The Part They Forgot to Tell Us About Community

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Don’t mind me, just hanging out with the wifey in a PB & J outfit.

I always hear people say, “You’re a combination of the five people you surround yourself with.” I’m sure our parents’ generation used a similar phrase like, “Don’t hang out with that boy Jimmy! You know he smokes dope!” (kidding, but you get the point). The point is, nobody denies that the community we surround ourselves with has a life changing impact on who we are and the person we become. I’ve never felt opposed or against this belief, but last July I really begin to understand the true meaning of the word community.

Alyssa and I were attending our first World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon. It was hot, we had pushed back our Hourly America schedule an extra week, and we didn’t really have the money to spend another week in the city. But for some reason, we both felt we needed to be there. We had volunteered to be part of the media team for the conference, and to be completely honest, we were both looking forward to working on something that wasn’t another hourly job.

We showed up at the conference and the first person we met was Wes Wages. Wes is basically the “who’s who” in film and online media. He has done film work for a ton of big names and would never tell you because he’s a super humble guy. We met Wes, his wife Tera, and their little baby Olive for coffee one morning. When they walked up I reached out for a handshake, but was embraced by a giant bear hug from Wes (he’s like 6’4, so I didn’t have a say in the matter).

After our initial coffee, Alyssa and I left feeling inspired. It was the first couple we had met together on the road who had been genuinely interested in our new adventure. Both of us felt like Wes and Tera would become good friends, but we wouldn’t quite know the extent just yet.

A photo of us visiting the Wages in Florence, Alabama towards the end of Hourly America.
A photo of us visiting the Wages in Florence, Alabama towards the end of Hourly America.

Later that week we had dinner with a couple named Charles and Linda Gupton, who were another veteran film and photography couple volunteering for WDS. As we ate dinner, Charles seemed to be so fascinated about Hourly America and our big adventure. As I would later find out, he’s probably the biggest encourager I’ve ever met.

But it was in this moment, something changed inside of me. I realized I had no ulterior motives. I had nothing I was hoping to get out of that dinner with Charles and Linda. I genuinely was enjoying every second of their friendship.

Our dinner with Charles and Linda
Our dinner with Charles and Linda

Up until this point, I always followed the saying as it goes, surrounding myself with the five people I’d hope to become, thinking that meant I should be around awesome people so they can build me up and help me be more awesome. What that saying forgot to include was that, when we treat people as objects to win over, we taint the very fabric of true connection and friendship. Friendship is built on trust, love and respect for the other person. When we seek to win somebody with the sole purpose of our gain, they become an object of our use and nothing more.

I’m not sure when I let myself begin thinking this way, but it was that dinner with Charles and Linda that helped me shake that feeling. I no longer had a desire to “win” over the people who I respected so much, I only genuinely wanted to make friends. Instead of looking to the achievements or status of a person to decide if I wanted to be friends, I looked at our mutual values. If it wasn’t somebody I would want as a part of my life, I wouldn’t invite them in.

Community was created to help us run a good race, a good fight– because we weren’t meant to go at it alone. We weren’t meant to travel alone. When Alyssa and I left Austin last May, we felt like we left behind our community. It was scary, and at a certain point on the road we began to feel the isolation from people. The only problem was the community we started with, wasn’t the community we needed to finish our journey. We needed a new one. We needed a community that believed you can RV across America at 23, make a documentary, publish books, and have an impact on the world. It helped me to see that in a digital age our community has no excuse to be purely geographical.

Communities that thrive are not built on convenience, but on purpose.

We just got back from driving up to Alaska. If you’ve ever taken the drive, you know that in certain parts of Alaska there are literally hundreds of miles in between you and the next gas station. Somebody told us before we left that if you see a gas station, even if you have more than half a tank, stop and fill up because you don’t know when you’ll see the next one.

I feel like this is kind of like the friends we’ve met in the past year. We left on this grand adventure and felt alone, like we were in the middle of some arctic tundra, with no gas and no one around to help. But when we found a community, it fueled us. It gave us people who genuinely encouraged our dreams and pushed us to see it through and see the world through a bigger lens. Before meeting people like Wes, Tera, and the Guptons I felt almost discouraged about our journey. I had thought maybe we had made a mistake by going on this grand adventure. But like filling up my gas tank, these people helped me see the potential in myself and what we were doing.


7 Responses

  • “Maybe we had made a mistake by going on this grand adventure. But like
    filling up my gas tank, these people helped me see the potential in
    myself and what we were doing.”

    Do you feel like you made a mistake? Maybe I’m misreading this part of it, but I think you have so many things you have gained out of this, from skills to a “doing” and self-sustaining attitude and work ethic, from the outside you haven’t seemed to have made a mistake. I’m sure it’s hard, but you have a life you never would have had sitting home, paying off your student loan debt, etc.

    • James!

      Really appreciate you taking the time to read man. I definitely agree with you, I definitely don’t think we made a mistake :). It came off the wrong way, I meant to say that in that period of my life my thought process was that maybe we had made a mistake… but then this new community of people helped me to realize that wasn’t the case :).

      • Glad to hear it. I would have been surprised if you thought it was a mistake, from all I’ve read from you guys. I know you have had your struggles and doubts, and I really appreciate you including that when you talk to about your journeys. Most people just want to talk about how great things are until suddenly they aren’t.

        Glad things are still going well. As a fellow full-time traveler (albeit not in an RV), it’s good to hear that you are still happy with it.

        • Haha thanks James. Curious, what kind of full-time traveling are you doing? What kind of work? I’m putting together some resources on how to make money and travel so would love to know! Thanks man!

          • I didn’t get back to you on this right away because I am not making any money right now, and that’s a little embarrassing. I used to travel with Broadway musicals as part of the crew – I went out on tour for the first time in 1998 – but left the road in 2012. After a few years of going nowhere back “home,” I decided to go nowhere on the road again, and am currently being a “tour boyfriend” with my GF who is still a crew member of a musical. It’s been 10 months and I still don’t know what’s next, or which direction to go in (if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there).

            So I don’t really fit your bill. So far, I am as far from being a success story as you can be. I have a few projects. I have been getting better at photography, but until I do something with it (like a print sale next month), that isn’t anything but a hobby. I’ve been a blogger and podcaster for years, but none of it caught. I used to be gung-ho about starting something, read the books, believed in the small business ideals, but never found a thing to go forward with. So I’m still kind of stuck, and it is no fun, even though I spend my time seeing the US and Canada, am with my GF and a lot less lonely (even though my friends are all over the map, so I rarely see them), and I have this great adventure that not many people are able to have.

  • One of my favorite aspects of WDS is that it creates a community that helps everyone feel like they can do something awesome with their interests and talents. It sounds like you were able to create your own little “community” of friends and followers who support your dreams and show you what incredible potential the present and future hold based on those dreams. Sometimes others can see things so obviously that are hidden to our own eyes!

    I like to think of “you are a combination of the five people you surround yourself with” as more of a reminder to be selective about the things you tolerate and be appreciative of the gifts people bring to your life. The reason you attract such great people is because you two are wonderful yourselves and appreciate others!

    • Well you are far too kind and obviously haven’t hung out with me enough to know how uncool I really am. I talk about doing awesome things, but it’s really a daily struggle between pursuing greatness vs. binge watching another 3 episodes of Agents of Shield.

      but thank you anyway 🙂

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