In 2020, my husband and I decided to uproot our lives and move from Los Angeles to a tiny mountain town in Colorado. We’d both started working from home and we were ready to start a family — with the majority of my family being from Colorado, it was an easy decision. We relished the chance to have relatives nearby, but we knew that building a community of like-minded friends would be equally essential for starting our new life. 🏡

“We knew that building a community of like-minded friends would be equally essential for starting our new life.”

Being dropped into a completely new place with new sights, systems, and lots of strangers challenged us to be more open to our experiences. We resolved to take in our new town with humility, leading with a kindness and curiosity that allowed us a bridge to make friends. Right away, we wanted to meet our neighbors. Having a cute puppy helped a lot with this, plus luckily our neighbors shared the same open curiosity that we did. These were our first new friends.

From there, our connections to the neighborhood opened up into a real community. It was this group of people — young professionals who had also decided the city life was no longer for them — who we relied on for a sense of belonging. Now, three years later, our community has stretched beyond our neighborhood. Over time, we wove the first friends we met into relationships with new friends. 

“Over time, we wove the first friends we met into relationships with new friends.”

It’s been both beautiful and challenging to witness. The biggest lesson: Friendships and communities shift and change. In learning to accept that, I’ve realized that the most important thing is to find a deep sense of honor for the people who contribute to your sense of belonging, whoever they may be. 

We all desire and deserve to belong. Below are some of the key lessons my family learned about growing and maintaining community. 🫶

Be open

When creating a brand new community or expanding the one you already have, be open to all who walk across your path. Especially as we get older, it can be easy to close ourselves off from meeting new people because we already have friends. Why would we need more? Moving to a new town emphasized the importance of remaining open to us: Even if we did have friends, they were many miles away. Moving to a new place allowed us to begin anew with the people we brought into our lives. It offered a chance to explore how we meet new people in a raw and real way. We also knew we wanted to start a family and recognized the importance of building a support system that was close as we moved through the early stages of parenthood. 

“Building community is all about expansion.”

Building community is all about expansion. Central to this is recognizing those around you with an open heart. You may not be best friends with everyone you meet but everyone you meet could be a friend. I am an extrovert, but for the introverts out there, look at this as a chance for you to connect with even just one new person. Be open to forming a relationship even in the most unlikely places. I met one of my now dearest friends in the bathroom of a local restaurant while we waited in line to change our babies. Be open.

Surrender to change 

Watching my community shift and change over the last three years has brought its challenges. For me, it was an observation in letting go of control. At first, I wanted our little group of neighbors to remain solely our friends. When I saw us all beginning to meet new friends I had to find surrender in this expansion. 

“The complexity of a social group as it grows can sometimes feel uncomfortable.”

As the community grew, our sense of belonging changed. The complexity of a social group as it grows can sometimes feel uncomfortable. One of our neighbors started a group chat that began as just our small group. But slowly as we met others in our town new people were added to the chat. Over time it started to become a huge group of people. At first, I missed the intimacy of our original group. But I came to recognize the beauty and importance of watching friendships grow, especially in a group setting. We now practice a “the more, the merrier!” mindset for our groups of friends.

The truth is: Friendships change no matter what. As we move through life, the inevitable challenges we face and the new experiences we have, ultimately expand who we are. In an ideal world, our community navigates life’s changes together, side by side. However this is not always the case and in truth, it can sometimes feel like a big ask. The key is allowing friendships and your community to take their own form. To release control and find peace with how friendships evolve. 

Spend time with those who make you feel secure

At the end of the day, the most important thing is to feel like yourself with the people you spend your time with. Your community should give you a sense of security that, at its core, is love. If you feel anything other than love, it’s a chance to reassess your true friends

“The most important thing is to feel like yourself with the people you spend your time with.”

The aim is to build a community of people that we can trust and rely on. But it doesn’t always happen right away. Spending one-on-one time with acquaintances to form a deeper bond, taking the steps to gather people, and stepping out of your comfort zone to make friends might all feel uneasy at first. Trust yourself. This kind of experimentation can lead to great friends in the end.

When we are at ease with our loved ones and community, we strengthen our bonds. Feeling insecure or shy is completely okay but notice how you’re able to blossom with those around you. How does your community make you come alive?

Tips for bringing people together

Today, what community means does not have a single stable definition. For some, social media and online platforms provide this sense of connection. For me, I’ve found that spending time together offline is key to cementing new bonds and growing a sense of trust.

“Today, what community means does not have a single stable definition.”

If you’re looking to create a community or grow the one you already have, here are some of my best tips for bringing people together in a meaningful way.

  • Start a book club! Kick off the first book based on the season you’re in. Like a murder mystery in the Fall. 
  • Find your town’s local Facebook group and be present with what’s being posted. You never know what event or meetup you might find.
  • Support local events and invite friends to attend. Every summer there’s a concert series that happens on Wednesday evenings. We aim to go every Wednesday with friends. It’s not only a great way to be with each other but also support a great local organization. 
  • Create a monthly lunch meet-up. In my town, there’s a Facebook page for a monthly meetup at a local restaurant. It always happens on the same day each month, making it easy to attend and the location doesn’t change either. 
  • Use Discord with your local friends to easily create plans and inspire one another. Discord feels like a more fun Slack. It allows for creating channels and groups to help organize a large group. 
  • Frequent local restaurants and get to know the staff. This can increase that sense of belonging. It helps emphasize the dedication to being a member of the community. 
  • Spend time at your local library — there are often events and meet-ups posted. 
  • Opt to walk instead of drive through your neighborhood or town. This offers the opportunity to meet new people that you may encounter on your walk. It’ll also help you see the small, beautiful parts of your neighborhood or town that would otherwise be missed in a car. 

Wherever and however you create community, remember it takes time, patience, love, and flexibility in the changes that might arise. And it’s always worth it.

Courtney Jay Higgins is a writer at The Good Trade. She is also a yoga instructor, health enthusiast, and sustainable fashion advocate. You can find more of her writing and take one of her online yoga classes on her website, Coincide.