This week's dispatch comes to you from The Niche Movement, where it was originally published. I don't typically cross post in this fashion, but I felt this was an important message for this set. Enjoy!
I have a confession to make: even though I left my job late last year to go it alone as a “free agent,” I still participate actively on a text thread with my former co-workers.
Yes, the fact that we became good friends when we worked together plays a big role in that. But I am also still fumbling to find my new “tribe,” as Seth Godin would put it. While I love the idea of working alone (introverts LOVE that), I know that I’ll need to team up at times, and finding the minds that I’ll be doing that with is going slowly so far.
It was with that need in mind that I dove into Samuel Schreiner’s The Concord Quartet, about the transcendentalist movement that seemingly miraculously planted itself and flourished in Concord, MA, a place I had grown to love during my years in New England through visits to Thoreau’s famed Walden Pond, and the Orchard House chronicled in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. The more I visited, the more I learned about the connections between Thoreau, Louisa May’s father Bronson Alcott, and other neighbors in the area- namely the philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, and renowned author Nathaniel Hawthorne.
By reading about their migration toward one another, their contributions to one another’s work, and the movement they built, I started to learn more about what I’m looking for in a support circle/mastermind group/colony of creators. The Transcendentalists did this primarily through “Monday meetings” organized by Emerson- I’m still seeking out my equivalent, and here’s what I’m hoping to find.
Space to think and create. Alcott, Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau all struck a balance between private space to work, and a common space where ideas could be bounced off one another. The latter was generally provided by the lower salon of Orchard House, as well as Emerson’s first-floor study. Conversely, Thoreau and Hawthorne in particular also voiced and pursued a need to work independently, and were given license to do so.
When working with others, I’d like to find fellow solo creators who occasionally come together for inspiration, meaningful collaboration, and support in times of struggle or block. Having it happen in a named house isn’t necessary, but I’d settle for occasional meetings in a coworking space or time over brunch to brainstorm!
Superconnectors. Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott were connected to one another through Elizabeth Peabody, a Concord neighbor who later became Nathaniel Hawthorne’s sister-in-law. Every circle needs these sorts of “superconnectors,” or individuals who are hyper aware of the skill sets and personalities in a given circle and can create meaningful connections within it. Even given their proximity, who knows if three of the most powerful minds of the time period would have connected so meaningfully?
Who are the superconnectors in your circle of friends or colleagues? These are valuable people to know- I strongly recommend finding them, and using their powers for good :)
Freedom to disagree. Writer Charles M. Blow (Fire Shut Up In My Bones) shared the following quote a few weeks ago on Twitter, and I found it to be an incredibly powerful one:
You will never agree with anyone 100% of the time, nor should you expect to. Social media has distorted this. Real friends aren't sycophants.
In a world where a heated argument based in philosophical disagreement can easily result in an angry “unfollow” or “unfriending,” I long for a time when we didn’t base the strength of our friendships on the desire to hit a “thumbs up” or “heart” icon. Friends, collaborators, and colleagues disagree. They’re supposed to. This diversity of thought keeps our arguments vital and expands our worldview. This sentiment struck me again and again as I read about a prolonged argument, based in hurt feelings, between Emerson and Thoreau that was eventually resolved because of a mutual respect for one another. Indeed, Hawthorne didn’t deem himself a Transcendentalist and was even known to shy away from Bronson Alcott’s extended diatribes about this thing or that, spent time with these men and sought their thoughts and opinions on his work because he respected their minds and their skills. I want to find these people who I admire for their minds and skills, but also want to find folks with whom I disagree or think differently. I want to see how it informs my work- who knows what movements it’ll create?
A form of protection. In truth, this observation has less to do with the book, and more to do with the environment in which I read most of it. I spent my holiday break in Kenya with family, part of which took place at a wildlife resort called The Ark (for precisely the reason you’re thinking). One evening, a group of elephants were outside our window at a salt lick...as were a group of hyenas. The group of elephants included all sizes and ages, and I was pleased to see how even the smallest ones could move freely. However, once it was decided that the hyenas presented a significant threat, a curious thing happened- three or four larger elephants surrounded the smallest one, constantly shifting to ensure that it wasn’t visible to the hungry hyenas.
Part of the reason I’m seeking to find a group I align with professionally is so I can have precisely this happen- be able to move freely and learn the landscape, but be protected against imminent threats I might not know to look out for (American tax law being an excellent example).
Do you have people like this around you? What other qualities do you need?