This is photo of my fabulous swimming crew on an autumn trip to Sharrah Pool on the River Dart a couple of years back. Here we are, messing about after a freezing, fast-flowing swim, in freer, happier times.
Amongst our number is Fran, my friend and fellow adventurer for the past 30 years. Fran took her own life a few weeks ago — a massive shock and devastating loss for the many of us who knew and loved her.
In the bewildering aftermath of her death, an army of friends and neighbours have rallied for her partner and boys. A vast outpouring of selfless love, compassion and collective support that is frankly humbling to witness. It’s a long road for her family from here but this incredible group of people will do everything in their power to carry them through as they heal.
It’s been one whole year since the pandemic hit, a scythe through whole sectors of our economy, to jobs, businesses, livelihoods, lives. Yet throughout it all I’ve been amazed at the way people have come together to help one another.
I’m unbelievably grateful for the support I’ve received personally this year — it’s been a really tough one. But it’s not just in my personal life: I’ve never felt so much encouragement in my working life too.
Is it just me, or has the business world become a nicer, kinder, less competitive, more collaborative place in this past year?
Community at work
Everywhere I look I’m seeing more genuine acts of kindness, empathy and compassion in the business and freelance community than ever before.
Online is where we reside for now, and I’m certainly seeing it here. Never have I viewed LinkedIn as an uplifting platform to spend time on, but this year it’s felt different to me. It’s been heartening to witness and feel the support offered across the network on a daily basis — conversations, commiserations and congratulations, encouragement and empathy, advice, helpful connections — humanity at its best.
Last week, I joined Mark Masters and the You Are the Media community for the start of their Month of Learning. Online, of course, but no less personal. Based from Bournemouth, with Mark and his boundless enthusiasm at the helm, this is one of the best examples I’ve experienced of a small business community working together to connect, learn, support one another and have a load of fun in the process. It’s kept a lot of people buoyant in the last twelve months, including me.
There’s much to learn from Mark’s approach. As Sharon and I work out how to forge our own community around the School of Valuable Content, we’ll take lessons here.
“The difference between audience and community is the way we face the chairs.” — Chris Brogan
Learning from trees
My friend Nen, Fran’s partner, introduced me to the secret life of trees. She tells me that individual trees in forests are connected by root systems and shared fungal networks deep below the ground. To reach their enormousness, each tree depends on a complicated web of relationships and alliances. They share water and nutrients via these underground networks, and use them to communicate, sending distress signals about drought, disease, or insect attack, so other trees alter their behaviour.
For young saplings in deeply shaded parts of the forest, this mycorrhizal network is a lifeline. Lacking much of the sunlight they need to photosynthesise, they survive because bigger trees pump sugar into their roots.
Trees have evolved to help and support their neighbours. And it’s this cooperation and interdependency that makes them strong.
What may look like a forest of towering, self-sufficient loners, competing for water, nutrients and sunlight, is actually something bigger, something deeply connected and communal.
Community will save us
Like trees, we are communal beings. Our need for connection and collaboration is primal — certainly a counter to the isolation and separation many of us have felt in Covid-sponsored times.
A client of mine, a small business owner I admire, admitted recently to feeling ‘professionally lonely’. As a freelancer, I understand that and have felt that way too. But when I immerse myself in supportive networks like You Are The Media or spend time with our Valuable Content school crew I remember that help and reassurance is always there if you look.
Where would we be without community? It’s been so evident this last year and I hope these relationships, alliances and mutual support networks only strengthen as we hesitantly ease out of lockdown.
In business and in life, we need strong communities more than ever. Perhaps community isn’t even the right word for it. Perhaps a better one is friends.
Thanks again for all the generous support you’ve given me this year. If there’s anything I can do for you in return, just shout. And please remember, you are not alone.
(I’m running the Classic Quarter, on the coastal path from Lizard Point to Lands End in May 2021 in Fran’s memory, raising funds for ActionAid, her favourite charity. You can find out more here: Team Fran Just Giving Page.)