are instead the natural outcomes of the antiquated work systems and cultural norms we inherited from those who came before us and the beliefs and ideas we unconsciously hold as a result. Our Oh HELL No! work experiences point directly at the real, often hidden, work that we are actually doing: improving our cultures and work systems for ourselves and those who come next. Many people make entire careers out of their Oh HELL No! experiences: tapping the energy within THIS WILL BE DIFFERENT FOR THOSE WHO COME NEXT! to pull forth massive social, professional, and personal change.
For those of us who love to work, and imagine ourselves working across our entire lives, I suspect there is never a complete escape from Oh HELL No! work experiences. There’s just too much work left to do to create work systems, cultures, and selves that more fluidly work well together and more fairly and justly work period. If we’re lucky, we can imagine the world of work into a playground: remaking many of our own No and Oh HELL No! experiences into sparks for innovation and change together. I believe that those of us who can imagine this have a responsibility to do so: not only for ourselves and those who come next but also for all of those today who are crushed, beaten down, or killed by old ideas and outdated systems and patterns of thought. This is my belief. For me. Part of my own Oh HELL YES! I’ve yet to live in a way that allows me to get entirely past Oh HELL No! at work now and then. Maybe next month. Speaking of that…
4. Watch extra close for the gifts within Oh FUCK NO! work experiences
I can say from recent personal experience that as you age — learning more skills, better understanding yourself and peers and environments, gaining more credibility and respect, and having more work colleagues willing to connect you to perfect-for-you others — that it is possible to delude yourself into thinking that you’ve moved past Oh HELL No! work experiences. And I can also say that it’s at this self-satisfied moment that you are perfectly primed and ready to land hard, on your ass, within an Oh FUCK NO! work experience.
This fall, Daniel unexpectedly lost his day job. Just like that, 85% of our income vanished. At the same time, we were also helping my parents (mom with Alzheimer’s disease and dad a tired primary caregiver of 10+ years) pack and move across the country. At the same time we were preparing our Seattle home for sale and awash in a sea of floor repair, countertop replacement, and cleaning/beautifying projects. And I was also trying to get not one, but two, books published. We were stressed, tired, and too busy. And I lost my way again. I took on several new work projects/clients in a hurry: rushing and making decisions out of fear and while exhausted. One of those clients had work processes and systems and cultural norms and expectations that were wildly outside my own comfort zone, and I had no interest in changing myself, or connecting with them, to make things better. But I stayed anyway. Out of fear. And just six days in I totally lost it. Frustrated. Angry. Trapped. After ending my work days sobbing, for three days in a row, Daniel had to tell me to quit. I couldn’t even see it for myself. I ended up hurting myself and Daniel, and to a lesser extent an old friend who offered me the work, and an employment agency, in the process.
My own Oh FUCK NO! work experience was not primarily the result of broken old systems and antiquated cultural norms and expectations. This one was the direct result of me over-booking myself, not standing in/working from my own power, and making decisions out of fear. I know the difference now between a primarily-a-Lori-problem and a primarily-a-system-problem and this one was on Lori. Yes, their system had problems. Massive problems. As do most of our large work systems today. But I showed up to work with zero interest in connecting and becoming part of any small group that could make them better. This was work I should not have been doing. I suspected it ahead of time. I became more certain the moment I started it. I knew it more deeply every day that followed. But I ignored my loudly screaming intuition. And, surprise, surprise, I landed in an Oh FUCK NO! work experience.
Fortunately, I have a wide support system, a great partner, and generous, forgiving work colleagues. I was given the chance to say “I’m sorry. I messed up. I shouldn’t be here. I need to go. Right now.” And I was graciously forgiven my mistakes. By everyone. The employment agency even let me keep a bonus I’d been given for bringing the client to them and for connecting them with others in my field. Nothing pulls forth gratitude — and drives home noticing the deep privileges in your life — like being graciously forgiven for making big, ugly-crying, pain-inducing mistakes….
5. Be open to receiving the you-specific gift/lesson/insight
I have no idea what you took from this essay for yourself. Unless you choose to share, that’s not even my business. For me, this didn’t begin as an essay about the deep privileges of my work life or my skin color. But for me, now, how can it not be? When I get to count on gracious forgiveness, the-benefit-of-the-doubt, and getting to be fully human in my work life — even when it was definitely me who screwed up — while countless others can’t? When I get to quit a job — even when I need the money — because I so clearly should not be doing it? While countless others can’t? That’s total bullshit. We can do better. We must do better.
These are the rights I will fight for, and speak up for, for myself and others: the right to be fully human at work, the right to make mistakes, the right to be graciously forgiven for mistakes and to receive the benefit-of-the-doubt, and finally, the right to give up work and move on to something else when your intuition is screaming at the top of its lungs that you moving elsewhere will be better for everybody. This is a much needed comfort, insight, and reminder here in a month when I’m feeling down about book sales numbers and wondering where my next editing gig will be coming from.
Today, if we’re lucky, even our Oh FUCK NO! work experiences can become gifts that point us toward who we’re becoming and where we’re going next. I’m ready to help move these rights from for-a-lucky-few to by intention for everybody who wants them in their work lives. I don’t have to wonder anymore if I’m ready to go there now. I’m already here. This is already part of my own Oh HELL YES! and I have my own Oh FUCK NO! experience to thank for it.
I heard this question recently. Twice actually. Three times if you count February 2012 Lori’s own head.
It’s funny how radically different October 2012 Lori feels about this question than February 2012 Lori did.
February 2012 Lori was really scared to move from working alone at home to opening her home as a free community coworking space. Questions in her head:
- What if a total jerk shows up?
- What if a criminal shows up?
- What if a group of extroverts take over? (I may be the only human more scared of groups of extroverts than criminals.)
- What if it’s all computer programmers who show up and non-techy me has nothing in common with everyone else?
- What if too many people show up? Our space isn’t that big.
- What if I suck as a host?
- What if our home is too loud/quiet/hot/cold/small/big/pet-filled/clean/dirty for others?
- What if I don’t like coworking at home?
- What if someone accidentally lets our indoor cats outside?
- What if the dog or cats barf on someone?
You name it, I worried about it.
Sometimes I think back and shake my head at that me, and I give her a mental hug for moving forward through those fears to make today me possible.
Today I’d say that it is dangerous NOT to open your home as community space. Here are 9 lived reasons why…
1. Greater connection. We’ve been meeting an ever-widening circle of our neighbors and community, making new friends monthly now. Today, those who’ve come and stayed in our lives I actually cannot imagine my life without. Like Narisa, and Tabitha, and Fisher, and Cathy, and Sayumi, and Skotia, and Tom, and Mark, and Christopher–AMAZING humans, most of whom live nearby, and most of whom we didn’t even know 6 months ago. It is such an honor to have them in our lives. Our neighborhood rocks!
2. Greater imagination. These people are expanding what else this space could be. For example, Fisher first used the space for his company offsite retreat. Now we use the space for that sort of thing. Also, in addition to the sort of standard digital-creators coworking space I’d imagined, we also do crafternoons in which we make stuff with our hands, like painted rock garden markers and guerilla gardening seed balls. Tabitha inspired this with her bean-bag toss games and other craft work she brought into the space. And now Narisa wants to make Kokedama, which, I learned, are beautiful hanging moss ball thingys. And we’re making a neighborhood party preparedness kit. And we’ve given painted garden/yard markers to neighbors. And we’re thinking about what we could do for the neighborood together. And I now want to create a community mini library. We’re also doing more community movie nights, more community dinners in, and more group field trips out than we used to. I’ve begun to host a Cool Women Potluck to spend more non-work time with cool women.
3. The right people tend to find us now. Daniel and I have space for 3 other humans to live here (plus 2 dogs and 3 cats and 6 fish). Coworker and amazing friend Tabitha found Narisa for us, our new housemate. We used to do city-wide searches via university databases and craigslist, spending a ton of time and energy finding the right people to live here. We now receive personally vouched-for people from people we’ve worked with/played with, like, and trust. All people who LOVE the idea of turning your home into a coworking/coliving community space. Although I started the coworking space simply because I was tired of working alone, the coworking space has now made our home a premium place to live here in Seattle, because we have an amazing community to offer now, not just a room and a roof.
4. Not a single jerk or criminal has shown up and no group of extroverts has taken over. This fear of mine today now seems unfounded. Of course–like anywhere on earth–a jerk or criminal could show up. But today I’d argue that openness/collective happiness tends to draw openness/collective happiness most days. Amazing new people are showing up in our lives now on a weekly basis. People with great stories, a stunning array of skill sets, and more passion, enthusiasm, energy, trust, and courage than I’d imagined possible. And some of them bring their dogs. And some like to play board games and do crafts. And some cook and make fancy drinks. And some get me to movies I wouldn’t have otherwise gone to. And some serve the community in ways I’d never imagined. Yay!
5. We’ve recognized connections to several larger communities. We’re part of the Seattle Collaborative Space Alliance now–others dedicated to holding collaborative space–from digital coworking spaces to maker spaces. We have friends now at Office Nomads, The Mill, Agnes Undergound, Coworking Eastlake, Ellie’s Coworking + Childcare, and more. We’re also now connected to many groups who care about simimlar things, such as public food/gardening/farms/trading/bartering, like Alleycat Acres and Backyard Bartering, and other neighborhood groups reimaging ourselves and our Central District neighborhood for the better, like Jackson Commons Seattle and The Kitchen Sink Project. Getting to know these folks–kindred spirits all–has brought tremendous joy and comfort to me.
6. The coworkers here have been resources for my work and vice versa. For example, coworker, neighbor, and new dear friend Fisher found us three people in his bicycle community to interview for our web site Different Office. I couldn’t have found these people without him–they weren’t obviously my community members until Fisher connected us and we met. And our work is feeding brand new work that Fisher’s doing: Velograph. Coworker Cathy edited our book Different Work while she was between jobs. Sean and Fisher harvested strawberries and rhubarb here for their Popcycles work. Tabitha created postcards for the coworking space. She also got my Orchard Steward’s blog more exposure. The list goes on and on. These people are now making my own work seem sustainable for the long term, because they are sustaining me. I aspire to do the same for them.
7. Good is drawn in and multiplies here exponentially now. Our home is slowly becoming a more playful, more creative, more happy, more fun, and more effective place to be. People gain courage here to change their lives, their homes, and/or their jobs. I gain courage here. The space feels simultaneously more real, more human, and more sacred to me now. It’s hard to describe. But I LOVE it here now. Apparently you can have ever deepening levels of love for a space just like you can for people. I had no idea. But watching people regularly take courageous leaps in new directions–and knowing that we were a little bit of the support net beneath them–feels really, really good. People have deep intuition about such things, I think. Here, we actually listen to ourselves. We don’t have to say that out loud. We feel it. Feeling it is more than enough, most days.
8. I’m getting closer to my husband and housemates. Daniel and I both work. A lot. And for those who love to work in general–plus love their work like we do–it’s easy to be apart much of the time. The coworking space has brought us closer in multiple ways. For example, its success prompted us to have friends create us a big, round, 10-person table that we both love. I work there a lot, as expected. But Daniel now has many of his meetings here where I am–from his photography group to mentoring/teaching groups to work team offsites. And Chris brought his work team in to do a video shoot here today. And every time Narisa coworks with us she makes us all fancy drinks. Women fucking rock. Also, Daniel and I began seriously, for the first time, to imagine ourselves as coworkers. We now work together on Different Office–work that stretches us both and brings us both joy AND helps us spend more time together. Also, the space itself found us new housemate Narisa, who is more outgoing than we are, and she’s bringing out the more social side of all of us. We’re doing things together as a housemate family more often–both at home and elsewhere. Love this.
9. I feel safer in my neighborhood. Our amazing Central District neighborhood has its share of urban problems, including poverty, drugs, gun violence, and all the other things that make many flee cities or put up walls around neighborhoods. Fear, hopelessness, anger, and apathy all live here–sometimes within me. In the CD, we’re often not in the position to be able to ignore it or look away from it, others far more so than me. Yet opening our home as a free community coworking space is changing my experience of the neighborhood, and a few others’ experience of it too. Examples:
- This is a neighborhood full of generous, creative, open, and giving people. Anyone who walks into our space experiences this.
- I walk more and see more of my neighborhood now. To get the word out about our space, I need the help of other community centers/spaces/people so I’m walking more and meeting more neighbors.
- We also simply know a lot more people–and we trust them–which makes being in the neighborhood feel safer.
- Tom of CDNews coworks here sometimes now. He brings us news of community meetings–ways to get invovled–and things we may otherwise have missed, and we pass it on. I used to only occassionally read his blog–because it reports all criminal activity here and was depressing. I read it far more often now. It hurts far less to look at our problems together than it does on my own.
- We now hear far more about all the good news/work/people/groups/projects in the neighborhood than we used to. I hear about some new good thing in the CD every day now. Instead of relying on mainstream media (what were we thinking?) to learn about our neighborhood, we now get a much fuller, richer picture of our neighborhood. The problems here are a small, very painful, slice of a whole, beautiful, picture here. I suspected this before. I actually know this now. Weekly now I think “I cannot believe that this cool human lives in my neighborhood. We’re so lucky.”
- Last month, somebody broke into our neighbor’s home–when they were gone for a weekend–and stole computers and purses and alcohol. It occurred to me that thanks to our coworking/coliving space, our home is actually safer. Because there is always somebody home at our house: most days, there are LOTS of people and dogs and cats at home here. People I trust to run the space even when I’m not here.
- In the face of the worst, we offer each other comfort. Last night around midnight, I heard gunfire echo across our neighborhood: a lot of shots, 15 to 20 in a row it seemed. One of my new community members and I connected via Facebook, and I learned from him what was happening, what the police were doing, and where exactly the gunfire came from. I will never be a person who owns a police scanner. But last night, in the dark, with gunfire echoing in my sad ears, I was very happy to be connected to a friend who does. Thanks!
For us, turning our home into a community space has been more than worth the risk. It’s been an amazing, eye-opening, life-affirming, minds-expanding, friendship-gaining experience. Belly expanding too, I’ve gained 5 pounds: the increased walking so far not outweighing the increased food and drinks showing up at our door!
In our experience here, getting closer as a community makes us safer as a community, not less so. Getting closer gives us each other, and we really need each other. As our neighbors become our dear friends, the courage to continue improving ourselves and our neighborhood shows up in buckets. And it shows up in baskets, and wagons, and jars, and casserole dishes, in shovels and rakes and plants, in seed balls and garden rocks. And on bike trailers. Fantastic bike trailers!
I’ve been feeling lately that “free community coworking space” isn’t adequate language for what we are here. Work isn’t at the heart of who we are. Not really.
Then today, several random things happened and I ended up coining and defining the term friendship incubator for myself. Here’s what happened:
1. My new, already-dear-to-me friend, Susan Evans at Office Nomads, sent me this message.
Sent: Thursday, July 19, 2012 8:07 AM
Subject: Fwd: Trust & Friendships – Issue #23
Did you see that you made the Coworking Weekly this week? 🙂 Check out the last link! Hope you are well, S
Thank you Susan. I would not have seen this without your help. My plate is full this week and although I also receive Coworking Weekly there was a 100% chance this particular week that I would have deleted it without looking at it. I agree with the rest of Seattle: you are a fucking rock star.
2. Woo hoo! Coworking Weekly called our coworking space/last blog post/me quirky by introducing the post as follows…
“Quirky as it may be, one coworker’s blog post on best, friendly practices functions as advice and anecdote. Simple tips for greeting coworkers and maximizing comfort in a space go a long way to maintain good vibrations.”
Thanks for the share, but holy crap, quirky? If there is a better adjective that a creator/writer/space holder/community story wrangler can aspire to I cannot imagine it. It wasn’t that many years ago that I had a mid-30s crisis because someone described me to others “meticulous.” Bleh. But quirky I love. Woo hoo! Thank you Alex Hillman! I share this here because this step led me to the next one…
3. I decided it’s time to fully embrace quirky. God help us all.
4. I decided to start paying closer attention to Coworking Weekly and immediately read this other article in the newsletter. This article is from the Fashion & Style section of The New York Times–reading I would never have done without editor Alex’ help:
Friends of a Certain Age: Why Is it Hard to Make Friends Over 30?
This quote from the article struck me as vitally important to our space/me:
“As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is why so many people meet their lifelong friends in college, she added.”
Thank you NY Times’ writer Alex Williams and professor Rebecca Adams.
5. It dawned on me that what we are is a friendship incubator. This is what matters most to me. Why the hell have we not been leading with that?!
6. I updated our space’s description on Facebook.
“Friendship incubator & free community coworking space. Wednesdays, 10 AM to 6 PM, other days by appointment. Photos: http://collectiveselfphotos.tumblr.com. A place to make friends & swap/share skills & stuff. Run by 3 social cats & a sappy dog.”
7. I began forming a definition of friendship incubator. Wrote a draft. Shared it with Daniel and got his input. Shared it with the space community via Facebook. Refined it. Eventually it occurred to me to look for a definition online. I didn’t find one.
8. We recognized ourselves as something new.
So here is the current defintion of friendship incubator coming out of our space:
A friendship incubator is a space, group, or person expanded and reimagined as an open host for community that fosters friendship by, for example, increasing proximity of community members; expanding the potential for play and repeated, unplanned interactions; and providing a setting within which people are encouraged to be themselves, let their guard down, and confide in one other. The friendship incubator embraces her/his/its own nature, leads with community and friendship, and allows other things–including business–to emerge from within. It is the quirky, playful, kind, irreverent, relaxed, free, untucked, and/or unpolished cousin and friend of the business incubator.
9. I kicked myself for not having this epiphany yesterday. That would be the day our first-ever coworking space postcards (thanks Tabitha!) went off to the printer. Sigh. There is a night of hand-writing “friendship incubator” across 250 postcards in my future. If you want to come over and help, holler.
10. We’re looking for our community.
If you are a friendship incubator, we’d love you to meet you, hear your definition of yourself and/or the term friendship incubator, hear the story of your experience, and share a meal.
In my beginning is my end. – T.S. Eliot
A family/neighbor/friend celebration at the big round table
If you do just one thing: Say “Welcome! I’m so glad you’re here!”
The core of what we do here: This is a community within which we almost always feel happy and grateful and lucky when newcomers show up. We say welcome out loud and mean it. I experience the space as a playground. I believe that if you feel fully welcome then you will be fully welcoming. Believe that it’s possible to so ooze welcome that even the busiest person in the world feels compelled to stop, take a breath, relax, and slow down for a moment. I’m learning to be a welcome-oozer here. Recently I also learned the importance of sharing the task of welcoming newcomers with community members. I look for people who exude welcome themselves and who are willing to say to me “You are too busy/distracted/pissy/grouchy/touchy/PMSing to welcome a newbie right now. Sit down. I’ve got this one.” Then I ask them for their help.
The details of what we do here: Given that we run our free coworking space out of our Seattle home, our onboarding process for newcomers is casual. Here casual does not equal “not-thought-through” it instead means “reflecting of our happy and relaxed and trusting nature.” Our “t-shirt-and-sweatpants-casual space” (here I quote from the postcard amazing coworker Tabitha just created for our space–yea Tabitha!!) doesn’t lend itself to formality, and these days neither do I. Here’s what we do.
When someone new comes to the door…
One of the regulars here:
1. Waves/gestures through the windows in the door to come right in. The door is unlocked.
2. Gets up, shakes hands with, and welcomes the person as they come through the door.
3. Helps them settle their stuff somewhere.
4. Gives them the “Hollywood Celebrity Tour” of the space to familiarize them with the amenities and the highlights/people. This involves introducing them to whoever happens to be working here that day, telling them about what other coworkers here do, and asking them about who they are and the work they do. Also, introducing them to the play features (board games, video games, dog and cats, movies, bookshelves, backyard, etc.) not just the expected work features.
5. After the tour, asking them if:
- They’re here to work alone today or together. (I make myself available to those who want to work together in case other coworkers are on tight individual deadlines.)
- They’d like to read the 2-page Welcome document for the space. (more on this below)
- They’d like a drink. If they do, and I’m the welcomer, I get it for them. This is my home, after all, and it matters to me that every single person who walks through the door feels deeply welcome.
This is what I’ve observed us doing here so far most days and the order in which we often do it. I’m not a fan of checklists given to others. Other welcomers do whatever they feel like doing to make people feel welcome and are often far better at it than I am given my propensity to rattle on endlessly about things I’m passionate about (as most of you already know).
When someone new emails us or joins our Facebook page…
- Email: Sometimes I hear from people via email that they’d liked to come by. I exchange two or three emails with them, find out about them and what they’re looking for, and tell them about us and our space. I welcome them to stop by on Wednesday if they’d like to meet more people or on another day if they’d like to start by coworking just with me or a smaller group. People only hear about us via neighbors, online community members, our neighborhood news blog Central District News (thanks Tom!), and postcards in neighborhood community centers/shops/spaces. So most people who email me already strongly suspect that we’ll be a good match, we hit it off immediately, and my task is mostly to answer a few of their logistical questions and to remember to not to rattle on endlessly via email. Depending on the person and what they ask for, I may also recommend that they check out Office Nomads, The Mill, Agnes Undergound, and other coworking and/or maker spaces in the surrounding neighborhoods. Coworkers in Seattle are so lucky. There are dozens of spaces to choose from (or–for nomads like me–dozens of spaces to work across), and we Seattle collaborative space people encourage coworkers to try them out and find their own good fit(s).
- Facebook: About once/week, I recognize new community members by name and say “Welcome!” to them.
Seven experiments in welcoming (in progress)…
1. Telling the stories. To emphasize the spirit and nature of the space, when a newcomer shows up, I often tell the story of why we started it (I was lonely and tired of working by myself most days), why our regulars choose to cowork here, and how we got the idea (visiting a more formal coworking space in another city and thinking “This is amazing!” and “We could do it even better!” simultaneously).
2. Being/doing what we want instead of talking about what we want. Frack this is tough for this introvert writer, but I’m trying. For example, instead of telling people we’re looking for coworkers who like to share things, we just very visibly share things. Seeing our share shelves and share board and community books and free tea and strawberries and blueberries and popsicles is enough. Instead of talking about the fact that we want to work with playful people, we just play. Seeing our games and toys and puzzles and after-hours movie watching (this week, seeing Fisher and Sean’s Water balloon fight and free popsicles event) is enough. This community is teaching me to lead with play–a state of being I’d almost forgotten I even could be.
Sharable books, toys, and games in the space
3. Having a two-page Welcome document in a silly folder that reflects the nature of the space for those who want it. As part of the Seattle Collaborative Space Alliance now, and I’ve started visiting other spaces and seeing what it feels like to be a newbie in a space, intentionally witnessing how they welcome me, and eventually hanging out with them and directly asking them about how they welcome people and help brand new people feel welcome. One of the many things I’ve learned from our ancestor/partner/sister spaces is that as a newbie stepping into another space, socially awkward me appreciates a bit more formality and hand-holding than I myself thought to do for others in our space. For example, if you’re nervous and/or new, you may forget half of what you’re told on the walking tour and have to re-ask questions and feel even more awkward. So I created a two-page Welcome document for our space and put it in a silly folder. The full text of this document is at the end of this blog post. Guess the other tip here is: Visit other coworking spaces and experience what it’s like to be a newcomer for yourself.
4. Community member board. Thanks to Office Nomads, I’ve also learned that a community member board in the physical space can make you feel more welcome and help you feel part of the community faster. It helps newbie-you remember names and faces (also helpful to old person/faulty memory me). I actually recognized several people on ON’s board, which really made me feel part of the community. So I began creating one for our space last week. Here’s a photo of this work-of-art-in-progress. Names aren’t on it yet. I lost my label maker somewhere in the basement. Sigh. Names will be on it eventually.
The beginnings of our community member board
5. Online community playground. I think of our online community spaces as playgrounds and more opportunities to spend time with people I love. So far, we have a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/collectiveself), a Collective Self community photo album (http://collectiveselfphotos.tumblr.com/), and a Seattle Collaborative Space Alliance photo album (http://seattle-collab-space-alliance.tumblr.com/, this one is brand new but will eventually reveal all the names and faces and personalities of the collaborative work spaces in the area). With just an email address, community members can be added to the Tumblr photo albums and add their own photos/pictures as they see fit. The Facebook page is used by regulars here to post stories/ideas/images of interest to the community, talk about upcoming events, and directly help and/or tease each other. Newcomers can feel for themselves what kind of community we are and decide to join us or keep looking for a better fit. Love that. My goal is to find community members who will be happy here with us long-term–people who will go gladly on this life’s journey with us.
6. Mad-ninja-skills-of-the-community list. We have a share board where people can write the names of skills and things they have to share. Sometimes people don’t though, so we also ask people periodically about their skills and have created a monster list. I just hung that list on the wall yesterday. There are enough people here now that I can’t even remember all the skills we have. The list is my place to go to remind myself just how frickin’ AMAZING this coworking community actually is. I’ll share the list in an upcoming post. It’s amazing. Whether somebody is paid money for the skill or not is immaterial. It is a skill this community has. Walking into a new space, and working with new and different coworkers for the first time is awkward for me and, I suspect, most people. I suspect that having the Community Skills List on the wall will make the initial tour of the space for newcomers more fun: another fabulous stopping point on the Hollywood Celebrity Bus Tour of Collective Self that you receive the first time you visit.
7. Bad-mood buddies. If I’m dealing with something particularly stressful or difficult in my life on any given day, I should not be the one who opens the door, gives the tour, and tells the stories. Someone–anyone–in the space is better suited to help a newcomer feel welcome those days. I learned this the hard way last month. I answered the door on a day when multiple things were going wrong in my life. I haven’t seen that coworker since. Now I think of all the regulars here as my bad-mood buddies, and I’ve told them (or will tell them next time they’re here) to step in to welcome people whenever they’re up for it and especially when I’m clearly NOT up for it.
This is the official end of this post. The following text is our 2-page Welcome document, because Daniel’s out of town and I can’t figure out how to attach a document to a blog post. 🙂
Welcome. We are beside ourselves with happiness and gratitude that you are here.
Important: This document is for people who like reading documents. If you don’t, stop reading now.
Hours: Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. All other days, by appointment, unless you have a key. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 206-805-9978 to work here non-Wednesdays.
Front door: Just come in Wednesdays, don’t knock. Other days, the front door may be locked so either 1) make an appointment or 2) become a good friend and receive the code or your own key.
Networks and passwords:
Main floor network is called *************, and the password is **************************
Upstairs network is called ************, and the password is ****************************
Free wireless internet access, full kitchen (some days free food), tea and coffee, printer, large dry-erase board, multiple coworking sub-spaces (details below), round 10-person reservable community table, smart TV, fireplace, board games and video games, sidewalk chalk, garden, porch and patio, Tardis cookie jar (feel free to put cookies in it), share shelves (place for stuff you can just take/give away), community book shelves, sappy dog and 3 friendly cats as coworkers/play buddies
Connect after work:
Facebook (www.facebook.com/collectiveself), twitter (@collectiveself), after-hours hang outs, community photo album (http://collectiveselfphotos.tumblr.com/ send Lori your email, become group member, and add photos here). To connect with the even larger collaborative space community, check out http://www.collaborativespaces.org/ and http://seattle-collab-space-alliance.tumblr.com/.
- Front porch (at very front of space, good for small meetings in warm weather, taking phone calls, and after hours, having drinks and relaxing)
- Living room (to the right of the front door, good for very relaxed coworking where you don’t mind periodically mixing conversation into your work. After hours, movie watching. Fireplace cozy in winter, aka, roughly September – May in Seattle.)
- Dining room (in the center of the space with views of living room and kitchen, good for focused working on your own during work hours, and sometimes we change it up and turn it into a collaborative work area or a game playing area. This space is also available for hosting meetings/teaching classes on all days but Wednesdays.)
- Bathroom (at the very back of the space, straight back from the front door)
- Media/meeting room (at back of the space, with door, good for meetings of 2 to 6, phone calls when empty, and movie watching/video gaming when you’re tired of working)
- Kitchen (good for making tea and coffee, storing lunch in the fridge, and cooking together. Also great space for coworkers who are cooks/chefs/foodies who want to demo something new they’re trying and/or for teaching food-related classes. Yours to use as you like while you’re here Wednesdays. Tea/coffee/mugs and stuff are on the counter. Ask someone for help or dig around and figure things out for yourself.)
- Upstairs office (first door on the right at top of stairs, this space is good when you need serious quiet, hosting 4-person meetings, or need a large dry-erase board. Large monitor and ergonomic keyboard up there too.)
- Back yard (behind the house, good for warm-weather meetings, playing ball with the dogs, and taking phone calls. After hours, good for making ‘smores and having drinks and dinner.)
Some beliefs of people who’ve decided to become regulars and supporters of this space
- I can be myself here.
- I can relax and play here, not just work here.
- I’m more effective here than on my own.
- This community and neighborhood fucking rocks.
- Dogs and cats are cool coworkers.
- I can help this community.
- This space is/could become far more than just a place I do my individual work.
- Free is affordable. Working here is cheaper than working in a coffee shop.
- Trusting strangers—people who lead with trust—are innately trustworthy.
- Wow, there are better ways to work than I imagined on my own.
- Make yourself at home. Shoes on or off, your call. Put your stuff wherever you want to put it. Dig around for a cup or plate or fork in the kitchen or ask if just digging freaks you out.
- Take phone calls away from others. Good places to step to include the backyard, front porch, the media/meeting room (with door shut), and for really private calls use upstairs office (first door on right).
- Add your photo to the member board. Lori’s also happy to take your picture if you’d like.
- Use the share shelves and community bookshelves. Bottom two shelves on the back porch are where we put small free stuff for others to take: anything from dishware to office supplies to candles to dog toys. Books and games and toys on the bookshelves are borrowable.
- Make changes if you feel unhappy. If something doesn’t work for you here, talk to others and change it.
- Notice the spirit of the space and make sure it’s right for you. We aspire to be welcoming, open, generous, relaxed, fun, playful, helpful, grateful, trusting, smart, funny, and forgiving. A ragtag band of free-range chickens, cute ninjas, kind pirates, and cool neighbors learning to work and build community together.
- Ask for ideas/help with things. If you ask for help out loud, those who can help, will help. Those who can’t that moment, won’t. FYI: everything Lori is working on individually on Wednesdays can be set aside in favor of working with others. She’s a time ninja!
- Ask questions and share things while you’re here and also after work. Via after-hours hangouts, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr community photo album, front-porch gifts/swaps, for example.
- Make friends here. Life’s short. Sometimes deadlines should wait. Sometimes only with the help of friends can we make that regularly happen in our lives. Without Grady, for example, Lori forgets to eat meals.
- Tell extremely cool others about us. We’re new and growing. Please tell extremely cool others about us—those you can imagine thriving here and those you think would do us good.
- Lean on the mad ninja skills of others here. See the community skills list on the diningroom wall.
Our dear old dog Grady got lost for 2½ hours last Monday night, during rush hour in our urban Seattle neighborhood, wearing his new sock-monkey collar (while the one with his name and phone number sat uselessly on our counter). Daniel and I were in a complete panic, meltdown mess. Our home looked like an episode of Finding America’s Lost Children: there were fliers and posters being made, neighbors running in and out, and friends and complete strangers, including other dogs, roaming the neighborhood looking for him. This resulted in a neighbor telling us that his mom found her dog in an hour by writing a “LOST DOG!” story on the Central District News web site. So we did that instantly, without thought.
This resulted in Tom from CD News helping us find Grady. Yea! This also resulted in our dog Grady becoming a bit of a local celebrity (people now stop us in the street to say hello to Grady when we’re out for walks).
This also resulted in me asking Tom about how the CD News website works and him telling me that I should write a story about our coworking space on the CD News Stories page, which I did the next day. This resulted in Tom mentioning us on Twitter. This resulted in about a 900% increase in the reach of our wee little Collective Self free community coworking space Facebook page, and our highest attendance to date (9 coworkers in our new 15-person home-based space) the very next day. Wow.
This also resulted in us recognizing Grady—behind the fur, perpetually smiling face, and constantly wagging butt—as some sort of evil mastermind/marketing strategy genius. Clearly a title change was in order. Grady received his title change, from Director of Exercise & Outdoor Activities to Director of Marketing, with a smile and a wag. I’m so thrilled that he agreed to take over marketing for us, because the word “marketing” itself carries so much baggage for me that it makes me want to run screaming from the room. And he’s clearly a natural.
10 ideas from our space this month:
- Cook meals, make desserts, and concoct drinks together in the kitchen, whenever possible, if you have one. For example, this post would have been up Wednesday afternoon, but I prioritized picking early rhubarb in the backyard and then making a cake with/for my coworking partners in crime instead. That’s just how we roll.
- Embrace spontaneous play when it happens. This post would have been up last night, but I prioritized laughing and watching old Parks & Recreation episodes with Chris and Tim. Love this coworking after hours stuff. Grady and the cats build spontaneous play into the space simply by their presence and ability to be their whole, true selves at all times. They are guru-level masters of work as play. I’ve been bringing more playful things into the space naturally, without thought. Laughing and playing together is so obviously not procrastination, and it’s teaching me more than I imagined possible. Experiencing deep fun at work—almost all day, almost every day, and falling in love with who you are, who you’re with, and what you do—is a humanity-level game changer. From my perspective today, it is impossible to overdo community play or to overemphasize the importance of play and joy within a community.
- Get closer to the people you’re already with. With the people who are regulars here now, I’ve noticed that I openly share what I don’t know—and what I really need help—as naturally and easily and spontaneously as what I do know and can help with. I’ve noticed that I’d forgive these people anything and believe the feeling is mutual. We even told a dirty joke last week. At work. That is CLOSE my friends. Authenticity and vulnerability tango cheek to cheek here. When I feel both within me, and within the people I’m with, we grow as a community because individuals (including us) want what we have as a group.
- Visibly reveal your heart. I adore these photos from the ZEN Coworking space in Tokyo. They speak to the heart of the people and the place. They make me long to meet the people that gave him (her?) his/her own cushions and laptop. Look at that smile! That’s how coworking makes me feel. These people have the same heart I have, which is all I need to know to decide I’d like to work with them. The next time a friend goes to Tokyo, I will remember them and recommend them. And if I ever have the opportunity to visit Japan, I will visit them.
- Choose fresh, local, seasonal people to learn with. 🙂 I’m learning to prioritize the voices of emotionally close humans over distant others (distant means people not emotionally local to me, I’m not talking physical distance here, see story of me and ZEN Coworking space in item 4 above). I recognize distant others by the “I shoulds” that I hear in my head, such as “We should join that professional organization” or “I should take that seminar” or “We should try to get an ad into that prestigious magazine.” Bleh. That was the old world of work. Who do I love listening to? Who do we love being with? Adore working with? Want in our kitchen for dinner? Can’t imagine our lives working without? The answers are different for every individual—which brings a constant stream of gorgeous difference into the community. I think of these choices as the emotional equivalent of deciding to eat locally grown, in-season food whenever possible. I know a good piece of fruit when I taste it. “Wow!” I trust my wows wherever they show up. Trust the groups and people who inspire them completely.
- As you dump the “I shoulds,” show more love to:
- Yourselves. Whenever I feel too busy, this indicates something is out of whack. I quit working. Start playing. Fastest way to get back into whack. Grady taught me this. So does everyone I work with now.
- Your own neighborhood. I’m learning to do this now. What do people in my neighborhood really want and need most? Requires walking on my feet. Requires opening my door wide. Listening to my neighbors. Asking my neighbors for help and offering them help. Requires becoming more visible, known. Courage. Also requires swapping and sharing, which, fortunately for me, I LOVE.
- Your global community. I’ve been doing this for a while now too. Listening to the words and between the lines. What do the people in my online communities really need most? Can I help them in the moment? Same listening, asking for help, offering of help as with our neighbors. Same courage to become more visible. Same swaping and sharing. But you can do all this in your pajamas most days. LOVE!
- Just for fun, think completely differently about who you are, who you want in the space with you, and how growth could happen. This is a long story but SO worth it. In January I visited and interviewed (for a book I’m writing) TCB Couriers, a bicycle messenger service in San Francisco. They are thriving during a time when most messenger services have failed. Instead of serving the financial district, like everybody else, they decided to serve their own Mission District neighborhood. They started by doing personal deliveries for people: Nyquil and Orange Juice for someone home sick, sugar for someone out of sugar in the middle of a cake-baking disaster, etc. Their neighbors learned to trust them and eventually the sick guy who needed Nyquil decided his design firm needed them to deliver their important, can’t-be-lost paperwork downtown. Neighborhood restaurant owners started using only them. In two years, they evolved from two broke guys who wanted to make rent and ride their bikes every day, to almost 30 messengers and more than 60 business clients, plus individual deliveries. They grow now when other messengers want to join them and run their own neighborhoods. The organic way they are growing gave me goose bumps when I heard it. I had to hold myself back from bear-hugging Chas Christenson, founder and CEO, during the interview. Their community markets itself. People are so much more than what they do for a living and what they do for a living often changes. TCB Couriers reminded me of this. I owe the ideas for starting and growing our coworking space to them.
- Stop doing things that feel draining, immediately if possible.
- Can’t just stop doing everything that feels draining? Approaches we take:
- Give the task to Grady or one of the cats
- Tackle the work as groups of two or three close friends
- Bitch about it with friends
- Find someone who loves to do the tasks that we hate
- Tap the larger community to learn how to stop doing the tasks that we hate all together
10. Revel in growing slowly, organically, and interconnectedly. That last word may not technically be a word. Yes, there were only 4 people here yesterday, but they were amazing people. People I consider friends. One of whom stayed late to hang out and laugh (I love Tim) and two of whom are coming to dinner next week (I love Kathy and Phil). And this past week two neighbors showed up and are interested in their homes becoming complementary free coworking spaces as well! Holy crap! One is considering a complimentary space for people with kids and/or wanting to swap kid-watching for working away from kids for a while. Another is opening her home as a space near ours for people with cat allergies (like her), since our space is run by 3 cats. Suddenly I can picture a whole network of connected free spaces, and paid spaces, all relying on each other, all helping each other, all naturally and fluidly marketing for each other, and all making this neighborhood/city/planet an even more amazing place to live and work. This is actually happening here already. Wow. Just wow.
6 more “Lori style” tips (aka, tips for the seriously nerdy):
- Have more fun together so you can drop your individual fear-blinders and worries for a while and recognize just how amazing your community actually is right now.
- Shine a light on how amazing your community is in every interaction you have (note: this happens naturally, easily, automatically when you’re doing step 1 regularly). Forced, inauthentic, “we really should do X” type Marketing died years ago. I’d like to say goodbye to it together and let it rest in peace.
- As small “we love being together” groups, support individuals within and near the community by being as visible as possible. Let them see you loving what you do together, let them see you disagree and argue, let them see you evolving and working better together than on your own.
- Ask emerging, small, “we love being together” groups for help with things that drain your energy (aka, the things you suck at anyway). Allowing trusted cats and dogs to handle these things also works if you let it.
- Recognize that all small “we love being together” groups support individuals in the community in having more fun, and becoming more connected, and support these groups in becoming even more visible within the community.
- Have even more fun together, deeper fun than before.
Note: You feel deep fun physically thoughout your whole in your body, and may experience, for example, goose bumps, tears in your eyes, laughing so hard that you almost pee your pants, actually peeing your pants (which will cause an additional level of laughing in those around you like you can’t even believe), crying, saying things that you can’t believe you just said out loud, and/or becoming speechless (wide-eyed and open mouthed) at how lucky you are to be doing the work you’re doing and living your life. Living, breathing, unstoppable stories emerge from deep fun. Stories that persist over time and travel far and wide because they never leave you. For example: “I saw their detailed zombie attack defense plan on the chalk board and, Wow! It was like magic. I just fell in love with them in that moment. This community is prepared for anything.” This is the beginning of a story I tell about Office Nomads, which was Seattle’s first coworking space, I believe. I worked there just one day—something like four years ago—and I still tell that story, doing their marketing for them and extolling the virtues of their space, not the least of which is its amazing defensability during a zombie apocalypse. When the zombies come, only a Shaun-of-the-Dead-level idiot would stay in our space.
We opened our home in Seattle’s Central District neighborhood this week as a free coworking space, Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to start. If you’ve done something like this, or are planning to, I’d love to hear your “how to” because we’re learning to do this and need all the help we can get. Steps so far. The numbers indicate the order I did things in and aren’t necessarily a suggested order.
Collective Self, the Central District’s new free coworking space
1. Discover the idea and watch your energy skyrocket. I was so excited by this idea when it dawned on me a few weeks back that I immediately started telling close friends about it before I asked husband and housemates. Whoops. That’s a fun conversation. “Honey, how would you feel about having our home become a free coworking space and, oh yea, I already sort of invited my Seattle Consultants Grotto group?” Fortunately, we have a ACOF partnership. That is, we can always count on forgiveness.
2. Receive support from those in your home. I asked Daniel, housemates Chris and Emil, and backyard cottage-renter Kristine if they’d support the idea and asked if they had any concerns. I received only support. Good sign. I felt I didn’t need to ask Grady (dog), Ansel, Bella, and Joe (cats) because they’re the ones that gave me the idea in the first place.
3. Receive support from neighbors. I then sent email to all the neighbors that I know up and down our block to see what they thought about the idea. Fortunately, thanks to progressive dinners, tool sharing, our front yard “neighborhood fruit” garden, annual block parties, front-porch gatherings, and the community pit-stop Central Cinema (half a block from us, plus owners Kate and Keven are our friends and neighbors), I know almost 30 of my neighbors. I told neighbors about the idea and asked them if they had any concerns. I expected someone to worry about impact to street parking and created a detailed approach to ensuring this wouldn’t be an issue before I sent the message. I woefully underestimated my neighbors. Here’s what I heard back:
“Lori, I LOVE this idea. We’re actually renting out desks at my employer’s office downtown… It’s been great to get to know new people, have people to bounce ideas off of, and made for some really interesting lunch conversations….I’d love to be my own ‘boss’ and just write….I may take you up on the offer. This is very, very cool. I hope you get quite a collective together! Thanks for doing this.”
“Great idea! I’ll pass this on to friends who may be interested.”
“That sounds so great! I wish I was in a better position to jump in with freelancing. What a great adventure. I hope it works out! Keep me posted!”
“Hi Lori. This is such a cool idea! Unfortunately, I have to be at my desk at work five days a week. Boo.”
4. Become grateful, thankful, more humble. Wow. We’ve lived in our neighborhood almost 10 years now. It dawned on me as I heard back from my supportive neighbors that this wasn’t actually my idea. This is a need that my neighborhood has that directly maps to my own need. I finally slowed down long enough to recognize that. I’m so lucky to live where I live, surround by these neighbors. I can’t wait to meet more of them!
5. Connect with others learning in the same direction online and make friends via learning and sharing. A few months back, a person I didn’t know (a fan of the Collective Self blog at the time) added me to the Facebook group called Coworking Worldwide. I didn’t realize I was part of this community until he added me to it. He saw something in me I didn’t see in myself. I now consider him a friend. Thanks Bert-Ola Bergstrand! I’ve been lurking in this group for months, watching what others in the coworking community are doing, not realizing that the idea to morph my home into a coworking space would come to me. I respect and trust many people in this online community today. Favorite found resources in the past month:
This was technically the first step for me. Could have put it first and called it “Receive an invitation to join an emerging community.” But think perhaps this was a Lori-specific first step, because I study emerging community and self-organizing groups for a living and it’s the nature of my work. If everyone waited around for invitations into emerging communities like I do, we’d probably never get anything done, so don’t let lack of invitations stop you. Just follow your energy!
6. Connect with others learning in the same direction locally and make friends via learning and sharing. I contacted people within two more formal coworking spaces I know about in Seattle this week: Office Nomads and The Hub. I told them I love what they’re doing for our community. I also told them that if they learned of anyone in our neighborhoods who couldn’t afford their spaces, I’d appreciate it if they’d tell them about me. Again, I received a ton of support. I haven’t met these folks face to face yet, but I already think they rock and am planning to become friends with Susan at Office Nomads and Lindsey at the Hub whether they like it or not! 😉
From Office Nomads: “Hi Lori! Wow – what an amazing email that was to get! I am so excited that you’ll be hosting regular Jellies at your place – that’s fantastic! We’ll be sure to share the info. And I’ll have to swing by sometime – that’s just a block away from the last house I lived in, and just a few blocks away from my new place (I’m also in the CD). Let me know if there is anything that you need, or if you need help getting the word out. Take good care and thanks again for all the kind words.”
From The Hub: “Hi Lori, This is wonderful news! I’d be happy to spread the word to our fellow Hub members, including in our next member email. I used to live in the CD and would have loved this option had I the chance – so am excited to pass the word on to others, too! Thanks so much for sharing”
7. Small pilot the idea. I strongly suspect that we will love having our home be a free coworking space. In fact, one day we imagine converting our back rental cottage into a larger community space. But we don’t know this for sure. What if we hate it? This is why we decided to start small, one day a week, for eight hours. Seems like a good way to test the idea. If the community here grows, then we will too.
8. Grow slowly and with collective intention/intuition. Studying community and self-organizing groups for the past few years has taught me a thing or two. So has gardening. Weeds grow quickly and crowd out other plants. Weeds often piss me off. Trees grow slowly and branches leave space for other branches to receive sunlight (Thanks Ali for that image/idea.) I love trees. I want to live the tree and forest experience. Want people around me to have space and be comfortable telling me when I’m being a weed. For us this means that the invitation to join our coworking space went out to friends, neighbors, and friends-of-friends-and-neighbors only first. Only one person showed up this week. And this is a good thing. I asked Office Nomads and the Hub folks to give us only personal referals for community members who really need our space and NOT to advertise in their newsletters and things yet. I want connection and friendship to be at the heart of this space–and making one new friend this week seems like the perfect way to start. We may advertise in the Central District News eventually, and through the coworking community networks, but I want that to be group decisions. So for now, very small is very good.
9. Play. For me, this started by reflecting on what I like to do and don’t like to do and then making that visible. For example, I don’t want to be in charge of our coworking space. I like to spend my time gathering, hearing, documenting, and telling community stories. I want to be a member of this space, not one of the “people in charge.” In my groups, everyone is a leader or nobody is (depending on how you feel about the word leader). However, some people like visible leaders, so we have those too. Grady, Ansel, Bella, and Joe are a group already really good at making the space playful and fun. So, they run our space:
- Grady, Exercise and Outdoor Activities Director
- Joe, Director of Napping
- Ansel, Chief Play and Innovation Officer (Ansel answers to Batman, Ansel, and Honey Badger)
- Bella, Dispute Creation and Resolution Smackdown Specialist (she starts and breaks up fights for fun)
They created one rule for the space: people with severe dog or cat allergies have to sit outside.
10. Self-organizing groups build community, so get out of their way. In my experience, individuals find and receive community, while self-organizing groups build community. The first person to show up in our new space this week (besides the executive staff and me) was another community story gather, like me! He said “I just love to learn and love to be surrounded by learners.” This is the only thing I look for in new friends and work colleages. And this stranger just walked in my front door and said that out loud. How cool is that? I shared with him a new idea: starting a Central District/Capital Hill Story Tellers and Gatherers meetup group to find others like us. He said he’d add members and find a public space place for us to meet. He also told me about another new formal coworking space in my neighborhood: Agnes Underground. I felt like hugging him as he left but didn’t. I’d just met him. Didn’t want to weird out the first person who showed up. Thanks Michael!