Cultivating Community Builds Your Business, Builds your Career and Enhances Your Life

A smiling face in the crowd, I stood back and watched my neighbours gather in celebration. Together, over a period of almost 10 years, my neighbours had worked together to envision, mobilize, fundraise for and ultimately build a new community hall for our community. Today, we were cutting the ribbon in celebration.

Community in your neighbourhood

Members of our community gather at our new hall grand opening.

What were we celebrating? Yes, we now have a new facility to invite and facilitate the growth of community groups, fitness programs, youth groups, seniors mornings, parent and tot times, and basketball games for our teens on a Friday after school. But what I saw us truly celebrating was the spirit that was built in our neighbourhood over the many years it took to make this happen.

We established a shared vision for the future and made it happen through what ended up being a two-million dollar fundraising initiative with countless hours of volunteer time on top of that. And that two-million didn’t come easily. Through car raffles and community parties, door-knocking campaigns, and lengthy funding proposals, it took a lot of people, a lot of perseverance, and yes, even tears to get to the finish line.

So on the outside, it may look like a community hall, but the true magic is what it represents and facilitates: a community that pulled together to make a shared vision happen.

Community in your city

Let’s move ahead a couple of weeks. Again I’m a smiling face, but this time I’m at the podium, toasting a group of 200+ women (and a few brave men) who have come together to the launch of a new not-for-profit in our city, Canada’s newest city-wide chapter of Lean In. Based on the best-selling book by Sheryl Sandberg: Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, the writing of that book launched a global movement that sparked an entire generation of women to rise up to the personal and professional challenges they experience in their lives and careers to step into what they’re worth, hold their voices strong and lead us into the future of a changed and more equal workplace for all.

Celebrating the launch of Lean In Calgary.

My role this time is not as a committee member, but as a community leader who championed the creation of this organization. Again, volunteer and again, such a meaningful and powerful experience to be a part of.

The energy in the room was palpable, not only were we celebrating the coming together of this inaugural event and creating something exceptional for Calgary’s women leaders, we were also celebrating what we had achieved as a volunteer committee – the 15 of us who came together just 6 short months previous to envision and create this new organization. And we all did it off the sides of our desks in the midst of our busy lives because we believe in Lean In and we believe in the power of change that can be created in achieving a shared community vision.


Community in your professional life

Next up, by the time this blog is published, I will have launched my third round of a small group of solo business owners who are building and working in their businesses usually as a company of one. This group of just eight individuals is looking for shared accountability, business-building support and yes, community.

By the time we wrap up this program several months from now, many of these people will be lifelong friends. They will have formed deep connections they will carry with them into their personal and professional lives. They will have built their businesses and learned a ton. But the best part? They will have added to their network in a meaningful way. They will have built their community and their business world.

Where do you make a conscious effort to build community?Click To Tweet

Real-life community connection has become cool again. People are looking for reasons to get away from their screens and in front of real people in real time. The benefits of creating relationships IRL (In Real Life!) are palpable. Real people. Real smiles. Real conversation.

But why? What’s missing? Why is quality human interaction IRL so important?

Building community connection is good for your health

In a study published by the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, they’ve proven that increasing your level of social connection can protect your future mental health. Social connectedness is at least as good for your health as quitting smoking or exercise. And we’re not just talking saying hello to people as you pass by on the street, we’re talking about sharing bonds, sharing a common purpose and sharing like values — the big stuff. The important stuff. In fact, did you know that the country of England is so worried about isolation that in 2019 they created a new ministry to combat loneliness? More than 9 million people in the United Kingdom report that they often or always feel lonely. The government of England has acknowledged that loneliness can be detrimental to people’s health and they’re taking this concern seriously.

But is that enough? To just interact with others? Of course not.

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To be clear, not just any community is good, it must be one of shared purpose, shared values and on purpose.

As Priya Parker shares in The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters, just gathering isn’t enough. Parker cites a 2013 study on the State of Friendship in America that found that 75 percent of respondents were unsatisfied with their friendships. Parker contends that how we gather is just as important as why we gather. Thoughtfully choosing the locale, the number of people and the purpose of the gathering is crucial. Parker contends that a sense of belonging is paramount, which makes sense, given the value of belonging is one of the highest-ranked worldwide. People want to belong, to feel they share space and common values with others, and to matter, to each other. This can happen in a community of shared purpose.

But honestly, who really has time to gather for the sake of gathering?

I know, you’re here because you want to build your business or your career!

You want to make a difference in the world. I do too. I do find, however, that building community through volunteering with a shared purpose has been THE thing that has made the difference in my business success over the years. It definitely helps that I volunteer because I love it. I love serving others, I love building community through volunteering and getting to know others through a shared purpose with common vision. And I do this because I love it. AND, it also fills my career and business bucket too.

Many of the connections I have made in my career have been through the professional and community organizations I have been involved in. It’s part of who I am. And it has filled my business with clients who share my values too. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Where can you volunteer or build community with people of like purpose?Click To Tweet

Eight ways you can build community in your personal or professional life:

  • In your neighbourhood: spearhead a block party, start a block watch, walk your kids to school. You may be amazed by the connections you make along the way.
  • Arrange a lunch with a handful of co-workers – what do you have in common? What meaningful networking can be achieved over a conversation?
  • Start a Lean in Circle – yes, a shameless plug for this volunteer-run and led organization where people just like you create a gathering to share conversation, talk about issues you all care about and build connections that will champion your next endeavour. You can do that at Lean In Circles.
  • Host an after-work social with your co-workers. Do you ever talk to each other at work? Like really talk to each other? Do you know their dogs’ names, if their child has a learning disability or even what part of town they live in? What would be different if you did?
  • Volunteer with a community organization with a cause you care about: Feeding the homeless? Raising money to cure cancer? Reading to disadvantaged children? What’s your cause? You will find community there.
  • Arrange a holiday hamper for a local family in need. Hint: It doesn’t just have to be over the holiday season. People are in need all the time. Every day of the year. Find a family to help. Enroll some friends or co-workers to do this with you. You’ll share the journey and help a family in the process.
  • Community Clean-up! Are you frustrated by the litter you see near where you live? What if you arranged a group to pick it up? A shared goal with your neighbours. You could meet for coffee afterward and learn more about them. Did you know that communities with neighbours who know each other are less likely to experience vandalism and crime?
  • Volunteer at your kids’ school or at a nearby seniors home.

There is an endless need in our world for real human connection. Real conversations in real-time with real people. Now that’s community.

The key is to build that community with a purpose, with a shared vision, and to have fun in the process. Where can you build a sense of community in your life or work? What might open up for you and your world if you did?

To your success, in business, in your community, and in life,

Susan Elford

Personal Balance Equation Workbook ABOUT SUSAN ELFORD

Susan Elford is a PR Strategist & Leadership Coach who especially loves to work with people who want it all: a fulfilling career or business while living a balanced life. Susan helps her clients get real about their strengths and celebrate and promote them so they get more of what they want: success at work; success in business & success in life.

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