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.