Once you’ve “claimed your weird” as we’ve just discussed in our last series on How to Find Your Onlyness, it’s possible to feel all alone. The story of Ruth Ackerman shows how she went searching for her “tribe” from an unusual source: Benjamin Franklin” and found a way to be deeply connected.
It began, as so many interesting things do, as an uncertain call in the dark. “I went to Facebook and put it out there,” said Ruth Ackerman. “Hey – I’m starting a self improvement club. Anyone want to join?”
It was the beginning of 2014, and Ruth Ackerman, Ruthie to her friends, had been having a moment. And it wasn’t going away. “It’s embarrassing to even say it,” she says. “I have all the trappings of happiness – a good marriage, a nice condo, a business I care about. Eleven hundred ‘friends’ on Facebook. I never worry about a meal…” she trails off, her good fortune hanging in the air.
“But I wasn’t happy. I felt alone, and lonely. And I didn’t know why.”
Maybe it was just a natural part of being 37 years old. Or the insecurity that comes with a job change. Maybe it was the lump in her breast, that turned out to be benign. (Thank goodness.) Or maybe it was the reality that the busyness of modern life. It can surreptitiously rob otherwise open and caring people of the chance to spend time together, and just be. And that wasn’t going to change unless she did something. “I started to think about being in the dorm in college,” she said, “lingering over these long conversations, that could go on for hours about anything and everything. I kept missing that time in my life when I had people I could talk to about meaningful things.”
“I kept thinking, where would I turn? Where is my community?”
Her question turned into a quest.
“I began reading books about leadership and fulfillment,” she said, looking for clues. “Who did I want to be in the world?”
When Ruthie picked up Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, something stirred inside. He had created a community of thinkers and givers called the Junto Club (or the Leather Apron Society.) “He had these twelve peers, friends – and basically they met every Friday night and brainstormed ideas.” The ideas weren’t bad, either. Three of them – a volunteer fire department, a subscription library, and a paid city watch – really jumped out at her. These were ideas that had made a real dent in the world. The group — eclectic on the outside — was devoted to the personal betterment of each the members, for the purpose of making the world around them better, too.
“They decided to perfect themselves, to become perfectly moral people.” To do that, they focused on thirteen virtues that were the foundation of the system Franklin had developed to achieve moral perfection. It was a heady list, particularly for a horny old toad like Franklin:
“Here’s the thing,” Ruthie says excitedly, “they met for 40 years. Forty years! Like a secular Shabbos.”
Ruthie had grown up in an Orthodox Jewish home, but is now an atheist. And the circumstances of her life precluded an easy path to community. “My parents had me when they were very young,” she says. “They both remarried and had another set of children.” She became both an only child and an outsider in two separate families. “My parents moved around a lot, so I never felt rooted or anchored.”
So, she decided to give herself some roots, Benjamin Franklin style.
“When I posted my request on Facebook, I didn’t really have a plan,” she says. It was pretty general – What if we met monthly and it gave us the space to talk about these virtues? Would it help us launch who we want to be in the world? Would the virtues still be relevant today?”
Ruthie’s call in the dark turned out to be a powerful signal to her community in waiting.
“Within a few minutes, nine people responded,” she says. Last March, she ended up at her friend’s apartment with nearly a dozen other seekers, Thai take-out on their laps and virtues on their minds.
All of a sudden, Ruthie wasn’t alone. Just the opposite, after she claimed her own passions as her own, she could use it to connect with people like her, and so she could feel the roots of community form.
Onlyness is your history and experiences, visions and hopes. When you claim it and stand in that spot only you stand in, you can actually feel alone UNLESS you find people who share your passions, your purpose.
Being “weird” in a mainstream world is to be alone. Even, lonely at times because you feel like the odd duck out. But what if you’re mainstream in a weird world? What if you find other “weirdos” like yourself, then you suddenly realize your weird is just “normal” if you find the right group. And you can be more accepted because people get you. And then, you’re not lonely, because that like-minded group can be your community.
Listen to Ruthie talk about sincerity, on the 92Y podcast. And for more from Ruthie in Part II, Losing Friends as You Gain New Ones, of Finding Your Allies. … stay tuned next Tuesday, which is a good reminder to subscribe.
Finding or building a vibrant community is key to making a dent in the Social Era.
The 92Y is now a leading platform for change-makers, tribe-leaders, artists, authors, journalists, philosophers, filmmakers and respected thinkers, helping build and create communities on every inch of our planet. And they’ve gifted us time with its leader. If you don’t already know of Henry Timms, you should. Besides championing #givingTuesday, he co-wrote a piece on “New Power” in Harvard Business Review a few months back. Henry will be giving one of you a 30-minute Skype session…
How you have found your community, and what does it mean to you to have one?
I have just begun to find my community as I transition to a career as a handbag designer. First, I took an ofice space at Techshop, which is an amazing co-working space for makers of all kinds. One neighbor is making a medical device and the other is doing 3D printed designs.
Second, I joined a group of fashion designers who are all past the first start up phase and are actively selling. We have an active, supportive Facebook community. We critique, advise, and cheer each other on.
I can tell you that these two communities are making all the difference to my mental health and are pushing me to be better. Mosy of my friends are nice and supportive: “looks great, Jane”. I very much appreciate this moral support, but there is no replacement for the feedback of a group that is on the same journey. Without it you feel incredibly alone. And that is not a recipe for happiness or for breakthrough work.
Jane, this looks great. 😉
No, seriously, it helps so much to have a community of practitioners who get what it is we’re practicing. For us to get better at what we want to do, we have to practice but without support (moral, feedback, etc), it’s hard to keep doing.
In case it’s inspiring to keep going, I found this piece by Brainpicker really well done: http://www.brainpickings.org/2015/01/07/glenn-kurtz-practicing/
This is what I taught my kids as they were growing up and felt alone: your people are out there and you have to find them. And that is what they are doing. I think many of us are on the quest to find, give and recieve love. And it starts by creating our tribe, whether through work or interests or beliefs or passion or some other connecting factor. I have found it easy to find lots of groups of women who share one of these with me, but long for funding women with whom I have even more in common than just one or two interests. A life long quest.
Turning 50 will stand as the monument to a full blown identity “crisis” where the life I had lived (outside my relationship with my wife) stopped providing any sense of fulfillment. I have been a closet “liberal” in the midst of many Fox News junkies and I had begun to hate myself for the silent hypocrisy. * Over the last week or so I have started hatching a plan to jumpstart a climate awareness project through Indiegogo. The ideas have begun to take shape, and I feel the beginnings of fulfillment seeping into my soul, but of course I have no connections or friendships in this new realm. And near me I don’t know quite where to begin, but I will find it. * In the mean time, I will begin promoting the idea that climate action and “war” as some describe the process, must find long term stability in what I call Climate Compassion. We must want to nurture this planet and cultivate our presence here in such a way that his world remains safe and beautiful for the billions of lives yet to come. We must love our progeny at least as much as we love ourselves. http://www.ourprolifeplanet.org
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