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Joel Zaslofsky Headshot

How to Unite With Movements and Ignite Them From Within

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You're not alone.

It's difficult to navigate in and filter through all the amazing movements these days. Collaborative consumption. Microcredit. Minimalism. The list goes on...

Maybe you just want to feel a constant drip of inspiration. Perhaps you have a spiritual void that needs to be filled by something other than organized religion. Regardless of your past reasons for joining (or avoiding) movements, there's never been a better time to attach yourself to a big cause.

But where to start? And how can you ignite a movement from within once you've joined?

You don't always need to have your fingerprints all over a movement. But sometimes, you just want to dig deep and leave a legacy outside of your family and local community.

It can be done. It will be done. The tools to find movements that align with your values -- and will shape your future values -- are yours for the taking. More on that in a moment. But first, a quick story.

I started what I call my "Personal Renaissance" about three years ago when my wife Melinda told me, "I'm pregnant." Those two simple words were the catalyst for a rapid personal evolution enabled by the quality of the movements I joined.

As someone who was raised Jewish but gradually drifted into atheism, I needed a new foundation to focus my moral compass on. This is where the Paleo lifestyle and Minimalism came into play. I wanted to generate my vitamin D from the sun and not from a pill. I needed to remove the excess of three decades spent floating along and acquiring -- relationships, "stuff," and mental cobwebs -- without direction. The question was how.

Blogs were my portal to movements that super-charged my Personal Renaissance. From link to link, I went further down the rabbit hole. It worked for me even if it's not a great strategy for most people. However, there are more efficient and intentional ways to explore new movements like:

  • Community-based: I love the collaborative consumption community, but you may be passionate about slowing down when you eat. Fortunately, Meetup.com is not the only tool for finding communities that resonate with you. Twitter hashtags (e.g. #curating or #simplicity), Google+ Communities, and other options will reveal the causes that, well, cause your heart to sing.
  • Blog-based: Technorati, Alltop, Regator, and similar websites slice-and-dice blogs into categories and sub-categories for any interest. Finding thought leaders and new grass-roots movements in the blog-o-sphere can be a snap.
  • Communication-based: Instead of asking someone new what they do or where they live, how about asking them what movements they are a part of? Discovering what motivates a person for fun, recreation, or generating deep meaning can expose some amazing movements you'll want to join too.

Finding what seems to be an amazing movement and knowing that this new cause will bring fulfillment are two different things though. Taking a cause for a test drive is essential and there are many ways to do this. Here are my favorites:

  1. Vote with your money: Spend your money on the products and services supported by or representative of the movement. Want to go Paleo? Buy some Vibram FiveFingers shoes and befriend a local farmer who will sell you half a grass-fed cow.
  2. Volunteer: Every movement needs volunteers, right? Google the name of the movement, your geographic area, and the word "volunteer" to find some local ones. For a more refined process, use Charity Navigator or GuideStar to find organizations associated with your movement. Don't limit yourself to what's local as there are plenty of virtual andmicro-volunteer opportunities too.
  3. Online forums: Even new or small movements have online forums discussing or dedicated to them. Finding the forums, seeing what people are saying, and uncovering the movement's main themes is just a Google search away. In the Google search box, type "keyword inurl:forum OR inurl:forums" while replacing the word "keyword" with yourspecific movement. For example, if I wanted to search for Paleo forums, it would look like this: Paleo inurl:forum OR inurl:forums.

OK. So now you've found and test driven a number of movements. Now what?

Light their internal fire in your unique way.

One way is to contact the founders or the most prominent members if you're comfortable going straight to the top. Most people would rather engage the influencers of the top dogs though. If that's you, find out what motivated the influencers to join the movement, who they feel the influencers of the cause are, and anything that keeps them inspired.

Keep in mind that the fastest and strongest bonds are often found by engaging the rank and file members. After all, you want to connect deeply with the people of the movement, not just the movement itself. Right? Have one of these passionate foot soldiers introduce you to an influencer or a leader. Then milk the opportunity to express what the movement means to you, what you've achieved by being part of it, and how eager you are to play a greater role in the future. Just a single interaction with the influencers and leaders can have an amazing impact on the direction they take the movement. Never underestimate the power of fresh eyes, original thinking, and persuasive communication in shaping the views of even the most revered of figures. If you have a better way to find out who else you need to talk to, what you could do, and how to make your insights flourish, I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

So start tapping into the collective awareness of your online and offline communities or networks. Vote with your money, volunteer, join online forums, and dig for other creative ways to explore movements (from the outside and from within). And then ignite or rekindle the cause's flame with strategies that align with your personality.

It can be done. It will be done.