Three Ways to Nurture a Community Mindset

One of the biggest challenges I faced almost immediately after graduating college was the constant feeling of disconnection. I’d just spent four years living less than fifteen feet from my best friends and hardly ever had a second apart from a thriving community of women. I was an active member of the tight knit Campus Ministries team at our small Christian college and I ran a combined total of 12 seasons of NCAA Division I Cross Country / Track with 65 of my favorite running buddies.

My weekends were packed with things like bus rides to track meets, all-day disc golf tournaments and spontaneous trips to Greenville, South Carolina. The common denominator? It was all done with friends. And lots of them.

Needless to say, the transition to a decentralized friend group was just about as smooth as my legs thirty seconds after stepping out of the shower and into my air conditioned apartment.

 It wasn’t that I didn’t love living back home with my parents and sisters. In fact, I relished the opportunity to live under the same roof for one last hoorah before things like weddings and babies hopped into the picture. What I wasn’t prepared for was the fact that instead of having a condensed group of friends living just across the quad, my tribe was now peppered across the country and getting plugged into their own separate physical communities. Without me. And friends, this was a really hard reality to come to terms with.

Looking back, I could’ve spent time preparing for this rug-pulled-out-from-under-me transition during my undergraduate years had I known it was up ahead – I just didn’t know what was coming.

 The truth is this: change is coming. And it’s just around the bend.

 One day, you will graduate and you will pack up your dorm or your apartment and you will hug your roommate for the last time as cohabitants. You will pile everything your own into your car and you will drive to a celebratory dinner with things like flip-flops you forgot to give back to your friends’ roommate’s friend, textbooks you will never use again and over-the-door clothes hangers rattling around in your back seat. You will float home on the high of knowing that you just earned one of the most expensive pieces of paper ever and you will swear to yourself that you will custom-frame that puppy with your first big girl paycheck. (Spoiler Alert: You won’t.) You’ll love change at first. You’ll maybe even beg her to stay around with her sleeping in and no homework requiring vibe. But one day – maybe shortly after that first student-loan payment drafts from your checking account – if you’re not intentional with the transition, you will miss the buzz of that old college community.

The good news is this: You don’t have to flounder! The transition will be tough, yes, but it doesn’t have to be paralyzing. Change is beautiful and grand and exciting when we welcome it with the great bear hug it deserves. Here’s three tips on how you can prepare yourself for this transition right now in your own communities.

 Invest in getting to know people who aren’t like you.

In college, it’s easy to get sucked into the, “I am like you and you are like me,” friend cycle. Naturally, we are drawn to people who have similar interests, are of the same mindset and have similar life paths, but there’s something to be said for expanding your friendship horizons. In the “real world” – and particularly in the working world – you don’t really get to choose who you spend your 40+ hours a week with. To some degree, yes, you choose where you accept an employment offer – but after that, there’s not really much, “I choose her to be my cube-mate,” going on. Opening myself up to the possibility of connection with people who are nothing like me has been one of the most rewarding things I could’ve done post-grad. Realizing that underneath the surface layers of age, life stage and background there exists a whole new realm of personal connection has led me to some pretty sweet friendships that I otherwise would’ve missed out on. Investing in relationships now with people outside your immediate friend-circle on campus can help form these habits ahead of time.

 Get used to doing the mundane together.
A lot of your early post-grad years will consist of taking on the not-fun part of adulthood in stages. Gone are the days of Spring Flings on the quad or free-movie nights in the basketball arena. Things like paying for your own health insurance, signing your first real lease and registering your car in a new state are all (sometimes) virtually unknown – but necessary – tasks when you’re trying to find your way on your own. Want to know what helps as you navigate new terrain? Friends to do it alongside you. Doing things like grocery shopping or booking your dentists appointments together with a friend sound super, duper lame – but in the “real world”, sometimes you take what you can get. And plus, more than half the joy of life is the fact that we get to do it together. That’s what makes it fun! Doing things now like studying with friends or doing laundry together can be a good way to prep yourself for this sort of relational transition.

 Remember that community takes work.
The bottom line is this: community isn’t easy. That’s true no matter where you are: on a college campus or in an office building uptown. What’s different about this truth post-grad is that it’s just really easy to skate by disconnected. On a college campus, you have the benefit of a centralized social scene. Things like campus events are advertised incessantly and there’s always something going on. In the “real world,” that’s a unicorn. Getting “plugged in” takes work and sometimes, it’s just plain awkward. What’s important to remember now is this: don’t give up. Have a friend who keeps flaking out each time you try and schedule lunch in the café? Cut her some slack. Keep rescheduling until it happens. Too tired to make it to the girls’ night you and your friends had planned? Try your best to squeak in a nap and get there anyway. Fighting for community now will inforce good habits that you’ll need just a few years down the road when the fight gets a little harder.

 What are some ways you’re actively engaging in community now? How do you think these may change after graduation and how can you prepare yourself for a seamless transition?

- Diana // @dianapalka