Three years ago when I was asked this question for the first time, off the top of my head I said something like “That with the right group of people, I can do anything.” Luckily for me, because I’m a researcher, that impromptu comment was recorded. I got to listen to it over and over for an entire year as I sought to understand what the group I was studying at the time was demonstrating (they had asked me the question). Today, with a few more years of group membership and research under my belt, that statement is still surprisingly accurate, although I might adjust the details slightly and say that With just two to four people by my side (and the more different from me they are, the better), we can do anything.” Since this question has come up again, I reflected on it a bit more. Here are the top 5 things I’ve learned about myself so far as these groups:

  1. In self-organizing groups, I cannot hide who I am, even from myself. The more I get to be myself–alongside others getting to be themselves–the less any of us can remember why we’d ever want or need to hide our true selves.
  2. As these groups, I increase the time I am able to spend happy, focused, and present in the moment and decrease the time I spend worrying about the past, present, and future of my individual self. The more time I’m with them–in person and in my imagination–the more dramatic this effect becomes.
  3. My true self more closely resembles these amazing groups–an agile, fluid collective self–than it does a lone individual self. So does yours, from my perspective today.
  4. I never lose my connection to these groups. As an individual, I may feel disconnected, fearful, and alone. As these groups, I don’t. Even after the lifetime of these groups, group members are there for me when I need them–their voices continue to speak in my head beside my own to help me. And, on a really bad day, no matter how much time has passed, I have the option to reconnect with group members to get the support I need.
  5. I’m one of the luckiest people on earth. Some people spend years of their lives afraid to make the leap, let go, and just do what they love. I still have a little fear, but the last time my own fear stopped me was in mid 2006, as I contemplated giving up a full-time job and people I loved (and accompanying 6-figure salary) to become a full-time learner. Even then, it only stopped me for 2 months thanks to the groups I was part of. My own fear hasn’t stopped me since. My self-organizing groups and work groups won’t let it. That cool Zen saying “Leap and the net will appear” shows up differently in my life today. I can actually imagine and see the net my groups and I create for ourselves. There’s no longer any doubt in my mind that I will be caught if I fall. I get to live my life bathed in the gratitude I feel for what my self-organizing groups give me. And all I have to do as an individual is let go, become part of them, and learn. I used to be embarrassed by the tears that often well up in my eyes. Today I think of them as my gratitude bathtub running over when I recognize what you–another group member–are making possible for me right now. Tears and laughter and energy and goose bumps are the voices of these groups. Listening to them has changed me. Now I couldn’t go back to that individual self who let fear stop her, because I can see that she no longer exists.

Huh. Wow. Thank you for asking the question. I learn as I write, and I didn’t know that last sentence was true for me until I read it.