I once lost my skirt in an upscale New York restaurant. Sliding across a long back booth to head to the ladies’ room after dinner, my silk wrap skirt became unwrapped and wound up pooled on the floor over my feet. Instead of gathering it up quietly and sneaking out of the room, I yelled too loudly, “Oh, my God”. Most in the room stopped their conversations and stared at me in my black undies (thankfully new and undamaged by the washing machine). I was still laughing as I walked back from the ladies’ room after putting myself together and received a standing ovation (undoubtedly, the only one I’ll ever get). There was a sense of community and support in a roomful of strangers that night. They felt what I was feeling and empathized.
There’s magic in a sense of community and it’s not easy to create but it’s a powerful force. Not long ago, I was a partner in a start-up company striving to succeed in a competitive, crowded space. Everyone who joined the organization was encouraged to take responsibility for the venture’s success by their actions. Yes, there was a sense of winning against the big, established players in the field but there was also the pride of building something special against the odds. There was a great deal of honesty and transparency about the challenges we faced. By sharing some of our challenges, we showed we weren’t afraid of being vulnerable. In return, we built social connections with the team and everyone felt we were climbing a mountain together. We had created a community who took joy in our collective successes and were driven to remedy problems.
Building strong communities is the answer and, as women, we are particularly well suited to interacting with honesty and compassion, not feeling as though we have to be distant or tough to be respected. The pretense of trying to appear perfect or super intelligent rings false. When we are open and real, unafraid of being vulnerable, we establish a connection that creates the same sense of community I experienced in the restaurant. Over a period of time, that feeling builds on itself and amazing things happen.