Want to be stronger? Run in circles!

Want to be stronger? Run in circles!
May 31, 2023 Beth Nyland

As a small child, I didn’t get out much. I grew up on a farm several miles outside a small town, to parents who were 45 and 52—old enough to be grandparents. I did not go to preschool, and my parents’ friends didn’t have kids my age. My playmates were farm cats, and my social circle was family.

With my kindergarten year approaching, Mom sensed that her bashful homebody of a daughter (yes, I once was shy) might benefit from knowing some classmates before walking into a sea of unknown children.

I did have one buddy, a boy named Matt who was only six weeks my junior. Our moms were friends at church and in a weight-loss program called TOPS. Legend has it we smiled at each other from infant carriers (were those even a thing in 1969?) while our moms learned to Take Off Pounds Sensibly.

But I didn’t know any little girls.

Fortunately, my mom was a connector.

She knew a young farmwife whose first-born daughter would not only be in my class, but also ride the same school bus. Our sweet mamas organized a few playdates, and we were besties in no time. The day school started, Chrissy and I walked hand-in-hand into A.M. kindergarten, ready to face our fears with a friend.

Chrissy and Matt were the first little nodes in my network. My people. My community.

Connecting is a superpower.

I feel fortunate that connecting is among the superpowers I inherited from my mother. I love meeting new people, adding to my ever-widening circle of connections.

This served me in the teen years, when “fitting in” can feel like a matter of life or death. I lived in multiple circles, finding connections in just about every clique there was. The jocks, the nerds, the creatives, the misfits, the troublemakers. That’s why, when I watch The Breakfast Club, I identify with all the characters. They’re all my people.

Over time, I’ve found something even more gratifying than making connections myself: creating and witnessing connections between others. I revel in that moment when one node bumps into and fuses with another. Relationships form. Conversations unfold. Creativity blooms.

This is why my ears perk when someone says, “I wish I knew …” or “I wish I could …” or “I don’t know anyone who can …”

I just might know a person or two who can help.

As I finished college and started my career, I landed in a professional association that pulsed with this spirit of supportive connection. Back then, it was called Women In Communications, Inc. (WICI), later rebranded the Association for Women in Communications (AWC). Both of these acronyms are unpleasant when pronounced. “Wicky” and “Awk.” Ew. But that was a national decision, and no one asked me.

Regardless of our branding, our extraordinarily active chapter in Chicago was a freaking powerhouse of smart, successful, generous women who wanted to do great work and put other women in positions to do so, too.

A handful of us met for frequent dinners after work, going around the table to give professional and personal updates, including asking for and offering help to one another. I referred to those women as my Personal Board Of Directors (my P-BOD, because I can make weird acronyms, too). To this day, most of us remain good friends. One, the incredible Jill Pollack, is my most trusted collaborator and co-founder of our Story Mode program. She and I are always cooking up something new. More on that in a moment.

What can a community do for you?

As I write about these groups, I realize just how much they helped me grow. From the bravery to take on kindergarten to the courage to run my own business, these circles of camaraderie made me feel strong and confident, ready to take on whatever came next.

And these are just a few of the communities that have buoyed me in all kinds of waters (and still do).

  • Neighborhood friends who organized block parties, meal trains, and spur-of-the-moment cookouts
  • Wannabe artists who sat side-by-side in class and gave honest feedback—from “wow, that’s great” to “hmm, maybe paint over it and try again”
  • “Mom Squads” who navigated the terrible twos and terrifying teens together
  • Like-minded citizens who joined forces in writing, speaking, and marching
  • Workout buddies who struggled through leg days and high-fived over slam dunks (not mine, mind you … I’m barely 5 feet tall)

We find strength in numbers.

Our circles go on and on and on. Thank goodness.

I recently relocated to that same small town where I grew up, and I am amazed how many of my childhood friends have returned to this place (or never left)—including Chrissy, who now prefers Christina.

A few months ago, Christina suggested we gather some long-time friends for an evening of reconnection. Everyone wanted to see the Victorian house that lured me and my husband into small-town life, so we met at my place. We loaded the dining room table with a potluck feast of grazing foods, sipped wine and seltzers, and settled into a circle in the parlor (we could call it a front room, but the house is Victorian, so parlor it is).

The women who gathered that evening are not all-of-a-kind. Some married, some not. Some moms, some not. But we all graduated together, and that means we are of the same age.

For women, the mid-50s bring so much change. Families, careers, bodies, minds, priorities—everything seems to be in some stage of upheaval. Changes like these can be hard no matter what, but they are especially difficult if you feel alone.

That evening, loosened by cocktails and laughter, we came out of our protective shells and got honest. In that circle of trust, we raised questions and doubts, expressed sadness and joy, and offered each other suggestions and support. By the time I was waving goodbye from my porch, we’d agreed to make this a regular thing. My hometown squad now meets the second Wednesday of every month, and it’s good for all of us.

We’d love to have you in the Story Mode Circle.

Jill and I want to make it a regular thing for businesspeople to come together to #RefuseToBeBoring and learn how to use storytelling and creativity to succeed at work. We’re building the Story Mode Circle to house this community online.

Together, we’ll be nudging one another to learn and try new things, to breathe new life into old messages, and to see things from new perspectives. In the strength and safety of our circle you can ask, imagine, brainstorm, grumble (a little), learn (a lot), and just generally be with others who want to tell creative business stories that work.

We’ll launch the Story Mode Circle soon, and if you are a person who communicates at work, you are invited to join us. Join the waitlist and we’ll get you connected.

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