Welcome back to another exciting edition of A Nerds Guide to Self Help: A Midlife Personal Development Journey. Last time we discussed the importance of identifying character flaws within us and being open to growing from them. If you missed that article, you can find it here. This week we will extend the focus of our companions and talk about the importance of community. If this is your first time with me, then I invite you to check out how this all started in my first post. A big thank you to anyone returning. Your support will continue to keep this blog alive and thriving through the ages.
Importance of Community: A Hero’s Companions
Eric the wizard stands across the pit he narrowly escaped, looking into the searching eyes of his companions. The air is still thick with discomfort and indecision. As a wizard, Eric is more used to delving out intelligence than receiving it. He knows more about the world than most, having spent years in rigorous study under his mentor Rendar the Great. Wizardry isn’t for everyone. There are in fact only a small percentage of creatures in the world that have the ability to tap into the magical mysteries of the multiverses. Wizards are a rare breed and it’s easy for Eric to feel justified in his superiority, but that doesn’t make it right in everyone else’s eyes.
This is a pivotal moment for Eric. His brain and his heart work overtime to reconcile with the character flaw exposed by his dwarven companion. The moment is stretched thin. The looks on his companions faces speak of lost hope and some even shift their weight toward the opposite direction. The dungeon crackles lightly in the distance, small dust and stone echoing off the ancient walls. The dwarf stands sturdy, waiting for a response, eyes holding firm behind a weathered brow. A hand comes to rest easily onto his shoulder. “Come on Gorn, there’s nothing more you can do here”, an elvish voice soothes.
The Turning Point
Gorn hesitates, his eyes boring into the wizard’s head but when Eric doesn’t respond, he resigns to turn away with the others. “Wait”, the wizards voice, slightly shaking, suddenly calls out. “I’m sorry my friends. You’re right, I can’t do this without you.” The dwarf turns back to see Eric holding out his arm across the pit, earnestness pouring from his eyes. Gorn smiles heavily, a disarming grin that has brought many laughs over pints of ale in restless taverns. He steps forward onto the vines stretched across the pit, clasping his arm and hand into the wizards. They embrace for a moment, before stepping away and grunting and shaking themselves out of the tender moment.
Eric looks beyond at the rest of his companions. He holds his arm out once more, but this time so does Gorn. The rest of the party makes it across the pit safely and after a brief moment of reconciliation, they turn and plunge ahead into the dark hallway of the dungeon.
Importance of Community: The What
What is community? Websters dictionary defines community as, a unified body of individuals. There are many different types of community. They vary depending on the focal points and values with which each exists. Eric the wizard’s community is his companions. They have a similar goal, which is a life of adventure and to route out evil in the land. They are bound to each other by these common goals. We look at our world and see so many different types of community. There’s your neighborhood and the community around it. Churches, synagogs, and mosques have communities. The current Black Lives Matter movement is a community. My Dungeons & Dragons group is a community. As you can see, there are so many different types of community. So, what is the importance of community?
Humans are social creatures. This concept has become even more apparent during the current CVOID-19 situation, where many of us were isolated away from human interaction, driving us stir crazy. We need to socialize. In Henry David Thoreau’s beautiful book, Walden, he sets out to do a little social experiment where he isolates himself in a simple cabin in the woods. His goal is to reflect on society and himself and reconnect with nature. Even Thoreau, who loved isolationism, always kept three empty chairs available in his small cabin for the times he would receive visitors. He exclaimed how important it was to socialize. In the first month he was there, he was able to be satisfied with himself and his surroundings, contemplating society and nature, but he soon became lonely and realized just how the much the importance of community and companionship are to the human spirit.
This was a man who had become sick of societal gossip, conflict and all the petty things that separate us as human beings. He discovered through his time alone that his own personal issue was a lack of opening his heart to others. It’s easy to be guarded in our time, but in order to be part of a community, you have to open yourself up to the possibilities it represents, the values it upholds. It doesn’t mean you have to completely conform, but you do have to be open to the possibility of change.
The importance of community isn’t just a statement that rings true for me, but for many people in the world. Community binds us in ways we never thought possible. Some of the best creations I’ve developed were born out of community. It’s just better to have many heads than one.
Importance of Community: The Why
Why do we need community? Why is it so very important? The past few decades have seen the rise of individualism. For the first time in human existence, people are able to be completely self-reliant and have the time to focus on themselves and their place in the world. This is nowhere more apparent than in New York City where I live. Most that come to this city are here for opportunity and career growth. Everyone I know is in some part an individualist, all on a path to success and life fulfillment. America in particular is a major driving force behind individual success. We’re constantly bombarded with images of celebrities, business moguls, and politicians that enhance and highlight this idea of individualism.
Take movies for example. As an actor and filmmaker, I too strive for success in my field, working to be the best at what I do and rise up the ladder. When we watch a movie, there are only a few faces that immediately stick out; the main actors and the director. We often forget how many people it takes to make single film. Have you ever sat and watched the credits at the end of a big budget film?
It’s incredible how many people are involved with the making of that one film. That film needed a community of likeminded “individuals” in order for it to succeed. No one becomes successful without a community of support. Even the people you look at that built companies from the ground up, starting them in their garage or basement, worked with others. They had a small community of likeminded individuals who were working toward a similar goal.
Sharing Our Ideas
Community also gives us the opportunity to share our ideas and grow them among our peers. Have you ever been told, “Nothing happens in a vacuum”? There’s truth to that. When writing my first screenplay, I had to eventually give it to other people for opinions. Having professionals weigh in on my idea only helped it grow better than it ever could with just my eyes on the prize.
Even the greatest authors of our time have editors and fellow artists they trust to review their work and expand upon their ideas. In Stephen King’s On Writing, he talks about how important it is for his wife to review and edit his work. He exclaims without her, his books wouldn’t be what they are today. She is part of his community. Community gives us purpose. It gives us foundation on which to build our ideal lives and it can be just one person.
Individualism vs Collectivism
Today’s individualism has impacted the importance of community in many ways. Focusing intensely on your own trajectory in life often makes you blind to those around you. Time is also a factor. How often have you told yourself that you just don’t have the time? As work days get longer and jobs more demanding we are hard pressed to have the energy to cultivate our friendships and communities. Those communities can fall by the wayside and sometimes wither completely away. You have to make the time for what’s important. Community is important.
The importance of community can be further broken down into the argument of individualism vs collectivism. There are good arguments for both sides. Individualism brings new and uniquely creative ideas into a situation based on that persons experience, whereas collectivism can cause conformity which may squash those ideas. On the other side of the spectrum, collectivism can encourage expansion of thought and the group effort can open up avenues that the individual never thought possible. At the end of the day, you need a little bit of both, which is Dr. Michael Hogan’s argument in this well thought out article about individualism vs collectivism.
Importance of Community: The How & Where
Eric the wizard found his community by meeting his companions on his travels, eventually forming a party of adventurers. In the same way, we build our communities through time. The importance of community becomes more apparent in our travels and interactions. We become part of cultural organizations, meet likeminded people in college or work, play games together. There are numerous ways you can find your perfect community. Many of you probably have communities of your own. If you do, continue to nurture those communities or if they aren’t the right fit, find a new community.
Sometimes you will lose your community. I know I have. I’ve been in and out of various communities through my lifetime. Growing up in North Carolina, family is extremely important. It’s the lifeblood of society. You find many different families over the years. I had a great group of friends for a long time. We were inseparable. Many of these friends I had known since I was very young and we all stuck together even through college. When I decided to move to New York, I left that community behind. It was scary. I had come to rely on that community for feelings of belonging and acceptance. My contentment was being interrupted.
Luckily, I was coming to New York for school. I found a new community of likeminded individuals, all in this lovely world of acting, forming close bonds with several people. That community carried me through several years. I was aloof to the importance of community because I always had it.
The Importance of Community: Change
As I got older, community shifted, changed, and died. My community dwindled and I found myself, years later with very little of it. This is also my fault because I was always so focused on my career and I unknowingly pushed opportunities for new communities away. I kept new friends at an arms reach and told myself it was the right thing to do. Fast forward and I see the missed opportunities for greater community. It’s harder the older you get to put yourself out there. It’s one of my goals moving forward in my life; to be a part of more communities and find ways of adding my own individualism to the collective.
There are many different ways you can find new communities to be a part of. If you feel stuck and unsure about how to start, first look at your life and take stock, because you’d be surprised as to how much community you may already have. A community doesn’t have to be dozens of people, it can be one or two depending on the type of community. I have my family community back home, my community of roleplaying friends, my filmmaking community, and more.
Some of these communities and others aren’t as strong as I would like, but that is on me to nurture those and get more involved. Don’t be afraid. You’d be surprised just how accepting people are when interest is shown and you’ll know pretty quickly if it’s the right community for you. So, reach out to friends who are part of communities that interest you. You can also reach out beyond your friend base by interacting with Social Media Groups or even finding interest groups on places such as Meetup.com.
Taking Steps to Finding Community
The important thing is taking that first step, whether it’s getting more involved in your current communities or finding new ones. If you’re painfully shy, then start online. I used to be painfully shy when I was younger. I still am in certain situations. If I’m around a big group of people I don’t know, I find it really hard to mingle. It scares me. I don’t know why, but I get nervous and withdraw in large groups of strangers. It’s something I’m consistently working on and there is no shame in starting where you are.
We talked in the past about the fact that you can only be who you are in this very moment. So, if you’re a shy person, then start small. The importance of community can grow in micro steps. You can start by e-mailing or texting and then, when you’re ready to meet those individuals, you can choose who and how many. There’s no pressure to jump into a big gathering. It can be overwhelming and have the opposite outcome you desire.
Looking Back In Order To Look Forward
In my last post I had given myself one additional task, because I had failed to do a previous daily task. Remember, failure is going to happen. It’s one of our greatest teachers. You want to fail so that you can learn to get back up and try again, improving with each near miss.
My goal from last time was to additionally write my daily reflections down in a notebook before bed. These reflections were the positive and negative aspects of each day. I had gratitude for the positive and acknowledged the negative. I took each moment in and reflected on it and then let it go. This exercise has allowed me to be okay with where I am at the end of each day. It’s easy to end the day with disappointments or regrets. “I didn’t get everything done I wanted” or “I really sucked at that audition”. Whatever the case may be, it’s not good to end your day with feelings of failure.
I’ve tried to take the moments of disappointment and turn them into moments of inspiration. This allows me to move past them. I can tell myself to try again tomorrow or let it go and reflect on what I learned from it. Remember, life is full of disappointments, but only if you let them become disappointments. You’re in control. You can have the feeling, but you have the power to shift that feeling into something more productive such as gratitude or inspiration. Rather than feeling disappointed at not getting that job, have gratitude for even having the potential opportunity. We forget sometimes how fortunate we are in certain situations. Us that gratitude to propel you up.
Keeping Yourself In Check
The other exercise was to institute a morning check-in with myself. After I walk and meditate in the morning, I take stock of how I’m feeling and just acknowledge how my emotional and physical life is. This goes back to what we were discussing before, this idea of acknowledgment. I can only be where I am in that moment. If I’m feeling sad in the morning, that’s okay. I can check-in and ask myself why and try to move past it. Don’t squash that emotion or deny that it’s there because that’s counterproductive. Harness that feeling and allow it to resonate through your body and reflect. The times I’ve tried to push an emotion away, the harder it comes back, so stop trying to push it away.
This exercise has allowed me to start bringing different aspects of myself into my work. When I’m writing, my current emotional and physical state will reflect that. It gives variety and brings an unexpected voice to the characters. You uncover more about their personality through your experience in that moment. They surprise you and that’s positive. Suddenly a character who felt flat comes alive with personality. That’s the power of the check-in.
Our physical bodies are the vessels that carry our spirit. We have to remember to take care of our bodies because it houses the heart, the brain, the soul. I’m working on becoming a better person, but I have to make sure the temple around that work doesn’t fall into disrepair. I’ve always been an athletic person and the times when I’m not exercising, I’m not happy. Taking care of the body will be next weeks discussion, so I won’t elaborate here, but we all know the benefits of staying healthy.
Eric the wizard may look frail with his flowing robes and scholarly attitude, but he is jacked under all that intelligence…
The first challenge is part of our morning ritual. Upon returning from my walk and meditation, I’ll be setting aside ten minutes to do some light stretching. I’ll specifically be doing some basic Yoga. Stretching is beneficial in many ways, but most importantly it helps move the blood along in the body and keep your limbs loose and relaxed. It also helps with stress. If a part of your body is feeling tense, stretching will help ease that and make you more prepared for a long day of sitting at your desk or moving a lot at your labor intensive job.
If you’re unsure of what do do in the way of stretching, I highly encourage you to YouTube videos of basic Yoga techniques. You can easily find ten minute follow-along videos that will instruct you in correct positioning and technique.
The second challenge for this week is to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day for five out of the seven days. I will likely be doing longer than 30 minute sessions, but if you’re following along, 30 minutes will be our minimum goal. The exercise is totally up to the individual. Some days I run, some I life weights, others I do intense HIT training. Variety is key. You don’t want to become bored with your exercise routine and you also want to make sure you’re exercising different parts of your body. We will talk next week about the benefits and how exercise changes as you get older and also the societal pressures of being fit.
I will be attempting to exercise in the morning after my writing sessions. Mornings for me are better because I’m more inclined to follow through if I get it out of the way early. I’ve found that if I wait till the evening, I’m often unmotivated and less likely to follow through. There’s a science behind this, but we will discuss that next week.
In addition to this new regimen, I will continue all of my other challenges day to day. If this is your first reading, feel free to jump to my first post and check out the other challenges I set myself as I explore my personal dungeon and adventure into the world of self-help.
Striking Into the Darkness
We can’t expect to defeat Disorder the goblin boss without healthy minds and healthy bodies. We also have looked into the importance of community when facing our personal dungeons. As I explore my personal dungeon further, I’ll continue to steel myself against the dangers that lurk around every corner. We’ve only just started this adventure, there are many more problems to solve moving forward if we’re to free our best selves.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. If you’ve enjoyed it, I invite you to like it below, subscribe for further postings, and share it with friends and family you think may benefit from these words. Feel free to comment on this post directly, but please keep it positive and constructive. I’m looking to learn as much as you are. We’re all part of the self-help community.