As humans we are inherently social creatures. It’s important for all of us, especially women, to have a sense of belonging and connection. As we age and our circumstances change, it can become much harder to make friends and combat those feelings of loneliness that can come from loss of friendships, divorce or children growing up and moving away from home. All of us need to find our tribe and understand the importance of Networks and Community.
I’ve written about this before when talking about Who’s On Your Team, which speaks to how crucial it is to have a bunch of people available to help with your overall mental health.
What’s the difference between a network and a community?
I saw it written in an article I read some time ago “Networks Connect and Communities Care”. Another way of looking at this is that you (as an individual) are part of a community, but a network is your own.
A network is a connection between people for the mutual benefit of both. People with which to trade information and create relationships with mutual benefits. Contributing to someone else’s success as well as benefitting yourself from their knowledge. I.e. I need something and I know I can connect with someone who can help me get it.
A community is a group of like minded people (teammates, friends, neighbours etc) who come together for a common goal. Community gives us a strong personal connection with others and a sense of belonging. It embraces a sense of pride and spirit and a sense of self. Think about Mardi Gras. A perfect example of community. People coming together for a common goal. Sharing personal connections, feeling a sense of belonging and embracing their own pride and spirit as well as of all those around them.
Technology is not community
In our ever connected and digital world it’s all about likes and followers and levels of interaction. This though is not community. It definitely helps to amplify and enhance it, but it’s not actually community itself. Technology can extend our social connections in amazing ways but what it lacks is personal connection.
Understanding the importance of connection
When I first moved to a new area and got a first hand understanding of the importance of community, I did so with a fairly naïve idea of what it would be like to establish myself someplace new. I was fairly newly married and very pregnant with my first child. We left the city for a job opportunity and ended up in a rural farming town about 4hours out of Sydney. The ex had a job and therefore an immediate sense of connection with people. I on the other hand, was unemployed, very pregnant, very sick and I knew no one. Try as I might to meet people, to connect and to find friends (mothers’ groups, craft classes, baby music time and more) I realised almost immediately the unconscious bias of the town’s general population. You are not local and so therefore we don’t want to get close. Happy as they were to chat in the supermarket and coo over my new baby, no one wanted to be friends. I was very lonely.
When I next moved across the across the city with two young kids in tow, we certainly met some nice people and were connected with a new group fairly soon, however forming good solid friendships which were genuine & supportive in an already tight community was still very hard for me to do.
Apparently it can take up to 3years to settle into a new place, make friends, establish solid connections and build that sense of community. So last year, in my latest move – in with my partner, I’ve been much more open minded about the challenges I know I’ll face. Not having the kids at school here adds another element to this (as any parent will tell you, having that avenue of connection really helps to open up avenues for friendships).
That being so, I’ve had to look for other ways to grow my networks and the community around me. I’ve been a bit more specific and very intentional about how I did this and even though I’m still in the middle of that slow slog now (and at times it can still seem a bit overwhelming), I can see things working for the better. I know what I want, I know why I want it and I have a clear idea of how I can get there.
Get yourself out there
Making friends and meeting people can be hard. To do this you need to get yourself to places where other people hang out. You need to put yourself out there. Make the effort, use your initiative, don’t wait for others to come to you.
You also need to remember to stay positive. Not everyone will connect with you the first time round, some things happen very slowly. Friendships and connection require a certain amount of time as well as give and take and as well as trying to connect with others, be open and ready to receive invitations that come your way.
It’s never too late in life to make new friends. Investing the time in friendships and connections can have an enormous impact on your holistic health. Not only mentally and socially but in an all around happier you.
Just Be You, Everyday,