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How Building Community Can Change Your Life and Your Brand

January 19, 20244 min read

One of my most vivid memories from elementary school was crying hysterically, crumpled in a heap by my desk, when my second grade teacher assigned a group project. I may have been a tad melodramatic, but I just knew that too much of the work was going to land on my shoulders. And perfectionist me knew that what others did I would likely redo, because, hello, perfectionism. 

With age, I definitely became less melodramatic — thank goodness. But, I did not become a bigger fan of group projects. In fact, long before Sheryl Sandburg popularized the concept of lean in feminism, I believed that I could do it all if I simply tried hard enough. And not only had I convinced myself that I could do it all, I had somehow come to the conclusion that I could do it all on my own with no assistance whatsoever.

But, life has a funny way of shaking up even your longest held beliefs.

Just over 18 months ago, I was diagnosed with one of the rarest autoimmune diseases — relapsing polychondritis — that attacks all of the cartilage in the human body. And, in a crash course in anatomy, I quickly learned that cartilage is almost everywhere in the human body. Even though next generation biologics have changed the disease trajectory for many people, I am one of those who have a treatment refractory disease and my prognosis is poor, as I have entered palliative care.

Seemingly overnight, I went from being a long distance runner and mountain climber to literally having to crawl up and down the stairs in my house. Weeks have passed when I have been unable to leave my house except to be driven to my next doctor’s appointment, and a shower often leaves me needing to take a two hour nap.

Effort no longer led to success — even maximal effort simply meant surviving to battle another day. Luckily, I have been surrounded by communities of love — both those built on shared DNA and those fostered through shared passions. And, these communities have rallied to my side with meals and rides and shoveling my driveway on snowy New England days. Kind deed by kind deed, I have learned that things work better as a community when we all share our comparative advantages. 

Looking back, I wish that it had not taken a life-altering illness to transform my attitude toward co-working. But, my recent journey has taught me three things that are broadly applicable: 

  1. To build an effective and resilient co-working and community network, it is sometimes necessary to put our pride on a back burner. The first time that I had to ask my network for help with my medical GoFundMe was so hard. Reaching out felt like a failure and a reflection on my character. What I learned though is that people truly want to help. But, they cannot help until they know what you need. Do not be afraid to articulate your needs! 

  2. It is important to think about the broader war and not the individual battle, while simultaneously reframing expectations. I am blessed with a “Laundry Fairy” (everyone should have one — they are even better than the Tooth Fairy). My Laundry Fairy, however, folds things differently than I do. Old me would have thrown up my hands in frustration and taken back the laundry chore. New me understands that towels being rolled versus folded is not important, and that what matters is finding sustainable solutions. Sometimes good enough is truly outstanding. 

  3. We need to rethink who and what our communities are and what skills different people bring to the table. Like with many people, prior to my illness, I believed that I had a small handful of close friends and a slightly broader group of friends. What I have learned is that my community is both broader and deeper than I ever could have imagined. And, I also learned that sometimes entirely unexpected people can step up and be your hero in the moment. Again, the key is opening yourself up to possibilities. 


Note from the Founder: If you’re a small business owner with lots on their plate and are searching for community, IvyHill PR is launching a special program called Thrive Together to help. It takes everything Bree discussed here and applies it to leveling up your business in a way that works for you. Click here to learn more and get in touch if you have more questions!

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