Going Long(er) on Austin and 'Building in Public'

spending 2022 in Austin, invested in convertkit, open-sourcing my plans, you don't need a title to lead a community

Hi Friends,

The past two weekends have been filled with adventures and great conversation with new friends. My life in Austin has continued to be blessed. It has been a bit too uncertain and hectic for my preferences but everything is starting to come together…I decided to sign a lease to live here for another year! So if you ever want to visit, please give me a heads up.

In Optimistic Chaser, I floated the idea of starting an email course on Community Leadership. Many of you signed-up and the initial responses have been wonderful.

I want to add a little momentum behind that project, so I decided that this week’s [day late] Seeking Tribe post will partially be a repost of the first informative email from that series. I invested a good chunk of money in the email manager, ConvertKit, to make that project more professional, so all free (for now) subscriptions and feedback are greatly appreciated.

If you decide to read through to the end of the email and sign-up today, then it will look familiar…but I figured some of you would like to read that post, even if you don’t want to sign-up.

This is an attempt at what people now call ‘building in public’.

This is my rough plan:

  • create a basic web form for people to subscribe to this email course

  • send out an initial email announcing my intent to create the course, partially to make up for that Sunday’s email being a bummer

  • personally email everyone who joins to see why in particular they’re interested in joining (IN-PROGRESS)

  • convert material from my book, twitter, and blogs into a well-structured email course—refining it as I go along; add more emails to ‘the sequence’ aka the curriculum

  • use the responses to help me to generate ideas for short, powerful emails with discrete lessons, so far they’ve given me ideas for: “why precedents are fake but useful”, “how to identify a community run by someone who knows exactly what they’re doing”, “you can’t be efficient with people”, “the founding’s echo”, “how to build an organization that will die without you”…

  • build relationships with the initial cohort of members one email, zoom call, etc at a time and identify people who I should prioritize interviewing to gather stories and insights from (and for case studies!)

  • curate this material based on feedback and turn it into a series of video lectures and a synchronous, cohort-based course (that is worth paying for)

  • future emails will be around 400-800 words long

  • ????????????????????????????

  • profit

If that sounds interesting to you, please consider joining today:

Take the leap!

This email is a draft from my ‘Community Leadership in the 21st Century’ course:

Hi Friend,

Welcome to the first edition of my email course on Community Leadership in the 21st Century!

Since my last email, I have been replying to each student who sent me a reply. Some were short, some were incredibly detailed—all of them were appreciated!

People are interested in and working on leading a wide-variety of projects and communities. I will keep the details sparse but I wanted to give you a little information about the cohort who has opted into this course. If there’s interest, I can create an easy way for y’all to connect with one another.​

Building and rebuilding communities in the 21st century is going to be a challenge. The great news is that we can learn from and collaborate with each other as we continue on this journey. We're all early! We see and recognize problems in our world and we're determined to play a part in solving them and convince others to join us. The problems might range from loneliness to localized pollution to the lack of barbecue block parties in our neighborhood. Either way, y'all have taken the first step and you know you're not alone.

One cohort member is currently helping a friend to get their feet back under them after facing a series of personal setbacks. She mentioned that there’s a stark divide between [exhausted, struggling] people she knows who need direct mutual aid from someone they trust to help solve their problems—ie. finding a better job, a new apartment—and those who are in the position to throw money at all of their problems, and often choose to. There’s a SaaS company, or otherwise specialized service, that found their apartment or last job for them.

Many people in the latter group do want to be a part of a community. They feel atomized and often lonely. It’s convenient to watch your problems melt away one ApplePay transaction at a time but it will not fill your life with meaning.

[For them] money is easy and ingratiating yourself to an established community is hard.” This may be the situation for many of you reading this. She emphasized that she is particularly interested in how we might help people in this demographic to create and, perhaps more importantly, join and contribute to existing communities, particularly those focused on service.

Money can solve your money problems but belonging and meaning aren’t simply money problems.

Another cohort member has been on the road for over a year. After exploring the grand beauty of the United States, he’s looking to plant roots somewhere and identify people who share his values and interests. He’s unsure if he wants to build his own community, seek out one worth joining, or prepare to be a valuable and contributing community member, when serendipity connects him with one that resonates deeply.

He mentioned how it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you need to create your own scene. When the reality is that you could join an existing community and help to co-create its future.

​One downside of our individualist and credentialist culture is the desire to claim titles of authority and weave our need for belonging into part of a grand narrative about our competence and status.

The good news is this may have already reached its peak absurdity.

Although this is a bit after my time, I’ve heard it is now an annual custom that 11th graders throughout the United States, at least ones intent on admission into competitive universities, will flood their peers with invitations to subscribe to their business or non-profit on Instagram and LinkedIn. Every one of these students wants to be able to add ‘Founder’ and ‘President’ to their college application. Maybe some of the ventures will last into the future and provide genuine value for the people who interface with them...but many are just part of a social fiction.

This dynamic likely has and will continue on beyond high school. It’s partially the result of a digitized social landscape where people can see your follower count or LinkedIn profile more readily than they can witness how many people smile and hug you when you arrive at a party or a local venue. Let alone the number of people who call you when they are suffering, down and out, and know they need support from someone who they can trust.

You used to have to take responsibility and invest in something beyond yourself to earn social status, now you might be able to get it through a well-crafted digital presence.

There’s merit to the idea of claiming an identity as a leader, even if it starts out superficially—like being elected president of your high school after running a meme campaign at age 15 (my origin story). We need more people to take on these social roles—that’s part of the motivation behind me creating this course. The problem is when it all becomes diluted into cheap signaling. When there’s a proliferation of half-baked, faux organizations. This is a cheap simulation of ‘community’. There needs to be a corresponding sense of responsibility and value. It’s a problem if it’s only a narrative, even if it’s a pleasant fiction. A superficial title, however, can give you permission to take ownership, develop your identity as a leader, and turn your narrative into reality.

A few intended key points from this email:

  • Your feedback is vital to the creation of this course—I will genuinely engage with your prompts and replies

  • The people who have opted into this course are thoughtful and interesting, we can learn from each other’s experiences

  • If you’re building a community, you need to go above-and-beyond to connect with founding members and understand their motivations for joining—my intention is to connect with as many of you as possible over the coming weeks (and beyond)

  • You don’t have to create a community to lead one

  • Money can solve your money problems but belonging and meaning aren’t money problems

  • One downside of our individualist and credentialist culture is the desire to claim titles of authority and weave our need for belonging into part of a grand narrative about our competence and status

  • Claiming a position of authority, even superficially, may be your first step towards genuine community leadership—it was for me

Are any of these topics that you'd like for me to explore in greater depth?

What questions do you have?

Please reply with any and all thoughts and constructive feedback.

Thanks again for all of the thoughtful responses and for being early adopters. Your replies were generative and gave me useful insights into the kinds of emails that y'all will be interested in receiving. Please keep them coming, our work here has just begun! You'll hear from me soon…

If you want to join me on that adventure, here’s the link again:

We must rebuild!

If not, no worries! I will not have another excerpt post like this again. Although I’m sure there will be some crossover.

I hope everyone has a wonderful start to their week! I’ll be back here next Sunday—going to have a low-key week.

Your Friend,

If you’re new to Seeking Tribe, this is the subscription for this one!

Sorry to everyone who receives this Seeking Tribe as a sort of spoiler…I don’t pretend to understand ConvertKit and it’s not letting me bully it into doing what I want.