The Importance of Community

04/01/2015 05:25 pm ET | Updated Jun 01, 2015
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Throughout high school, college and after college, many of us are on a mission to have the highest number of friends possible. For some reason, we think it's quantity over quality. We're certain that we'll be cooler, happier and more popular based on a higher number - especially when social media comes into play. 'How many Facebook friends do you have?' 'How many Instagram followers do you have?' people ask one another. Let's be honest here, 1/3 of your Facebook friends are people that you met once at a party in college or through a friend and would never connect with again (let alone say hi to them if you saw them on the street!) At one point in time it seemed cool to increase your number of Facebook friends.

As we get older, we recognize the importance of having friends who are authentic and genuine - people who love, respect and support us. Most of us are happier with a handful of best friends who we can truly rely on compared to 25 friends who don't really mean as much to us.

As I started my business in 2014, I had been in touch with nine different girlfriends over a period of a few weeks. We were trying to make dinner plans. I decided instead of trying to make nine different dinner plans to host a potluck at my apartment. I asked everyone to bring a favorite dish and whatever they wanted to drink. Everyone was extremely excited and open to this idea. The majority of the ladies had never met before and knew nothing about each other prior to walking into my apartment.

Each woman arrived with homemade food, a bottle of wine and seemingly everyone had a Whole Foods Market bag in tow. Once everyone settled in, we dug into the delicious assortment of food and chatted about our lives - work, friendships, relationships, family, interests and more. At times, everyone was listening to one person speak. In other moments, there were several one-on-one conversations taking place. I had a few moments of observing and acknowledging that I had put this great group of ladies together and that they seemed to really be enjoying themselves.

The following day, my friend Alyson Valpone said, "Our beautiful vulnerabilities are expressed not only through stories of our successes and struggles but also through the food we consciously or sub-consciously chose to bring that evening: A first-attempt homemade Raw Food recipe; The latest 'fad' condiments; a dish with a personal story just as pure as the ingredients. We come into the evening not knowing how our stories or our dishes will be received by the group but we end up leaving feeling nourished and delighted by both what we've heard and what we ate."

Shortly after this potluck, I realized how important a sense of community was in my life. This group consisted of both women who were business owners in similar industries as well as others who work in completely different sectors. Each of us share a personal connection to health, wellness, personal development, music and travel.

I was also seeking a group of women who would support, motivate, push and drive me in the direction of making my career as successful, inspiring and motivating as possible. And of course, I wanted them to feel the same about me and other members of the group. I wanted to know I could reach out to them with a business idea and not feel stupid about it if it wasn't the best.

My friend Laura Fisher also shared her thoughts on the group, "Connecting with a community of like-minded women has added a new dimension to my life. I had been feeling like my social life, my spiritual life, and my business life were 3 separate worlds, and suddenly I have a community where I can flow easily in and out of all 3 of those areas and feel understood. Our dinner conversations jump from floating a new business idea to how to kindly dump a guy that we are no longer interested in seeing - and no matter what we are talking about, the lack of judgement that is present is something that I really haven't experienced before, even with some of my dearest friends."

We just had our fourth potluck - we've rotated the location of the potluck from one apartment to another, from Chelsea to Bushwick to Harlem and often have themes or topics of discussion. During the second potluck, several of the ladies recognized that the topics we were discussing were things that they never discussed with their best friends of 10+ years. They brought up things they didn't know other people thought about and even more so, spoke about. Instead of sharing new year's resolutions, we shared three things we wanted to feel this year.

It was quite powerful.

As my intentions in creating a community of like-minded thinkers became more clear, I began to conceptualize exactly what I wanted to achieve.

Here are five questions that I considered in terms of creating or joining a community:

1. What are your values and what values do you want to be aligned within the community?
2. What is the purpose and goal of creating or joining a community?
3. How often do you want to engage with your community (ex: daily, weekly, monthly, etc.)?
4. How do you want to structure your community (ex: private Facebook group, Meetup, Google group, in-person meeting, dinner party etc.)?
5. What do you have to offer the group and what do you want to receive? How can you share and collaborate?

With these questions answered, a plunge in creating or joining a community can become a reality. It's important to feel a commonality between yourself and the other members of your community. It can help you grow and expand your business and/or career goals, make new friends, get turned on to new hobbies and interests and more. There's no requirement to having too little or too many people in your group, it can be as big or small as you'd like.

On top of my monthly potluck, I'm part of a group of young active New Yorkers who meditate and meet once a month. I'm also in several private Facebook groups - people that I completed my coaching training with, people with my immune deficiency and people with chronic illnesses. Each of these groups and their dynamics are extremely different, serve distinct purposes and are beneficial to me and the other members in their own way.

Communities are helpful to join or create because they provide support to the individuals who are impacted by the daily stress, struggles and chaos of modern life. Consider the five questions that I noted as you determine what type of community you are looking to build or join. Going in with a clear intention allows you to garner exactly what it is that you want to gain from having a group of people that you can trust and rely on.