In early September, I spoke for the first time on a stage. I had 5 minutes to share whatever I wanted, accompanied by 20 timed slides. I spoke of community, my gap year, but said nothing about how I pulled an all nighter to finish the damn presentation. Here’s the transcript.
What is community? And what is it capable of?
There’s so much nuance in the word, it doesn’t quite capture the scope of communities that exist—from families to coworkers to local religious groups. Nor does the word it capture the capacity of communities to transform the individuals within them. So, how do you even begin to define that?
I want to share my own experiences of a transformative community—the following slides are photos I’ve taken in that journey.
In 2014, I had just finished high school. Not wanting to go to University right away, I took a gap year and joined 9 people in an experimental fellowship called The GO Project. We went to Turkey, Myanmar, Panama for a year total, working as in-house consultants. This was my first job. It was a strange circumstance to find myself in after high school and nothing could have prepared me for my growth over the next year.
This is where we stayed in Myanmar. Charming, I know. (the image above!)
It didn’t have a kitchen, the water and electricity would often go out—it was tough, being together 24/7.
Every morning, we’d go to the offices to work, and then go home together in the evenings. Imagine doing that with your coworkers for a year—you get to know each other very quickly.
I clearly remember the first day I arrived to our office space in Istanbul to meet the team for the first time in person, scared out of my mind—but when they saw me standing stiffly near the entrance, one by one, they greeted me with hugs. Their initial openness allowed me to relax and return back their warmth. That was the first lesson I learned with them: that people reciprocate the the feeling you give them. I don’t think I’ve ever stopped learning since.
From then, we had 3 months to organize the first demo day for Startupbootcamp Istanbul. We pulled it off. We each brought our own skill sets and value, that, combined, allowed us to do the same in all the places we went to—from increasing in Myanmar, to building a community of innovators in Panama City; these things were made possible only because of the support we had from each other and the local communities that we worked with.
This year-long experiment turned us into people who not only have the capacity to create diverse change, but people who actually did.
And looking back now, I realized that the transformation sneaked up on us—and it wasn’t in our on-boarding packets or the documented scope of work. It was in the dazed, late night collaboration before a deadline. The spontaneous trips to the the end of a bus line or temples at sunrise. The warmth of the communities that welcomed us in all the cities we went to. The difficult conversations between friends that were coworkers that were family—all the lines blurred. The vulnerability we afforded each other throughout the entire year, and the trust that we built, occasionally broke, and built again.
The entire scope of our experiences—the good, bad, and in-betweens. All of it was learning, and it was something none of us could have had alone.
These stories show pretty extreme examples of transformative communities, but I think there are some common principles that can be extracted from them—the importance of friendship, individual wellbeing as collective wellbeing, and the value of diverse, shared experiences and serendipity.
Figuring out how to make the most of communities doesn’t have to be a formal process, either. Extending yourself fully and sharing who you are, actively practicing the values of the communities you want to create, is something you can do right now. For example, there are many amazing people at this conference, so why not be daring and create something that lasts longer than the lifespan of a business card.
And I want to leave you with a question: what are your communities, and what potential do you see in them?
This went through a lot of iterations to make sure that it fit under the time limit and didn’t sound strange. I’ll be writing about community in fuller detail from now on.