I’ve had pretty social jobs in the past. And I’m not just talking about my days of being a social media manager. I’ve taken orders and manned the cash register at a Jamba Juice in my hometown. I’ve worked retail during the holidays at Nordstrom. I even did a stint at my alma mater’s call center asking alums for donations. It’s safe to say that in my jobs prior to Commerce Kitchen, I was always communicating with people. I was part of a Community.
Commerce Kitchen is a community. Our Firehouse – that we share with Anneal, Inc. and Lark IT – is a fun place to be; it’s always filled with people who are exciting and bright and hilarious. We have a wellness program that brings us yoga classes or bootcamp classes every single day of the work week. We also are part of a larger community of our friends, families, and those in the Denver/Colorado business communities. There is a strong sense of interconnectedness here in Denver, mostly because if you stay here long enough, you’d be hard-pressed to meet someone who doesn’t know your friend’s cousin or your partner’s ex-boss.
But what happens when you feel disconnected from those communities?
I recently found out what happens.
October was a weird month for me. I had spent the majority of my workdays researching new business development strategies for us. Day after day, I had my face in books and online articles doing hours and hours of reading. I also took two trips in the span of three weeks that pulled me out of the office on a Thursday or Friday – the latter of which is the most social day of the week for us at Commerce Kitchen. I got sick twice over the course of those three weeks, which led me to not participate in any of our Firehouse yoga classes or bootcamps. Needless to say, I was out-of-sorts and so was my work life.
By the time November rolled around, I felt like I was in a funk. I didn’t feel right. The traveling, the researching, the illnesses – they were all getting to me, but I didn’t know how to articulate it.
Community and Culture
In my research, one particular nugget of knowledge really struck me. People have an inherent need to feel like they’re a part of a community.
Let’s start at the macro-level of community. Unfortunately, nothing brings people together in a community like tragedy. Since last Friday, there has been an outpouring of love and support directed towards the people of Paris, who are grieving for their loved ones and their city. Those who know and love Paris understand that its beauty and history are deeply rooted in its streets. But how does Paris recover after such a day of sorrow? Simple: it just does. While I have never been to Paris, those who have say its magic is impermeable. It is a city where the charm and culture live in its streets. They are a part of a very large community of over 2 million people – a community in which people congregate in its streets as if it were its own religion. A community provides its people with a belief or ideology to follow and a culture to live by.
Community and Belongingness
What happens when we distill a community down from the city-level and address something smaller, like a business, school, religious center, gym, or even an audience at a concert? Here, we touch on something more personal than a need for culture: a need to belong. Belongingness is essentially the opposite of isolation. A city, even Paris, cannot provide you with everything you need to feel like you are a part of a community. A mirco-level community, like a business or club, is a group that shares common interests or aspirations. Finding a community like this is the sweet spot of belongingness, because it begins to influence your overall well-being: your motivation, your health, and most importantly, your happiness.
Community and Happiness
So what happened to me in October?
I felt isolated. That’s what I had struggled to articulate for so many days.
For starters, I cut myself off from my Firehouse community in more ways than one. On the micro-level, I felt isolated by my research and not making everyday contributions to our company community. I had limited communication with the sales team as well as the Commerce Kitchen team as a whole. Being on both the business development and admin side of things at a technology company didn’t help my situation. While everyone was doing great things on cool projects and working as a team, I felt incredibly distant from my coworkers. I isolated myself even further from this community by traveling and getting sick, both of which influenced my ability to participate in our larger Firehouse community. On the macro-level, I had limited engagement in the larger Denver business community by not attending many meetups or events – two things that are often staples in my average month.
Towards the end of the month and into November, my feeling of isolation began to affect my productivity, my motivation, and my overall happiness.
In analyzing what went wrong for me in October, I began to think about the 2011 documentary, Happy. A theme in the film is that of having a sense of community and belonging. Sound familiar? Interestingly enough, the Danes seem to have it figured out. Denmark, repeatedly named one of the happiest countries in the world, provides free education through college for its citizens, as well as free healthcare for life. More notably, however, is the fact that the Danes have more people living in what are known as “cohousing communities” than any other modern, industrialized nation in the world. Cohousing is a form of intentional community building: the people that live in these communities share responsibilities of cooking, maintenance, and childcare. They are part of a tight-knit, micro-community that provides them with a place to belong and a place to be needed.
I had underestimated the value of the Commerce Kitchen community until I felt like I wasn’t a part of it anymore. Our business is sometimes a tough one. Working in technology is often many things: exhilarating, overwhelming, frustrating, fascinating. Never did I think it could be isolating, especially at a company like ours. But therein lies my struggle: when cut off from the community here at Commerce Kitchen – a community filled with my mentors, role models, friends, and some of my favorite people in the world – what other community do I have?
It seems like I’m still searching for that place that I belong outside of work. But I do understand the need for that place. We all should.
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