The Power of a Safe Circle
I had the pleasure of spending this past weekend in the beautiful Berkshires at a consulting retreat for Care.com, alongside several members of the Care.com team (including the amazing Sheila Marcelo), and fellow bloggers Cooper Munroe, Jennifer James, Amy Keroes, Lindsay Maines, Morra Aarons Mele, and Ellen Seidman. The retreat was awesome for many reasons; the discussions were meaningful, the content well organized, I think we were useful to Care.com in the ways they had hoped (and perhaps some they didn’t expect), the warmth and energy was palpable, and there was even time for amazing things such as massage and yoga and an African drumming lesson. It was remarkable to see the passion and dedication behind Care.com and I concluded that when I design my ideal society, work will be like our experience in the Berkshires. I’m convinced that being immersed in beauty and nature allows the creative juices to flow fast and furious, and that you thus can be highly productive in less time. And -- amazingly enough -- you can enjoy it all so much that it doesn't feel like work. Formal agenda aside, I experienced something else incredible: my first opportunity to engage with my blog peeps in something similar in concept to a writers circle. Lindsay was the catalyst behind this idea and she came armed with a series of questions to guide our conversation. We each had time to talk about our brand and subsequent goals, struggles, strengths, and weaknesses, then get feedback from the rest of the group. This was something we did off our formal Care.com time (so, 11:30pm - 2am one night, and then finishing groggily the next morning before we all departed).
Obviously, I will not betray the confidences of the issues discussed at that meeting, but what was so powerful to me was how safe the circle felt. This sort of sharing can only be done with the right blend of people, and it was, in fact, the right blend. It felt good to offer advice to friends. It felt good to talk about issues that mattered. It felt good to provide encouragement on topics that people seemed downtrodden about. It felt good to know that people I consider brilliant and unstoppable also have their moments of doubt. And yes, it felt good when it was my time to talk because there were issues I wanted to air and questions I wanted to ask, and who better to do this with than a smart group of women who I knew would be brutally honest with me no matter what? Plus the fact that I often need to talk work things through but don't really have an immediate forum to do that in my day to day life so I end up cranking my brain on my own. It can be lonely. And riddled with uncertainty. And of course there's nothing like a group of peers to keep you accountable on action items.
When I was in academia we had lab meetings and journal club and various assemblies of persons that were, in theory, supposed to be times when one could share and get feedback. However, save a few individuals, in the group setting there was always this underlying current of competition that made it feel unsafe to me. I felt afraid. And periodically stupid. And insecure. And scared to admit that I was ever confused about anything. It was the exact opposite of productive.
I feel so grateful to have finally experienced the power of a safe circle. I came home brimming with ideas about how to move forward with my work, and encouraged by the kind words these women had for what I currently do. I hope I can find another safe circle soon.
Have you ever participated in a professional/creative circle that felt safe? If you could form one now, what would you want to address? Do you think it could work in a Skype-type (i.e., not in person) format?