Bushwhacking for Hipsters #7: Finding Travel Companions

By now, if you’ve been following along with every week’s article in the series, you’ve probably got some idea of where you’re going and how to get there. Your list of goals and actions are nearby, and you’ve got some room to work on them after you’ve decluttered your physical space. Just by itself, that planning can be motivating and powerful.

However, one of the things I’ve found, now that I’m starting to tick off line items on the master list with some regularity, is that all this traveling along the road can be a little bit isolating. Since many of my personal goals with this endeavor are just that -- personal -- and since the time it takes to both set them up and undertake them is considerable, sometimes it feels just a little bit like I’ve been put in some kind of social Time Out, with my face in the corner while the rest of the party of life goes on.

While a large part of that isolation is a matter of attitude (I’m not really isolated as much as I’m just productively busy in a good way), the feeling does seem to be relatively common. So I decided this week to talk a bit about finding ways to continue your forward momentum without having to live inside a box of your own making.

For myself, one of the first things I had to do, when I had the realization that I was becoming a hermit with no real life to speak of, was to review what I’d scheduled for myself. I knew I’d scheduled in downtimes here and there, and breaks between deadlines whenever I could. But how was I using those breaks? Usually, the answer was something like “working more to get caught up/get ahead/do this new thing/something along that line...”. Rather than taking that downtime to reconnect with important people in my life, I’d tried to continue to be “productive”, sometimes at a toll to my own productivity, ironically.

Taking social breaks is just as important as writing down every goal, or doing a weekly goal review. Most of your inspiration won’t come while you’re sitting at your desk, and getting away from it might be the kick start your project needs to help you move on to the next card in your hipster PDA.

Beyond regular breaks, I also started looking for some new cheerleaders, in the form of professional groups held locally.

Your friends and family, when supportive of your endeavors, are your most regular cheerleaders. (They can also be your most troubling nay-sayers, but for the sake of argument, we’ll assume they’re always supportive here.) However, once you’re beyond their scope of expertise, or you’ve gone to them a couple dozen times to get advice, you come to a point where finding someone with more specific knowledge might be what you need to move forward.

There are two ways you can do this on a relatively small scale: mentoring, and joining professional/personal growth groups.

Both of these can be of immense help to someone working on a large-scale life overhaul. Some, however, find either one or the other to be more beneficial, based on his or her own personality and/or style of learning.

Mentors are often sought out by people who do best in a one-on-one social interaction. It allows you to get relatively close to someone who has already done that which you’re seeking to do, and thus, gives you a unique, knowledgeable perspective on your methods and what steps to take, especially when you hit road blocks. A mentor can point you in directions you may not have thought about, or can network you with resources he or she has personally found to be useful.

Finding a mentor is primarily a matter of finding someone who is successful in the field or endeavor you’re undertaking, and asking them if they would like to mentor you for your project or situation. Most people, I’ve found, are flattered and willing to give you what knowledge they can. In some cases, the person may be too busy or too humble (“I’m not a mentor...I’m just a regular person...” ), and if someone says no, getting right back in there to find another person to ask is essential.

Once you find a mentor, set up a regular time that you can talk to him or her, and try to follow the advice he or she gives you, even if it’s just to test it out as compared to your own ideas. The quickest way to lose a mentor is to continually disregard him -- after all, you went to him for advice.

Growth groups come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, from small, local groups of a few friends to large, national or international groups with meetings in many cities around the world. Many of the larger groups have several meetings per month, with a different focus or a different meeting time or location. Smaller groups tend to be more flexible and personal, with members sometimes meeting outside of the group context to work on specific collaborations together. An internet search can often find groups in your area.

If there isn’t a group that suits you or your goals, you can also start one. It’s as easy as putting up an advertisement on a local website, or flyers in a few coffee shops around town. Make sure to be specific about what it is you’re looking for. (Are you looking for a large group, or a small, focused one? What commonalities should each of the members have? Are there any restrictions of membership? Include those things in your advertisement to avoid ambiguity.) Choose a meeting time and place, and keep it regular. Make sure everyone has time to talk and offer suggestions to each other. You can even set up a web page or mailing list for the members for in-between meeting contact.

Growth groups are good for people who need a little more social interaction, and are beneficial if you want a larger perspective than just that of one person. Chances are, though, that you won’t necessarily attract those who are already successful at what you’re doing -- but you will get other people on your path with you, which can offer a lot of valuable information and idea-sharing.

In my own life, I’ve found that finding local mentors is nearly impossible -- we’re just too remote out here in the midwest, and people who are already doing what I’m doing tend to be too scattered for in-person meetings to be feasible. My own mentors are all virtual -- communicating by e-mail and on the phone, rather than seeing them in person. This way has its limitations both technical (lost e-mail or a flaky internet) and social (I’m still primarily isolated with just a keyboard and the dogs for company), so I did start a few groups here in town for the like-minded. One meets monthly, and offers a small group of committed individuals with a high creativity level, and the other meets weekly, and ends up digressing a lot over coffee, but still gets me away from the home office long enough to recharge my social batteries.

Between the two sanity-maintaining ideas -- scheduling in social time, and finding outside persons who support your goals -- I’m finding that moving ahead doesn’t need to be as isolating as it can sometimes feel. After all, once you reach your destination, it’s good to know that your cheerleaders will be there with pompoms shaking for you, and that your friends still know who you are.

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