Our first job after college is one of the most important moments of our life. Interestingly, at the end of our career, our jobs are the least important moments of our life. What fills this gap is community. In the music of life, work, and community, we often drop community and then lose our meaningful rhythm. The reality is community creates the staff in which we make our life and work notes hit the right pitch and composition.
The staff is a set of “five horizontal lines and four spaces that each represent a different musical pitch.” Where the musical notes are placed determine the pitch and movement. Our life theme and movement depend on how we fill in our community lines.
My Lopsided Story
My first job after graduating from Augustana was working in a congressional campaign. There is nothing more exhilarating than working in a campaign. Our mission is clear – win an election by connecting with people and presenting solutions to real problems. Working in a campaign is an all-encompassing effort. The campaign team becomes family, neighbor, and co-worker.
As my career progressed to Washington, DC, and then to Texas, the one constant element was the all-compassing nature of work. One key change though was family, but they also became all-encompassing. Work and life absorbed most of my time. No regrets, other than the one element that got left behind – community.
Yes, I have friends. Friends are an important part of community. Friendships happen at work and in neighborhoods, but community is different than friendships. Friends get together to share successes, solve problems, support each other, and laugh at the oddities of life. Each of these carries into community with a different twist.
In my life work, community became the lost connection point, because I did not have – or take – the time to make a real difference in the place around where I lived and work. I believe I made (and am making) a positive difference in places I lived and worked. I try to be the best father and husband I can be. I try to be the best colleague, leader, teammate, and contributor I can be. Each of these is essential notes in my composition, the staff or community wrapped around both was missing though.
Time is the excuse. I can argue it is a valid one. Think of our days:
- Sleep: 7-8 hours (hopefully)
- Work: 10-12 hours (probably)
- Exercise: 1 hour (hopefully)
- Father/spouse/personal time: 3-6 hours (likely)
There is strong purpose in each. Sleep refreshes. Work funds life and creates an opportunity for people to use and grow their talents. Exercise renews. Being a parent and partner encourages us to do our best in setting a future for our kids to do their best. Having individual time keeps our mind and spirit growing. Each activity plays a purposeful role.
However, as David Brooks and Dr. Paul Kalanithi challenge us, getting our purpose right is something that weighs on us, especially as our end nears. Where we spend most of our time usually becomes the small print in our obituary or just a list of places worked or survivors left.
Community is the wrapper, the musical staff, of what makes our life sing and, possibly, carry a tune after we are gone.
It is easy to look up one day and realize you don’t know many people outside of work and family. I have looked up, and it seemed somewhat lonely. More than that self-centered thought, my soul is wanting more in serving and trying to help make positive changes in a corner of the world.
Lessons Learned About Community
Community is more than networking. Let’s be clear about that. Networking has a career focus.
As I have dusted off my desire to be active within a community, I have realized a few things. My perspective will differ from others, but that is okay. We can share what we have learned so we can be better community leaders. After all, sharing our experiences is what will make us stronger in our good works.
1 – Pick a community and jump in deep.
Finding the right community to get involved in can be tough. As you start to explore, you can get pulled into many different initiatives. Your time and impact can be diluted quickly, and your purposeful intentions get sidelined.
Knowing your core beliefs will help discern what to get involved in. Knowing your mission and leadership philosophy will help weed through the communities. Time is scarce, so take the time to pick where to dive in deep. If you can engage in more than one community, please do so. Just don’t take the scatter approach. Focus will generate greater community impact, I believe.
Equally important is to jump out of a community initiative that is not a good fit. Be upfront. Don’t feel guilty. Use your time wisely as often as you can in the most effective way you can.
2 – Carve out the time, cutting more into the work time than the life time.
Carving out time to get involved in a community may be the most challenging step. Guilt at work seeps in when you have to leave earlier than usual. Guilt arrives when time is taken away from family or exercise. The simple answer is “get over it!” We can look through our week and find one to two hours to spend on community-engaged activities.
Here are some myths to dispel. Being present at work does not translate into being productive at work. Being home does not always translate into being present. Exercise does not have to follow the same schedule every week.
Instead, I would argue that being active in a community will add to your spirit at work, raising your productivity and impact. I would say community engagement promotes family engagement. Running early in the morning works as well as running after work. We need to shift our mindset.
Remember, think about what will last, what you will be proud of, what difference you will make. Focus time here.
3 – Taking a pause is OK, just don’t have too big of a gap in time.
There are times when family and work will take all of our time. It is okay to take a break. We need to live fully with those nearest to us, and we need to continue to support our organization’s mission and make a living. The key is to notice the time to jump back into community initiatives and begin composing a more meaningful, complete life musical.
4 – Work in a community is not networking.
I said it earlier, but it is worth stating again – community initiatives are not about networking. Focus on the purpose of the community work. You will build new relationships that will be more valuable than you ever imagined. Shift to a community building mindset and leave the networking to another time.
5 – Community is not about you; it is about what is created for others.
Put your ego aside. Titles don’t matter. Doing the work for a positive impact matters. The key to community is working to create a better place for the present and future. Your answers are not the only ones. Listen to understand the issues and explore the solutions being discussed. Add your value but don’t dominate the conversations or direction. Through diverse views, a stronger solution will appear, and you will be a part of this wonderful momentum of positive change.
I have been working through this process the past year or so. I took a break a while ago. I have explored different opportunities. I am ready to dive in deeper in one or two selected areas. Whether these steps work for you or not is your choice. The important point is to choose community and jump in. When you find what works for you, please share your experience. Create a spark in someone else to find a community and make it better by working together.
Sense of Community
Several important things to remember about community:
- Community should replace workplace.
- Community brings a family together.
- Community empowers others and kindles our spirit.
Community in one place does not replace it in another. Community is the staff in our life composition, stringing all of our notes together in a very harmonious, meaningful way.
To be specific:
- Workplace becomes sterile and even unnatural at times. Viewing where we work as a community will likely be a more productive mindset.
- A schedule can dominate a family’s life. In the rush, our relationships fray. Community work brings a family together around a higher purpose. Working in our communities will strengthen our family relationships.
Our sense of community has faded into the busyness of our lives. It did for me. We need to rekindle our sense of community. Finding the right tempo and notes will happen when we frame it around community.
Community creates the music of our life that will resonate as we pass it on.