Regaining a sense of community
Young people today are regaining a sense of community that unraveled during previous generations. Northeastern University junior Daniell Ouellette (3d from left), and her friends, from left, Kari Kulpa, Erica Abbey, and Adam Sell all live, eat, and watch the Red Sox play the Colorado Rockies in the World Series together. (Zara Tzanew Photo for The Boston Globe)
During the middle of the 20th century, the social fabric of community unraveled. Families fled to the suburbs, where they lived isolated lives. Baby boomers became hyper competitive - almost a necessity of being part of such a huge generation - and then baby boomers raised latchkey kids, and Generation X felt so isolated from community that it actually defined the generation.
So it's no surprise the pendulum is swinging the other way right now. Generation X is consumed with integrating their families into their communities. Fund-raisers know that if you want to get money from Gen Xers, talk with them about local, grassroots action they can be a part of.
Generation Y is the teamwork generation. The majority of these young people did community service as a high school graduation requirement, or, for the overachievers, which is most of them, a way to spruce up their college application. But they discovered that community service is rewarding in itself. This is a group that is so team oriented that they are not comfortable doing things on their own. The teamwork in school means soccer, but in adult life it often means community.
It's a great time for new ways of thinking about community and how to make life better for yourself and those around you. Here are five new ways to think about community:
Schedule community time because frequency matters. This comes naturally to people in college. Daniell Ouellette, a junior at Northeastern University, and her friends live together, eat together, and even watch the World Series together. When college is over, people tend to separate from their friends and making new, close friends is very difficult. But it's worth it. When you belong to a group that meets each week, you are likely to live longer than people who don't. And a Gallup poll found that if you have a few good friends at work it's nearly impossible to not like your job, because a group of friends can absorb so many bad feelings about the office.
It's a tall order to find these people, but remember the key is not picking the perfect friends, the key is getting together with them regularly.
Find your community first, then find a job. Today, people place so much importance on community that Rebecca Ryan, a frequent consultant for city governments, finds that the best way to stem brain drain from midsize and smaller towns is to focus on the fabric of community. In her new book, "Live First, Work Second," Ryan finds that people today want diversity, culture, and gathering places - the core community aspects we lost during the flight to the suburbs.
Become an influencer by growing a community. Paul Gillin, author of the book, "The New Influencers," describes how blogging has allowed leaders to emerge in communities that used to be closed to new leaders. Gillin marvels at the amount of influence a blogger can have by growing a large community of readers. What is remarkable, though, is that the premise is community. The influence brokers today trade on grassroots community building rather than power coming down from the top.
Get flexible work by leveraging your community. Michelle Goodman, in her book The Anti 9 to 5 Guide, describes the steps people take to get out of cubicle life. She has handy chapters about negotiating and temping, but the biggest value of her book might be the underlying theme of community. The best way to get control of your life is to figure out how to integrate yourself into a community and get work and ideas from the people around you. The book is full of ways to learn from other people, help other people, and weave your own community fabric to meet your career goals.
Use community roots as a way to make a smooth transition. One of the most stifling parts of college is that everyone you hang around is at the same place in life you are. And one of the hardest parts of making a life transition is trading one community for another. Northeastern addresses both these problems with the cooperative education program. Students take longer to finish school but they work intermittently during their stint at college. Ouellette is part of this program and she sees it as a way to get a foothold in the local marketing community before she goes out into the work world.
And this, perhaps, is the newest aspect of community: Community used to be a way to hold you back and enforce rules. But today it's a way to create new roots, find freedom, and follow a dream. No wonder community is a buzzword with young people.
Penelope Trunk is the author of Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success. Read her blog at blog.penelopetrunk.com.