Relationships (and Community) Are More Important Than Ambition

Posted on Apr 18, 2013 in Business, Living Creatively | 8 comments

“Community means more than many of us realize,” he says. “It certainly means more than your job.”

in Relationships Are More Important Than Ambition – Emily Esfahani Smith – The Atlantic.

Fire truck at block party, image.

We talk a lot – A LOT – about community. But we usually talk about it in the context of our niche, our passion. The crafts community, the maker community, the knitting community, the publishing community. We talk about it in the context of our audience, either real or possible. We talk about it in the context of marketing, of networking, of blogging.

I love this piece in The Atlantic about the importance of community in life. And I think we can learn a lot about our work communities by examining them through this lens.

Greg and I have lived in our house for eleven years. It’s longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere else. But for a good chunk of this time I was not particularly enamoured of our neighbourhood. It’s sleepy and most of our friends don’t live here. There’s not much culture here. There’s not much activity here, period.

Over the last few years, though, I’ve let the negativity go, mostly because we know our neighbours. We know their names. We know their kids. The teenager three doors down babysits for us. We have a block party every summer. We’re not close friends, but we keep in touch. We know who’s pregnant, who’s ill, who’s getting married. We lend and borrow power tools; we trim each others’ hedges and trees. In the warmer months we can step outside and instantly have conversation and play.

And through Owen, we’ve gotten to know people in the broader neighbourhood whose kids go to preschool with him. So now we even have friends who live right near us. And though I don’t love them any more than I love my old friends across town, I take a deep and significant delight in bumping into them at the grocery store or making last-minute plans to go to the park or having them stop by unannounced.

I can’t properly express to you how much this all makes me happy. It’s a deep-down happiness I’d like to experience forever. And the article I mentioned above makes me think about being more neighbourly in my work community, too, because I don’t think it’s an either-or thing. I don’t think you need to sacrifice work ambition for a healthy home community, especially for those of us who work primarily in a virtual world and don’t need to move to achieve success. (Regardless, I certainly don’t think community is something unique to small towns; you can most definitely find and/or make it in massive cities, too.)

In my work life, I’d like to remember to stop and say hello more frequently, to reach out when my acquaintances need help or support, to have a chat with people I might not otherwise encounter save for their proximity to me. Our not-in-person relationships are just as important, and can be just as satisfying, as the in-person ones. I do a fair job at keeping abreast of the lives of my closest far-flung colleagues, but I could be more neighbourly with the people I don’t know quite as well. I could give more nods in passing, more responses to questions, a few minutes of help. I could be a better work neighbour, and I think I’d be happier for it.

I’m going to try to keep this in mind, and to act on it.

  • Mary Beth Temple

    On the theory of not either/or, I offer this article I read in the NYT magazine last week. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/31/magazine/is-giving-the-secret-to-getting-ahead.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 Sort of related topics I think – I read the Atlantic piece too and both have gotten me thinking.

  • http://www.kimwerker.com/ Kim Werker

    Wow, Mary Beth. I wasn’t planning to spend twenty minutes this morning reading that whole article, but I just did. What a fascinating man, and a load of food for thought. Very much related to this post. Thanks so much for sharing it!

  • kristi

    How funny to come across this today as I come from walking the dog, reinvigorated not just from the walk and a beautiful spring day, but by my chats with neighbors. Maybe Sesame Street colors my worldview with “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” (Owen will love these!). Maybe my neighborhood is special, but I don’t think it has to be. We all do things for one another… bring out the trash cans, bring a meal to the new mother, feed the cat, or just spend 15 minutes talking with the elderly neighbor as she shuffles up the street with her walker. I would not say that our neighborhood is homogenous or like-minded. There are many points upon which we agree to disagree (or don’t even ask), but I am confident that my kids have a dozen doors to knock on if they need to. Particularly at a time that many of us live away from our families and hometowns, I think our kids benefit from learning what it means to be part of a community this way.

  • http://www.kimwerker.com/ Kim Werker

    I so agree, Kristi. Part of what I love about our relationship with our neighbours is that they’re not a homogeneous bunch. I’m so inclined to spend time with people who are like me; my neighbourhood is where I get to break through that narrow-minded inclination. I need to dig up that song for Owen, for sure.

  • http://www.kimwerker.com/ Kim Werker

  • maren

    Kim, thank you for this post! I definitely agree. I’ve also realized this year that I’d really like to look for a job elsewhere because I have had difficulties with my boss, but have cultivated such good relationships with my other colleagues that it’s hard to contemplate it….

  • Pingback: Givers, Matchers and Takers | Kim Werker

  • http://www.kimwerker.com/ Kim Werker

    That’s a really tough situation, Maren. I hope you find a way to work it out so you’re happy!

  • maren

    Well, it was taken care of for me today — my boss said that she doesn’t have a position for me next year (I work in a school). It’s probably a good thing, even though it never feels good to be rejected…I know it’s partly because we have had a difficult time (I’m pretty sure part of it is that she feels threatened by me), not just because she’s decided to reconfigure positions. It’s frustrating to feel like someone has power over you, and I’m also a bit angry that I had to ask her point blank instead of her letting me know straight up. But I’m fairly sure I can find something else, and at least I have the freedom to explore new possibilities without second-guessing whether I should leave my present position!