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Last night, I attended a virtual Zoom meeting for my local Tuesday’s Together chapter. Today I woke up thinking about community and how much of a role it has played in my life and business. (The above photo is from our last in-person meetup in March 2020!)
First of all, I’ll say I am very fortunate to have a supportive family, partner, and circle of friends. I would be nothing without them. But for me, as an artist and solopreneur, I wanted more. I wanted to meet local people who I could connect with about art, about small business, about this stage of life.
I attended a liberal arts college to study art upon graduating high school. By my second year, I had gravitated to the large, open-concept printmaking room in Westby Hall and basically never left. This is where I met a rotating cast of artistic characters, many of whom I am still connected to over a decade later. These were my people and they made making art fun. (See below photo for a throwback photo of some of my favorite Westby Warriors)
As many folks know, the feeling of graduating into the real world as an adult can be abrupt, tumultuous, and quite frankly- scary! I chose to attend graduate school which bought me a little more time, but it didn’t stave off the feeling of isolation; it was a total 180 from the bustling art environment I had been accustomed to.
Blah blah blah and fast-forward to 2016 when I quit my full-time job to go solo in my business. All along, I had found community through my personal relationships at work and at home, but now I felt like I was living on artrepreneur island. It took some time, but I soon realized I had to be proactive and look beyond what I knew.
Meeting new people and making friends as an adult is hard. But here’s the thing: it’s hard and awkward for everyone! Push through the discomfort and just show up. And KEEP showing up. Not everyone you meet will be your cup of tea or an insta-bestie. However, with time, KNOW that you will find at least one person in the group who IS your kind of person. And that’s a great hit rate! Maybe you continue to show up and find the group isn’t the right fit? That’s okay too- now you’ve clarified what you want out of a professional community and likely expanded your network to boot.
As valuable as I’ve found in-person connections to be, I certainly don’t want to discount online communities either. In 2013 I attended Paper Camp, a course to learn about wholesaling in my industry. Because of attending the event, I was able to join the corresponding Facebook group and have since signed on as a member of Proof to Product Labs, the supplementary continuing-education group. The membership to this group has been pivotal in the growth of my business! (See below for my 2013 Paper Camp class!)
My journey seeking community has been full of starts and stops. Coffee dates, meeting for beers, a book club, a failed group of my own, being stood up, feeling less-than, feeling over-qualified, driving for over an hour, driving 5 minutes down the road- oh, then a global pandemic fully stopping the momentum. But as the pandemic has shown, living in a silo is no good for anyone. Invest in yourself by seeking out "your" people, whether via a professional group or a peer group- it will pay you back in dividends!