By: Angela Hugunin

Some of us may be familiar with the Jim Rohn quote: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” To some, this may be an alarming idea. Others may find it thrilling. Some of us may be somewhere in between.

Since moving from my hometown to a new city this past year, I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship and community. It was really tempting for me to enter that new place with a closed mindset. I had great friends back home already; how was I supposed to find new ones that I actually connected with?

Determined to make authentic friendships but unsure of how to do so, I tried my darndest to put myself out there to meet new people. I was fortunate to meet two young women, Emily and Christy, who were in their last year at our university while I was early on in my first year. I was amazed by the synergy of their friendship and the way they allowed—and encouraged—me to be myself right from the get-go. As I met more of their friends, I realized that their kind and open ways of interacting with friends definitely weren’t limited to me. They were intentional throughout their friendships. I realize now that they had truly figured out how to craft community. Their room ended up being a space where I was always welcomed, a space where I knew I could go when I felt down in the dumps or on cloud nine, a space where we gathered as a community that supported each other. With those friends, I was encouraged to dream and share my passions and be true to myself. I was fortunate to be welcomed into a community that was so focused on authentic and positive friendships.

Since first building those new relationships, I’ve done a bit of digging on the topic of positive communities. My searching led me to a podcast where author and motivational speaker, Lori Harder, was interviewed. Harder recently published a book entitled A Tribe Called Bliss. In the interview, she discussed some of the key principles that have guided her own search toward meaningful community:

  1. The people we surround ourself with have the potential to shape who we become. Harder says, “Our beliefs can only go as far as the people around us,” so it’s crucial that we find people who are moving in a direction we also want to be moving in. If we don’t want to be like the people we’re spending the most time with, it may be best to stop spending so much time around them. Harder describes a time when she felt discouraged by the people she was most close to. Wanting to change the way things were going, she wondered what it might look like to surround herself with people who also wanted to improve themselves and follow their passions.

In spending time with Emily and Christy, I found myself shifting the way I acted with my other friends. Because of them, I was more eager to be an even more encouraging friend to others. It amazed me that these incredible young women attracted so many friends who were dynamic, full of dreams, and genuinely inspiring.

  1. Meaningful connections can blossom when we are intentional about prioritizing positive relationships. Soon after resolving to focus on more positive connections, Harder was contacted by a woman she’d never met who had seen her website. She was looking for someone to share goals with, someone to encourage her, someone to go through life alongside, someone who could be an accountability partner. Inspired by the woman’s bravery and impressed by the goals she had, Harder joined this woman she’d never met, along with one other stranger, in a weekly conversation. They were each allotted twenty minutes to discuss their lives. What were they most passionate about? How were their relationships going? Were they stuck in any ruts in their career? What did they want to be doing in life? Harder reports that she left that first conversation feeling more connected to two complete strangers than she did with some of her closest friends. Having set boundaries of where the conversation could go, along with the set intention to support each other, allowed meaningful connections to blossom for these women.

One of my favorite things about befriending Emily and Christy was their take on friendship. They weren’t fair-weather friends, they were always-there-for-you friends. Their version of friendship involved going through life alongside each other. They also managed to prioritize positivity. They didn’t shy away from pain; they were open about when things weren’t going their way. However, they tried to keep their space, and their friendships, free of unnecessary negativity. It was an unspoken rule that when we were together as friends, we would uplift each other. It was also a given that we would keep things gossip free.

  1. Allowing people to be authentic is key to flourishing communities. Another point that struck me was what Harder calls collecting people. While it may sound a bit strange, Harder’s idea can lead to increased freedom and positivity within relationships. She shares that for a long time, she relied on one person to meet all of her needs. This way of operating left them both drained and left little room for encouragement or positivity. After awhile, she realized that she could count on different people for different things. She has friends that she turns to when she craves a deep spiritual conversation. Those friends differ from her best adventure buddy. In her view, seeking groups of people that fulfill different needs isn’t selfish; in fact, she feels that that specialization actually allows people the freedom to be who they are authentically. Rather than approaching relationships with a massive checklist for one person, we can instead allow people to be their true selves and embrace the common things we connect on.

Emily and Christy knew how to let their friends be themselves. Early on in our friendships, we were encouraged to be our most goofy and genuine selves through simple things like outrageous ice breaker questions that really made us think. Activities like that led to deeper connections and deeper understandings of one another. We started to figure out who would be most interested in attending poetry readings as opposed to who might want to go sledding or hiking. Not going on every adventure was okay and even encouraged. That idea came with the invitation to be authentic.

Hearing Lori Harder share some of her insights on building positive community has not only made me thankful for my friends who welcomed me into community at my new school. It also made me even more appreciative of my time here at Find Your Power. I’ve only been an intern here for a few weeks, but that has been more than enough time for me to pick up on the positive sense of community that is pervasive throughout this organization. Everyone I’ve encountered through FYP has been thoroughly excited to be part of a team that’s working toward a lofty and mighty goal: empowering women worldwide. Our time together as staff involves brainstorming ways we can work toward that goal, encouraging creativity, offering encouragement when things don’t go the way we’d hoped they would, and building each other up. Find Your Power doesn’t force us team members to fit a mold. Rather, we are encouraged to think outside that mold. We are given space to think independently while also leaning on the rest of the group.

If you ask me, that kind of “tribe”—one that supports each other and follows passions that ultimately lead to a better world—holds a lot of power. Each of us as has power as an individual, but it never ceases to amaze me just how powerful we can be when we come together.