3 things I learned from creating a community
[13 March, 21:00]
For those of you who are following this blogging journey, welcome back. Doughnut, one of my cats, is keeping me company as I write this post. Since she couldn’t nap on my lap (my computer is rudely taking up her spot), she very sweetly insisted on resting her front paws on my leg as if I were some tree branch and she was a panther. I am forced to stay here and make the most of my adorable imprisonment by writing. How fortuitous!
This week, I want to talk about the delights of building a community.
The TFQ Book Club
I’m a part of various communities:
A silent member of the fountain pen community;
Alumni of the Rhodes University community;
Student at a local art class;
Co-founder of an exclusive Formula 1 watching club (complete with inside jokes and online groups);
but my favourite is the one I’m nurturing: the TFQ Book Club. I’ve wanted to incorporate books into my professional life for the longest time, and now I have enough time and resources to do it. It’s such an excellent feeling to read without guilt. I read with more than just regular curiosity; I now want to share the best parts of all my books with my little community.
Why I started the TFQ book club
I wanted to create a social club that had little to do with professional skills, instead focusing on developing a culture of sharing. Personally, the Book Club is designed to foster healthy discussions, welcome like-minded people, and practice active listening. From a community perspective, I wanted this to be a shame-free space to chat about stories in all their written forms. Whether members read literature or non-fiction, as long as they furthered the sense of community and delighted in the stories offered, I knew it was working. There are no rules about genre, format, or language. And this makes it more welcoming to those who don’t read all the time as some members tend to.
And speaking of members, I thought creating this community would be difficult.
I had to:
Consolidate a vision and mission
Design sustainable marketing assets that can be updated, scheduled, and reused
Bring in a minimum of three people to start withwhich
(the real challenge) host it as an official TFQ event
But then, I remembered Elle Woods.
I was worried about who to ask, so I rounded up my friends and asked whether they would be free on the last Sunday of every month. Thankfully, they were; and here we are! Nearly three months in and going strong! It really was just that easy...
On a side note, a friend and I were catching up after a few years apart, and we both remarked on how simple it is to start a community by inviting your friends into it first. Then it feels alive and even grows organically because they tell everyone else they know. Word of mouth is a powerful thing. Also, having been raised in environments where Old Boys Clubs are a Thing™️, we were exhausted. While it may not be so overt anymore, that culture never diminished. And that annoyed us enough to create our own communities more collectively and inclusively. We wanted to be the kind of group that would uplift each other and mention each other's names in a room full of opportunities. And so we did. It feels pretty damn powerful.
Who is in it?
The Book Club boasts a diverse range of professionals. We’ve got ESL teachers, software developers, digital producers, educators, and fellow writers and editors. I’m so proud of how it has grown and generated interest (and new memberships!).
[Doughnut update: she fell asleep to my click-clacking and is chasing something in her dreams. She keeps twitching her legs as if running, and it is the most adorable thing!]
What did I learn?
I learned three life-changing things these past few months.
One: Diversity is an accessible privilege.
No one in the Club reads the same book. So when we talk about our books, we offer the group new perspectives and exciting stories. Our individual experiences contribute to what we find essential in stories and how we frame our understanding of characters. I really couldn’t have asked for a more diverse group of people to learn from every month. While we may not always agree, we practice a culture of respect and critical thinking, which helps us see things from a fresh perspective.
Two: Organisation is as easy as I make it
While I get the intention behind a heavily branded, high-effort event, I really love the simplicity of a values-focused meeting of minds. I’ve noticed that TFQ Book Club members are comfortable with the timings and the option to join virtually. Since the Club only meets once a month at a specified time and encourages reading at an individual pace, everyone is comfortable with their choice of books and knows they are welcome.
Also, this is an excellent opportunity to practice, showcase, and improve my skills. I conceptualised this platform; I lead it with transparency and accountability; I design and market everything independently and make the process as simple as possible for myself. I make a deliberate practice of this process, and it has gotten easier (and more exciting) over time. Plus, I practice sharing my thoughts about books with clarity and confidence. With the TFQ Book Club, I get to improve my communication skills, which informs the quality of work the agency does.
Three: Building an empathetic community of leaders who learn
Given that the Club comprises Rhodents, friends and colleagues who met and studied at Rhodes University, we are familiar with the motto: ‘Where leaders learn’.
One of the more impressive aspects of this group is how we each build with kindness. Everything from our interactions with others to ourselves, we work in or create environments that encourage empathetic communication and leadership. Our individual experiences as young readers and the books we now read as professional adults have shaped this community into one where leaders continue to learn new ways of thinking and being. Whether we totally oppose an idea or only partially embrace the thought of it, every month, we dig into age-old stories from our countries; pick up the trail of series we’ve read on and off over the years; share our newly discovered treasures from old bookshops; and shock each other with stories we couldn’t possibly tell our parents. Every month we grow and share uplifting lessons through the Club. And every month, I get to do something I've missed: practice sharing my ideas with grace and thought through critique.
I’m privileged to have met this amazing group of people who refresh my perspectives every month. I’m so happy I started this community and am incredibly excited to see where it will go. To all the TFQ Book Club members, thank you for joining me on this journey. I can't wait to hear your thoughts and be inspired this month!
Regarding last week's post
Writing a blog post every week is a deliberate practice. But last week, I was down with the flu and was writing to continue the habit rather than anything else. The quality of the writing wasn't too great, but it's still an interesting topic; I wrote about why language makes a difference in healthcare. You can check it out below: